Thursday, October 26, 2023

Part III - 60 Years of MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ

Grabbing the Brass Ring
The Creation of Merry Go Round in Oz - Part III

Click Here to Read from the Beginning

The first "authors' copies" of Merry Go Round in Oz were shipped from the publisher on October 24, 1963. The book is dedicated to Christopher, Wagner's son, who had, a month earlier, celebrated his first birthday.

Eloise McGraw holding her first grandson, Christopher.

On November 13, 1963, Rieckhoff wrote to ask McGraw what she thought of the finished book. McGraw replied on November 24, 1963—two days after the John F. Kennedy assassination: 

Dear Maxine:

I am feeling and behaving in as dislocated a way as 180 million other Americans today, so forgive me if this letter is abrupt and not very intelligent. I finally decided it was the ACME of uselessness to do nothing but listen to broadcasts all day, so, since work was out of the question, decided to tackle some piled-up correspondence. This is hard on the recipients, but anyway that’s what I’m doing.

I should have written before to say how much I like the Oz book in its final form. I think it’s a honey, Dick’s illustrations are just right, and everything about it is just keen. I kind of hope circumstances warrant our going on with some more; it’s been a lot of fun and an awful lot less work than my other books, about which I tend to get hag-ridden and insecure for no really good reason.

After Rieckhoff’s visit to the Ozmapolitan Convention that June, when it had become public knowledge that there would be a new Oz book, Oz fans began writing McGraw fan letters. She was amazed at first by how smart and eager Oz fans were, but quickly became overwhelmed. Toward the end of the above letter to Rieckhoff from November 24 (a month since the book had been published) McGraw wrote: 

My Ozzy mail has settled down to become a plain, simple burden to me. I thought it would stop once I’d answered all the letters, but it goes right on—some are repeats, some are fresh ones. I think I’m going to start nagging you to airmail me out a secretary. If there’s anything a working writer doesn’t have time for (besides book-fairs) it’s a lot of chatty, voluminous, and continuing correspondence. 

"Book Fair" an etching by McGraw

Yet I can’t bring myself to ignore these letters entirely, and I am certainly aware that these people are important to the success of the book. What’s more, I honestly appreciate their interest and think they’re nice and often quite interesting people. 

Clearly, McGraw was being overwhelmed by her Ozzy correspondence[i], but as she finishes the letter she is clearly very distraught over the assassination: “I see I’m just rambling on, so I’ll let go of your lapel and find somebody else to bother. What a horrible weekend this has been anyway! Not only horrible but surrealistic, unbelievable. . . . The grim and persistent sensation that maybe everything is coming apart. Absolutely everything.”

McGraw had hoped to jump right in and write another Oz book for Reilly & Lee.  But Rieckhoff wrote on July 10, 1964: 

About the Oz book—It is almost impossible to get a decision here on the future of the Oz series. Several of the Baum titles are out of print, and are gradually being redone. In the meantime, the back orders that are piling up indicate that there is still a healthy interest in Oz. Some of the non-Baum titles will be dropped as they go out of print because their sales do not justify a reprinting. I am mentioning all this to tell you that our position is rather fluid at this time.

Merry Go Round sold rather well initially, I thought. However, there have been a discouraging number of returns this spring. Our sales manager says the returns probably represent a Christmas over-stocking. He fully expects the books to be reordered. . . . As to whether we want another Oz book, we simply have made no decision and I don’t think we will be able to until we have another six months sales to consider. Certainly, if we decide to add another book to the series, I want you and only you to write it, but that is as specific as I can be at this time. 

Rieckhoff goes on to discuss some of the Merry Go Round reviews:

Make no mistake about it, Virginia Kirkus was panning the book, but please don’t let it disturb you. She seems to have a stable of flippant young reviewers. . . . That is not just our experience. Other editors have told me the same thing.

You might be interested in what Edward Wagenknecht said about Merry Go Round. I quote: “I did not think the Merry Go Round book terribly ‘Ozzy’—there was too much blending of traditions in it, and I think it is the only Oz book that includes distinctively Christian references[ii]—but it is a very good story, and I thought it technically the best-written of all the Oz books, not excluding Baum’s.” Wagenknecht is an intellectual and a well-known writer. He is also a devoted Ozite.

In the spring of 1963, McGraw had written Rieckhoff: “I have no idea whether the children will think this ms. has the proper and authentic Oz-touch or not. I will be flattered if they do, but not surprised if they do not. Nobody can write exactly the way Baum did about Oz, naturally—but Ruth Plumly Thompson managed to be a worthy successor writing in her own way—and that is all I’m trying for.”

In several basics Merry Go Round bears resemblance to McGraw’s favorite Oz book, Grampa in Oz. Both Ragbad and Halidom are bedraggled little kingdoms. Objects of great national importance—the King’s head and the Magic Circlets—have been stolen, and the Crown Princes of each kingdom—Tatters and Gules—set out on quests to recover the missing objects. McGraw’s character description of Queen Farthingale could easily describe Mrs. Sew-and-Sew, Queen of Ragbad: “Stout, dignified, very domestic—but never loses her dignity while washing dishes or mending curtains . . .” 

