Frederick Buechner and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This spring, I’ve been asking readers to talk about stories that have shaped our lives. In an earlier column, I wrote a new prose-poem that I called “The Two of Us,” based on a popular children’s book, Bambi. Then, in a second column, I told the dramatic story of Bambi, written nearly a century ago by a Jewish author in Europe.

Now, I really want to hear from you about stories that have shaped your life. And, today, I’m sharing this third inspiring column about a famous author, Frederick Buechner, who has answered this question many times.

His answer? The series of novels started by L. Frank Baum in 1900 with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Here’s the story of Buechner and Oz …

The Vermont-based author Frederick Buechner will turn 90 in the summer of 2016 and has been an enormous influence on millions of Americans who enjoy the best in spiritual reading. In many of his dozens of books, he also has become a leading promoters of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, urging his readers to rediscover the classic Baum novels.

In the mid 1960s, he wrote about the importance of Oz in his memoir The Magnificent Defeat. In that book, Buechner calls Oz “not only the greatest fairy tale that this nation has produced, but one of its great myths.”

In 1982 in The Sacred Journey, Buechner explains that as a boy he spent most of one year in bed with an agonizing series of illnesses, including pneumonia and tonsillitis. During that awful time, he writes, “I lived, as much as I could be said to live anywhere, not in the United States of America but in the Land of Oz. One Oz book after another I read or had read to me until the world where animals can speak, and magic is common as grass, and no one dies, was so much more real to me than the world of my own room that if I had had occasion to be homesick then, it would have been for Oz, not home, that I would have been homesick for in a way I am homesick for it still.”

In 1996 in one of his most heart-felt memoirs, The Longing for Home, Buechner reveals that his most-loved Baum novel in the long Oz series is a fairly obscure book that Baum wrote toward the end of his life, Rinkitink in Oz. Buechner points out that Baum originally drafted this novel years earlier, then he rewrote and expanded it. He finally published Rinkitink in 1916 as part of his extremely popular Oz series. The Rinkitink story describes some of the most horrific violence ever to appear in the Oz series and one has to assume that Baum was well aware of the horrors of the First World War raging in Europe, including the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, in which 1,200 perished after a German U-boat torpedoed the ocean liner.

Buechner argues that the Oz series—all the novels—shaped his life. But Rinkitink in particular has always been vividly in his memory.

Why? He finally puts his finger on the final song of celebration sung toward the end of the book, a song in which the heroes dream of a return, one day, to their beloved home island of Pingaree. It’s a longing echoed toward the end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series.

The words Buechner quotes from Rinkitink:

We’re not afraid of anything,

So let us gayly laugh and sing

Until we seek repose.

So let’s forget the horrid strife

That fell upon our peaceful life

And caused distress and pain;

For very soon across the sea

We’ll all be sailing merrily

To Pingaree again.


We’d like to hear from you: What stories make a difference in your life? They might be “children’s stories” like Bambi or The Wizard of Oz. But our series points out that these beloved books are far more than stories for children! Perhaps a book you read as a teen-ager shaped your life, or a book you picked up at college, or something you read in middle age.

Send us your story—and it need not be lengthy—about a book that shaped your life. David Crumm, the Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, will consider these stories and will choose some for publication. To inspire you to get writing, the offer still stands that a couple of people can receive a signed copy of the new book, Short Stuff from a Tall Guy.

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