Both books contain small animal mascots, Bill the Weather Cock and the Flittermouse, that pepper the novel with announcements or poetry. Gorba's sentence-writing flowers and Winding Stairway are strongly echoed in McGraw’s Sign-Here and Fire Escape. But that is where comparisons stop. Merry Go Round in Oz might be viewed as a superbly written Thompson book, but the novel moves from Thompson pastiche to become, by far, the most tightly-plotted book in the entire Oz series. 

The Land of Oz Robin encounters seems to have been informed by his needs and neuroses, by his interests and subconscious—not unlike the conceit of MGM's Wizard of Oz and Disney's Return to Oz in the way that the fantasy of Oz reflects Dorothy's problems at home.

An unhappy orphan who loves horses and knights goes to Oz on a merry-go-round horse after grabbing the brass ring from a carousel. He lands himself in an Oz adventure centering on the search for more rings/circles. 

Robin feels like he’s invisible and that no one listens. Merry Go Round wants to be a “real” horse. They are both looking for acceptance and for a real home. Much as in the foster-child system in Oregon, Robin is bounced from one well-meaning but controlling Oz country to another. In both View-Halloo and Roundabout Robin is well taken care of, but not loved, not free. He is essentially a prisoner.

Circular imagery fills much of the book, building on the idea of the carousel and its brass ring. The three Circlets of Halidom echo Robin’s brass ring—and the ring itself turns out to be the missing third Circlet. The quest for the Circlets is a circle, too, since the final solution is only found when the questers return to their starting point. The Oracle in the Coracle is a crystal ball. (Martin’s illustration makes clear that it sails in circles, but this detail isn’t actually in the text.) Roundabout, a large city in a giant crystal ball, is surrounded by a spinning road much like a merry-go-round—and not by accident the word “roundabout” is a British term for a carousel. And in the end the solution to all the Oz characters' problems is Pi, a round delicacy that is spelled the same way as the mathematical constant that is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference. 

Robin’s interests inform the text in other ways, too. He loves the King Arthur legend, knights in armor, and, of course, horses. So how appropriate that Halidom and Troth are essentially pseudo-British medieval monarchies. It seems especially good luck for a little boy who loves horses to end up in an Oz adventure containing three: Merry, Fred, and the horse-like Unicorn. 

Prince Gules’s party seems to encounter Robin’s fears and worries even before they meet him, as when they come to the Land of Good Children (orphans, like Robin) in a glorified orphanage called, somewhat ironically, “home.” But Robin is looking for a real home, where he is accepted and loved, not just a place to reside like the McGudgeys' or the Land of Good Children.

Robin's desire for acceptance and love is echoed by Merry herself and by Sir Greves.  Merry longs to fit in. She longs to become a “real” horse—the kind of horse Robin says he has always wanted. 

Sir Greves is looking for acceptance too. But unlike Robin, Greves has unmet emotional needs that have festered into a serious problem. Sir Greves is almost written as if he’s deeply in the closet. Sir Greves wants to be accepted as the jolly, friendly, non-violent cook he secretly is. But he has become neurotic by living a lie. He pretends to carry on the feud with Sir Gauntlet; he lies to wriggle out of jousting tournaments (sports); and he feeds his need for recipes and food through a secret network. It is Greves’s double life and inability to be true to himself and to find love and acceptance that lead to his betraying Halidom and facilitating the theft of the last remaining Circlet.

In the end Sir Greves functions as a mirror image of Robin and Merry—an example of what can happen to you if you aren’t loved and accepted for who you are. Robin might not have been very happy with the McGudgeys, with the Fox Hunters in View-Halloo, or as King of Roundabout—but he was a centered and self-sufficient little boy. Robin doesn’t fit into the roles these groups try to force him into, and he repeatedly says so, whether his oppressors listen or not. 

An unpublished drawing of Sir Greves by Dick Martin

Poor Sir Greves, on the other hand, can’t speak up for himself. He runs round and round to avoid exposing himself, but his public life is a hollow suit of armor. He has become a neurotic liar, spinning in circles, getting nowhere in his life. Luckily Ozma is able to use Pi as a solution for the unhappy knight’s previously unsolvable problems.

Merry Go Round in Oz is an extraordinarily rich book. 

Too bad Reilly & Lee chose to end the series in 1963—especially since McGraw and Wagner hoped to write more Oz books immediately to continue the series. It would be quite some time before they finally returned to Oz in 1980 with the Oz Club’s publication of The Forbidden Fountain of Oz and in 2000 with McGraw’s solo effort The Rundelstone of Oz from Hungry Tiger Press.

At least from a stylistic point of view, it’s arguable that the best written books in the Oz series are the very first, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the very last—the book that rounded out the series in more ways than one—Merry Go Round in Oz by Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren McGraw Wagner.

[i] Rieckhoff asked Dick Martin if he could tactfully explain to the Oz Club members that McGraw was under a heavy burden, finishing a book, and that she simply couldn’t respond to each and every letter she received.

[ii] It is not known where the Wagenknecht quote comes from. Wagenknecht is referring to the Easter Bunny, but he has clearly forgotten Baum’s own introduction of Santa Claus into the Oz books.



Eloise and William McGraw Papers. Special Collections and University Archives. University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

Martin, Dick. “The Road to Reilly and Lee.” The Baum Bugle 27, no. 2 (Autumn 1983): 4.

McGraw, Eloise Jarvis. “On Wearing Well.” The Baum Bugle 34, no. 3 (Winter 1990): 3-5.

McGraw, Eloise Jarvis. “The Magic Land.” Childcraft: The How and Why Library. Vol. 13, People to Know. Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1964.

McGraw, Eloise Jarvis, and Lauren Lynn McGraw. Merry Go Round in Oz. Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1963.

Thompson, Ruth Plumly. Grampa in Oz. Chicago: Reilly & Lee, 1924.


The author would like to thank Inanna McGraw for her friendship and memories of writing Merry Go Round in Oz, and Eric Shanower for his critical eye. Special thanks also to Special Collections and University Archives at University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon, for their assistance and generosity in giving access to the Eloise and William McGraw Papers.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Sixty Years of MERRY GO ROUND IN OZ - Part II

Grabbing the Brass Ring
The Creation of Merry Go Round in Oz - Part II

Read Part I Here

Rieckhoff’s biggest criticism was that the chapter where Robin discovers Roundabout and is made its King did “not flow spontaneously and naturally. I found it confusing and the action somewhat contrived. I think it needs complete reworking. Some indication is needed that the new king will restore their prosperity and make it possible to stay at home.”

After that point in the manuscript Rieckhoff thought “the pace [was] good and the action expertly coordinated. It slows in the final wrap-up, but maybe the children will like the lingering farewell.” 

On April 19, 1963, McGraw responded positively that she was cutting the lengthy introduction to all the Oz celebrities in chapter ten, but wondered if she should pare down all of Howzatagin’s talk of celebrities, too. McGraw was much more concerned with the chapter detailing Robin’s arrival at Roundabout, saying that while the chapter never really suited her either she was greatly concerned that it had confused Rieckhoff:

“I’ve decided the confusing part must be (1) the fact that Robin and Merry (therefore, the reader) are in the dark for a long time as to why the Roundheads welcome them so enthusiastically, and (2) the lack of clarity as to just what this king is going to do to help the country. Laurie and I talked the chapter over a day or so ago, and have this proposal to make: Suppose in the rewrite, Robin and Merry encounter one of the Roundheads—possibly Polkadots, possibly Roundelay—on one of the roads leading toward the city, ask the way to the Yellow Brick Road, and are invited into the city to look at a map or something. There are two choices here: (1) this invitation could be a trick, a means of luring them into the city for the purpose of capturing Robin to be king, in which case it would probably be Roundelay . . . or (2) the invitation could be an innocent, helpful invitation, after which, once they were inside the city, Roundelay could pounce on them and keep them there. In either case, a lot of the exposition about how they wanted a king and had a prophecy saying they were going to get one, and just exactly what this king would do for them, could be brought out in dialogue as they walk toward the city. . . . In other words, attack the thing in straight-forward style, with no mysterious excitement or secrets about it.”

McGraw added that she would try to make the individual Roundheads a little more entertaining, more distinct characters. “I don’t know why all my inventiveness suddenly deserted me during this chapter. The Fox-Hunters turned out to be individual and good for a laugh here and there—why not the roundheads? I suppose I simply wasn’t quite as interested in them.”

McGraw also asked if Reilly & Lee would like the chapters titled. “And if I remember rightly, most Oz books do have chapter titles. Let me know—I can easily figure out some exciting-sounding come-on names for them.”

There was also some discussion about the title of the book. Rieckhoff had mis-typed the working title of the book as Merry-Go-Round of Oz. “This is,” McGraw responds, “I’m afraid, how everybody will read it and think of it. Actually we intended it to be Merry Go Round of Oz—and to mean Merry, the horse. At one point . . . she is called “Merry Go Round” as if that were her name—like Eloise Jarvis McGraw. I thought of spelling it “Merry Goround” or “Merry Go-Round” but neither seemed right—the first, especially, would be pronounced every which way. . . . Or would Merry Go Round in Oz do it? Or we could forget all that and call it The Golden Circlets of Oz or something.” 

Rieckhoff wrote back on April 24: “I want to tell you a comment on your story that I received yesterday from the most rabid Ozophile I know, [Dick Martin]. 

Dick Martin circa mid 1960s

“He is an artist, steeped in Oz lore, and if his preliminary sketches are satisfactory, he will probably do the illustrations for the book. He is also an officer in a national Oz club which has annual three-day meetings, and puts out an Oz newspaper. When he came in to discuss the illustrations after having read the typescript, he said: ‘This is superb; it has all the best qualities of Baum and has avoided all the mistakes the subsequent authors made.’ Coming from a man who has a passion for Oz—he has a complete set of first editions—I think it is high praise indeed.”

On editorial matters Rieckhoff said, “I am blushing for my thick-headedness [concerning the title]. Perhaps if we gave Merry the full name early in the book, there would be no confusion.” And regarding the rewrite of the Roundabout chapter Rieckhoff explained her real issue wasn’t being confused, but that, “it might be difficult to make the children believe the prophecy fits well enough. If on page 130 [of the ms.] you could have Merry identified as a Thing. . . . The people could then take up the cry of The Thing and close their ears to Robin’s explanation. . . . Just a little clarification here and rearrangement of dialogue should do it so that the reader will sense before Robin realizes it that Robin is [the king].”

With this letter Rieckhoff included a short list of suggestions that Dick Martin had submitted—even though he had yet to be selected as illustrator of the book. Most were polite “corrections,” such as pointing out that the Unicorn was not in fact the only unicorn in Oz. He mentions Loo in The Magic of Oz and Unicorners from Ojo in Oz. He also corrects McGraw’s east/west Oz map directions; she had been using Thompson’s view of Oz with the Munchkins in the west, and he explained there was no Yellow Brick Road dividing the Quadling and Munchkin Countries. But a few comments were more “editorial” as when he suggested that Ozma’s “positively impish grin” seemed out of character.

McGraw was delighted to learn of the Oz Club and impressed by Dick Martin’s knowledge of Oz lore. “I have followed most of Mr. Martin’s suggestions, because they seemed good ones, to me. All his geography suggestions are taken care of now, and Ozma now smiles bewitchingly instead of having an impish grin.” But the unicorn dilemma was more difficult. McGraw said she was ashamed of herself for having forgotten Loo, and that alas, she had never read Ojo in Oz and didn’t know about Unicorners. “At first I thought it would be easy, even add an amusing touch, if I had somebody call my Unicorn on her statement that she was unique, point out to her all these other unicorns, and then have her say defensively, that anyway she was the most unique of any of them.” But McGraw found it very difficult to find anyone to challenge the Unicorn’s statement. “None of the Halidom people would know about Loo or Unicorners, and if Ozma or Dorothy challenged her late in the book, it would seem as if they were simply being mean, and would make the Unicorn seem stuck up and silly.”  McGraw decided to let the contradiction stand.

With this letter McGraw also included two revised chapters, the list of chapter titles, and several pages of revisions, including many changes to Prince Gules’s dialogue.[i] “I would appreciate it if you paid close attention to this, and here’s why. Before the Prince becomes smart, I had him pictured as a certain sort of character, and had no trouble keeping him exactly as I had conceived him. But this notion of having the Circlet change him instantaneously from vague and stupid to quick and bright threw me for a loop; and when I read over the first draft of the few chapters after the change, I found I’d lost my character. He talked just the same as Robin or anybody else, and had ceased to be the Prince. This was not at all what I wanted, naturally, and the result of my cogitations on the matter convinced me that the only thing that had gone wrong was his manner of talking. No reason he still shouldn’t sound a bit formal and antique, even though he had quit being naive and slow-witted. . . . lately, I’ve found myself still dissatisfied with a lot of his dialogue. . . . Sometimes it’s too racy and modern, sometimes it’s altogether too antique.”

McGraw was eager to see how Dick Martin would interpret her characters. “I’m sure, fundamentalist that he is, he will see them much as I do. My only slight doubt is about Flitter, whom I hope he will not see as anything the least bit Disneyish. To me, Flitter is much more sprite than baby-animal.”

In mid-May McGraw sent Reilly & Lee a finished drawing of the map for the book’s endpapers. “As it turned out, I drew it myself; Laurie lives twenty miles or so away from here, doesn’t drive, and has an extremely active seven-month-old son to take care of. I could see the new version of the map wasn’t going to get done in time for publication if she had to do it. Anyway, it was my idea to revamp it and submit it for possible use as endpapers, so it was really my responsibility.”[ii]

McGraw was a trained artist and had begun a career as a portrait painter before she decided to switch over to writing children’s books. “I had a wonderful time [working on the map] for a couple days and evenings, doing it—nearly blinding myself but enjoying every minute of it. I’ve corrected the location of various places, in line with the ‘official’ Oz map you sent, and of course added all the places mentioned in Merry Go Round in Oz. . . . if possible, I’d like to have the original back when everybody’s finished with it there. I got rather fond of it . . . and think it would be fun to have on my study wall. By the way, see what you think of the Halidom coat-of-arms I invented. Upper left hand corner of the map. Those things in the left half are a trefoil (fleur de lys), a quatrefoil, and a cinquefoil.”

Illustrator Dick Martin contacted McGraw June 12, 1963, after he had completed his illustrations for Merry Go Round in Oz:

Your book is a honey! Reading it was a delight, and doing the illustrations for it was more like fun than a job of work.  I enclose  some of my pencil layouts, and I hope you'll approve of Flitter in particular. Being neither bat nor mouse, Maxine and I felt that he would probably look like this. (I too was anxious to avoid the "Disney look.")

Lauren's map is a great addition—the Oz fans will be especially pleased with it, I copied the section covered in the story, and the travelers routes, labeling it "Diagram of a Journey —drawn by Robin Brown and helped by Dorothy and Fess." It will be in the front of the book.

Martin's redrawn version of the Wagner/McGraw map.

By the way, I'd like to include Lauren's drawing in the "Oziana Exhibit" at the Oz convention next week, as it will be of great interest. You can read more about this map here.

McGraw replied June 30, 1963: "Laurie and I were both more than satisfied, I assure you, with the illustrations—or rather the pencil roughs for the illustrations to be."

Pencil sketch for illustration on Page 7

Final drawing for Page 7 as reworked for the printed book.

There is a gap in the editorial correspondence from May 18 until July 12, 1963, when McGraw, taking a suggestion from Dick Martin, sent along a footnote to solve the non-uniqueness of the Unicorn. She also sent a more complicated series of footnotes to serve as a running gag throughout the book. Part of this time Maxine Rieckhoff seems to have been hospitalized.

On July 22, 1963, Rieckhoff wrote that she will only be allowed to insert the one footnote about the Unicorn and that Reilly & Lee’s production department was mailing out galleys. She also asked how McGraw liked Dick Martin’s illustrations and reported on her visit to the Ozmapolitan Convention in Bass Lake, Indiana, that June: 

Dick Martin at the Bass Lake Oz Convention early 1960s

“It was quite a revelation to me to see such a heterogenous group of people bound together by what seems to be complete dedication to the land of Oz. In age they varied from a very knowledgeable twelve-year old to some adherents who appeared to be upwards of sixty.” She added that publication was scheduled for October 21, 1963.[iii] 

McGraw sent back galley corrections on July 31. They were primarily simple corrections, word changes to make things clearer, changes in italicization, as well as a note to insert the asterisk for the Unicorn footnote, and “. . . an ‘east’ where there should be a ‘west’! The only one Dick Martin didn’t catch for me. What would the Ozophiles say? I hastened to correct it!” 

McGraw had one big quibble with an editorial change Rieckhoff had made: “I don’t really like this change of ‘a thousand years’ to ‘ever so long’ but I’m sure you must have had a very sound reason for the substitution. You think the children won’t like the idea of Ozma being a thousand years old? My idea was to surprise and amaze them, make Ozma even more mysteriously wonderful, and underscore the idea of a fairy’s immortality—and the unicorn’s, too. 

Martin's Ozma without her impish grin and undisclosed age.

It seems to me the hint of great antiquity here does this, but maybe it would seem unpleasant to somebody else. [If you] agree with me, do reinstate the original wording.”

Rieckhoff wrote back on August 2, 1963, regarding this unwanted revision: “Frankly, I’m with you in liking the original better than the change. I was persuaded to make the change by Dick Martin who pointed out in all the Oz books there has never been any specific reference to age and time—where there has been any mention of it at all, it has been handled vaguely. He felt rather strongly that to saddle Ozma with a specific number of years might produce an unpleasant reaction in the children. I am not sure that he is right, but it did seem wise to give weight to the opinions of those people who spend half their lives completely submerged in Ozmania. . . . I discussed it with him again this morning and presented your objection to the change. He still felt that it would be a mistake to tag her, that if the children were to see in print that great age it would detract from the warm human quality she has along with her fairy nature. . . . I have decided to go along with him because he and his fellow club members discuss the fine point of these characters ad infinitum.” In the P.S. to the letter Rieckhoff said she would hold the galleys until Monday. And that if McGraw still wanted “a thousand years ago” restored, that she would do so. No reply from McGraw is in the correspondence file, but the published line retained Martin’s requested rewrite. 

One plot point that was never addressed by Rieckhoff or Martin was that of the mysterious carousel operator at the carnival in Oregon. When asked about him in 1980, McGraw responded: “I originally intended to explain him somehow or other as an exile or refugee or some such thing from the kingdom of Halidom, but I simply forgot to work it in until the book was so tightly set in its present form that I couldn’t find a crack to wedge it into. So I let it remain a dangling end—something I usually would not dream of.”[iv] 

Merry Go Round in Oz was published a day or so late. Dick Martin wrote McGraw on October 24, 1963, saying: “Hooray! Completed copies of Merry Go Round finally arrived from the bindery, and I dashed down to Reilly & Lee’s warehouse to pick up mine. (Yours are already on their way to you.)”

Click Here to Read Part III

[i]  The two pages of these dialogue corrections are not preserved in McGraw’s correspondence files.

[ii] The map was not used as the endpapers in the published book, though a portion of it appeared in the forematter of the book.

[iii] By today’s publishing standards it is pretty phenomenal that the book was written, illustrated, and published in a little over fifteen months.

[iv] Eloise Jarvis McGraw in letter to the author, February 2, 1980.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023


Grabbing the Brass Ring

The Creation of Merry Go Round in Oz - Part I

Today is the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Eloise Jarvis McGraw's and Lauren McGraw Wagner's Merry Go Round in Oz, the final title in the official Oz series. Publication had been set for October 21, 1963, but delays at the bindery meant that the first copies did not arrive at Reilly & Lee until October 24th — which for today's post I am considering the publication date. 

Many children’s series end in a fizzle. Sometimes the original author seems to lose steam or focus, such as in the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron and the Freddy the Pig books by Walter R. Brooks. Sometimes the sequels are written by less-talented relatives, like the follow-ups to Robert O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and Rats of NIMH. And sometimes ghostwriters simply churn out titles so that the publisher can squeeze a few more dollars from a dying franchise, as in so many of the boys and girls series from the early twentieth century.

But occasionally, magic happens. In 1959 the Henry Regnery Company purchased Reilly & Lee, primarily to obtain the rights to publish the Oz books. Their efforts at revitalizing the Oz series began small and grew. In 1960 they published The Visitors from Oz. In 1961 they brought out four Oz picture book abridgements and To Please a Child, the first biography of L. Frank Baum. By 1962 Regnery/Reilly & Lee were considering adding a new, full-length Oz adventure to the main series. What better luck could they have had than to be contacted out of the blue by a highly respected, two-time Newbery Honor author inquiring if they would like to see an Oz manuscript? 

That author, of course, was Eloise Jarvis McGraw.

Like Royal Historians Jack Snow and Rachel Cosgrove Payes, McGraw had grown up with the Oz books.  She read and owned many of the Baum books, but her favorites were those by Ruth Plumly Thompson[i]. Which, as we will see, had a strong influence on McGraw’s Oz writing.

Eloise Jarvis McGraw circa 1963

McGraw was born December 9, 1915, and that made her the perfect age to be a Ruth Plumly Thompson fan. She was six when the first Thompson Oz book, The Royal Book of Oz, appeared. McGraw’s favorite Oz book was Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Grampa in Oz (1924), published when McGraw was eight years old. At the time of the writing of Merry Go Round in Oz McGraw was living in Sherwood, Oregon, on a filbert orchard, about twenty miles south of Portland.

Her daughter, Lauren Lynn McGraw, was born August 15, 1944, and grew up reading the Oz books. And, like her mother, she considered Grampa in Oz her favorite Oz book. She was seventeen when she and her mom began writing Merry Go Round in Oz and nineteen when it was published. She had married J. Robert Wagner in February 1962 and the young couple was living across the driveway from her parents' home in a small A-frame that Eloise and her husband, fellow children's author William Corbin, had built a few years earlier.

Lauren McGraw Wagner circa 1963

The seeds for Merry Go Round in Oz were planted when McGraw was asked to write a couple short biographical entries for the children’s reference series Childcraft in 1961[ii]. McGraw offered to write entries on Vincent Van Gogh and L. Frank Baum. She could find no information on Baum’s life in the local library, so she wrote an editor at Baum’s publisher Reilly & Lee: “I introduced myself, and begged for any crumb of information on Baum. She [the editor] sent me To Please a Child, said she knew my work, and invited me to send her any homeless manuscripts I cared to. I wrote a grateful ‘thank you’ and that was the end of it until Lynn and I got to playing ‘Oz books should be like this’ one day a year or so later. Knowing precisely where this unwritten manuscript might find a home played a large part in my decision to try writing it.”[iii]

That game of “Oz books should be like this” began during the summer of 1962 when McGraw’s daughter, Lauren McGraw Wagner, was pregnant with her first child and decided she would reread the Oz books. At some point, Lauren picked up The Scalawagons of Oz, a title she had never read as a child. The McGraw family had somehow acquired it from Lauren's cousin Gayla McCreight. Wagner was shocked at how bad and un-Ozzy Scalawagons was. Soon she and her mother were picking the book apart, dissecting and analyzing, ending with the realization that “we could write a better Oz book!” 

McGraw remembered the offer from Reilly & Lee and sent an inquiry about their interest in an Oz manuscript. The publisher responded that they’d be very much interested—and McGraw and her daughter began writing Merry Go Round in Oz. Despite the Scalawagons incident, McGraw said later, “It never occurred to us to go back and reread the few tattered [Oz books] in my attic to make sure we’d do it right. We knew what an Oz book was like—what one ought to be like. The Oz books had merged in both our memories into a sort of happy blur—the generic Oz book.”

Eloise Jarvis McGraw & Lauren Lynn McGraw circa 1950.

McGraw had published her first book, Sawdust in his Shoes, in 1950. By 1963 McGraw had written four additional children’s books (two of which were Newbery Honor titles), an adult novel, and a book on fiction writing. McGraw and Wagner had never collaborated before—indeed, Wagner was only seventeen when they began writing the book. Wagner explains how they worked together:

I was living in the A-frame during at least most of the time we were writing the book. We’d get together every few days to brainstorm; figure out the plot and the characters, names of the countries and people (we had great fun with Halidom; I’d been reading about heraldry, and was full of terms like “bar sinister,” Annelet, Gules, Wyvver, Flittermouse, and so on). I think I’m the one who suggested a country of fox hunters, but I could be wrong about that.
Anyway, after we got all that figured out, we did an outline of the plot—that was Mom’s method at the time, though she got a bit looser eventually. Then we’d rough out each chapter, making sure that our three groups were getting closer to each other but not running into each other before it was time—I think that might have been why we had to have a map, which I drew: first rough, then eventually the version that appears in the book.

One of Wagner's cleverest additions to the story was the new Oz character, the Flittermouse. 

Whenever Flitter had to recite one of his poems, I wrote it, making them smarter after the first circlet was discovered. Essentially, we’d get together to brainstorm and outline, then Mom would go to her typewriter and write the chapter. Then I’d read it, and we’d meet again to discuss it. Living just across the driveway from each other was very handy.
I’d say the plotting process was about 50/50. My mother [did] most of the actual writing; I [did] a lot of editing and critiquing. [iv]

In September 1962, Wagner took a short break from working on the Oz book to give birth to her first son, Christopher. 

Unlike the other writers of the Oz books, McGraw preserved most of her manuscript materials: outlines, character studies, and manuscripts. So, with Merry Go Round in Oz we have a unique opportunity to explore the writing and editorial processes of one of the official Oz titles.

The earliest surviving notes I’ve been able to examine are the fifteen pages of character studies and place descriptions. All is pretty much as in the book, save a few details. Fess’s age is given as twelve to thirteen, Queen Farthingale is originally Queen Martingale, and the Unicorn is Fess’s pet. Also, Halidom was pretty well developed before McGraw created the adjoining country, Troth. McGraw describes ten-year-old Robin Brown as “. . . self-sufficient, quiet, noticing (like Oliver [Twist]) . . .”

The earliest draft of the story I’ve examined is McGraw’s undated chapter breakdown. The three-page breakdown shows how economically McGraw has worked things out, mapping out exactly what she needs to accomplish in each chapter, as in her description of chapter two:

Robin and Merry get acquainted, look around them, try to figure out what happened. Characterize Merry, Robin, bring in more about Robin’s background, his love of King Arthur tales and horses. Robin starts training Merry to go in straight line; she is catching on nicely when Fox-hunters appear; before the two can get away they are surrounded.

The chapter breakdown follows the published book very closely, though some of the elements are arranged a little differently. McGraw stays with Robin and Merry for the first four breakdown chapters—only introducing us to the Halidom storyline in breakdown chapter five, after Robin and Merry have already escaped View-Halloo. In the published book McGraw leaves Robin and Merry captives of the Fox hunters (keeping the reader in suspense) while she introduces us to the Halidom storyline—only returning to View Halloo to free Robin and Merry after the Halidom group is already off on their adventure.

McGraw developed a tight timeline for the story. She wanted the actions of Robin and Merry breaking free of the merry-go-round in Oregon to coincide with the theft of Circlet Two in Halidom. She also needed the story to end on the Saturday night before Easter so the Oz celebrities could return to the Emerald City for the Easter Egg Hunt the next morning. There are many notations in the chapter breakdown marking the time of day and number of nights on the road—even including a small calendar showing that the story begins on a Wednesday morning. Eventually McGraw found she needed one extra night in Oz and she changed the McGudgeys’ visit to the carnival in chapter one from Wednesday morning to Tuesday night. These notations are likely from late in the writing process, as in one of the complete manuscripts the action still begins on “a fine April Saturday.” McGraw changed it to “a fine April evening” in the published book. This timeline is verified by a careful reading of the book, marking down nights on the road, and by Sir Greves’s mentioning that his betrayal of Halidom had occurred “last Tuesday.”[v] 

There is also a forty-page outline that closely follows the book as we know it. Many times sentences of description in the outline are repeated without change in the published book. But there are a few subtle differences between this outline and the book: in the outline Robin’s training in View-Halloo was administered by a Whip (the Prime Minister) who seems to be human; in the published book the trainer has become Spots, the dog. In the outline Troth’s chief industry was making musical instruments, training musicians, composition, etc., and Halidom’s specialty was the Science of Genealogy, which morphed briefly into manuscript illumination; in the published book Troth has become a maker of Blue Armor and Halidom a designer of Coats of Arms (though Halidom still has a University of Genealogy). Fess’s friend and fellow page, Barry, was originally two stable boys named Bodkin and Scutcheon, Sir Greves had a wife, and at the end of the outline King Herald gave the Unicorn to Fess as a present. And the Roundabout delicacy, Pi, was originally called, rather clunkily, pi R2.  

The manuscript was submitted to Reilly & Lee through McGraw’s agent, Marilyn Marlow[vi], and the editorial correspondence begins on March 27, 1963, when Reilly & Lee editor Maxine Rieckhoff[vii] writes McGraw: “Congratulations to you and Lauren on the fine job you did on Merry Go Round of Oz! [sic] I am delighted with the manuscript.” Rieckhoff continues, “The most urgent problem facing us now is the selection of an illustrator. Our sales manager insists that the illustrations must be in the classic Oz style, but there is some dissension about that.”

Cover of The Littlest Star (1961)

The dissension was in part Rieckhoff’s strong dislike of the work of Dick Martin, especially the four 1961 Oz abridgements, which according to Martin she found “a little too wild and wooly.”[viii] Jean Kellogg, who had written the adaptations of The Visitors from Oz and the four Oz abridgements, interceded for Martin, suggesting that Rieckhoff look at Martin’s more delicate work in The Littlest Star (1961). Martin did a few sample illustrations that in his own words, “curbed [his] natural tendency toward slam-bam flamboyance . . .”[ix]

But before Martin was hired, the McGraws weighed in on the illustrator debate on April 1, 1963: “Laurie and I both side with your sales manager on the matter of illustrations. As old Oz fans, we find it impossible to imagine Ozma or the Cowardly Lion or Dorothy pictured in some new (possibly improved) way. In this we are reacting as children, who are rock-ribbed conservatives in such matters. . . . It seems to me the book wouldn’t seem like a real Oz-book if the pictures were very different. I have not even seen any of the ‘new’ Oz-books (later than the Ruth Plumly Thompson ones) except Neill’s Scallywagons of Oz [sic].”

McGraw goes on to discuss the title of the book, which she explains is merely her working title. And gives Reilly & Lee a free hand at retitling the book. McGraw also mentions that “a couple of years ago my daughter, Laurie, drew a map of Oz.” The map was an “illustrated” map, Ragbad indicated by a patchwork quilt, Pumperdink by a portrait of Kabumpo, Monday Mountain by blue hills and a washtub, etc. “It’s charming and gave me the notion that just such a thing would be fun for the endpapers of the book. . . . Laurie’s map reverses the positions of the Munchkin Country and the Winkie Country[x] and contains a few other errors . . . [but] she or I can easily draw an accurate one.” 

On April 12, 1963, Rieckhoff wrote back with the first round of editorial suggestions. Rieckhoff felt they “could do with a little less of Howzatagin’s activities. . . . Perhaps his animal infirmary could be cut since it adds nothing to further the plot and the reader already has a good idea of the loneliness and kindliness of the old man.” She also thought the “sign bit” was a little overdone. In this letter we also find it is Rieckhoff who suggested merging the original two Emerald City chapters into one (the current Chapter Ten). This involved cutting a large section where McGraw introduced a number of Ozian celebrities that don’t otherwise figure in the book.

To Read Part II  Click Here

Special thanks to Lynn McGraw for sharing her memories of writing Merry Go Round in Oz; and thanks to Atticus Gannaway for sharing an image of the dust wrapper of The Littlest Star.

[i] Eloise Jarvis McGraw, “On Wearing Well” in The Baum Bugle 34, no. 3 (Winter 1990): 3-5.

[ii] Eloise Jarvis McGraw, “The Magic Land” in Childcraft: The How and Why Library, vol. 13, People to Know (Chicago: Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, 1964): 218-225.

[iii] Eloise Jarvis McGraw in a letter to the author, September 9, 1995.

[iv] Lauren Lynn McGraw in an email to the author, October 24, 2023. Lauren Lynn McGraw in a letter to the author, March 7, 1980.

[v] Sir Greves mentions this on page 276 of the book. Easter in 1963 fell on April 14th—thus Robin Brown's adventures (and the book) begin on April 9, 1963. McGraw likely shortened the story by several days—changing Saturday to the following Tuesday—because Robin can reach Roundabout only after the oracle gives Prince Gules’s party the verse about the “future” king.

[vi] Marilyn E. Marlow was a highly respected and influential literary agent. Her other clients included Robert Cormier, Jane Yolen, and S. E. Hinton, among many others.

[vii] Maxine Rieckhoff, born October 31, 1905, died May 19, 1986.

[viii] Dick Martin, “The Road to Reilly and Lee” in The Baum Bugle 27, no. 2 (Autumn 1983): 4.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Wagner’s map, in fact, had the positions correct, with the Munchkins in the east and the Winkies in the west. But McGraw, following Thompson’s compass directions, assumed her daughter’s map was in error.