Platform Worldbuilding: The Oz Legacy

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When I teach my Children’s Literature course, I always start with a lecture on the “Golden Age” of children’s literature–starting with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and ending (to my thinking) with Peter & Wendy. I wrap up the lecture by identifying six Golden Age children’s authors who set the template for what the genre would become in the century to follow. On the list is L Frank Baum, who I credit with creating something that has perhaps had the greatest impact on contemporary storytelling: platform worldbuilding.

The 1939 movie has made such a cultural impact that it’s hard to remember the Oz books for what they really are. Baum’s books weren’t just about Dorothy and Toto. There were dozens of Oz stories containing hundreds of characters. The books continued even after his death. Baum himself wrote 18. They were published around the holidays and it was a tradition among children to get the new Oz book for Christmas. He wasn’t just telling a single story, Baum was building a WORLD.

3708458-star_wars_legends_image_626Storytelling utilizes three main tools: character, setting, and action. At various points in history, popular stories have emphasized one or another of these elements. Presently, we are entering an age that celebrates setting above all. Today we value not just compelling narratives (Shakespeare) or characters (Dickens), but settings rich enough to contain a multitude of characters and plots. Think of visionaries like Tolkien, Gygax, Lucas, Roddenberry, Jack Kirby — their legacies are not single narratives so much as entire universes. Part of the reason this brand of storytelling has ascended is because it allows the creation of franchises–which are very valuable. Another bigger reason is because it fits more seamlessly into interactive storytelling (video games); what is World of Warcraft if not an ever-expanding narrative landscape?

One might argue that Scott or Homer worked within this tradition, but I think the real innovator was Baum. In Oz, Baum created a place that could contain infinite stories … which was a pretty radical concept at the time. So the next time you see yet another Star Wars movie in the cineplex, or yet another version of Zelda at Gamestop, thank Baum. or curse him.

 

5 Comments Leave a Comment

  • Arrow says:

    *****SPOILERS BELOW********

    How dare you. I am so offended by your writing. I’ve known the series “Spirit Animals” since November of 2013, and I’ve loved them ever since. Abeke was my favorite character since she does archery as well, and Shane was my second favorite. I thought they would be great together- I shipped them so much! Shabeke was meant to be. When I read the book a few days ago (I found it at the Book Fair two weeks early), I cried for approximately three hours. How could he simply die?? What is wrong with this world? Why couldn’t the two of them get married and make my dreams come true? That literally hurt me more than it hurt Abeke, probably. Their chemistry was the only reason why, as a middle schooler, I still enjoyed the books. Reilin was okay, but it was too basic. Shabeke was perfect, no matter the things he did. I was so surprised. What I’ve noticed in books is that whenever people say they like a certain character, the author seems to immediately kill them. It was like that with Tarik as well, when he died in book 6 of the first series. I know someone must’ve told you to kill him and you just wrote it, but you brought it to life. It’s not fair, all the ship stories people have written will go to waste. I can’t believe you. I hope you feel ashamed for causing my fictional husband’s death. Rest in peace, Shane…

  • ******SPOILERS BELOW*******

    Hi Arrow,
    I’m sorry that you were upset by Shane’s death in the story. I cried, too, while writing that scene. The truth is, I didn’t just arbitrarily pick someone to kill off. The world of Spirit Animals was long in motion before I sat down to write Burning Tide … and Shane understood that his sacrifice was the only way to make amends for what he’d done in the past. The Spirit Animals series is about heroes, and heroes are defined by the sacrifices they make. Even though you were upset with the end of this series, I do hope you keep reading future Spirit Animals stories … the world needs passionate readers like you!
    Cheers,

    Jonathan

  • Arrow says:

    Thanks for the reply, Mr. Auxier! I heard the book came out yesterday, and my other friends can finally get their hands on it. That was what I figured; the story was already thought out, of course. I just wish that Abeke could have at least told him how she felt, instead of being stubborn like Meilin. I guess now that he proved that he wants to do good in the world, saving it after destroying it in the past, there is not much use for having him as a character anymore. I hope you read the Book of Shane; it shows how he really is. I will make sure to read it sometime, since I heard there are two or three more books coming out soon. I guess his death had to happen; every war needs a sacrifice, and the planners of the series wanted a reaction from us. I do hope that Karmo and Devin show up once again, because it’d be interesting for Conor to see Devin again. I do believe they made up for their mistakes though. What I’m really wondering is, how old are the characters now? When the first book came out in 2013, they were either 11 or 12 years old. But now, it’s been three years, so they are at least 14 or 15. Then again, in the last chapter of The Burning Tide, it said that Abeke searched for six months, which means they’re at least 15 by then. They’ve grown so much, I’ll admit. Yet, they might not go by our time, and that confuses me a bit. During that time when the 7th book of the first series was finished, I bet more than a year passed before the second series started, in between the wars. So, I can’t help wondering. It’s always interesting to figure out these kinds of things, and thinking about their futures. Will they stay in Greenhaven? Will Meilin and Rollan get married? (I’m waiting for this one precisely) You can never tell. I hope the next books have something good to talk about in them, maybe starting a new war or just having fun and filling in all these holes. I’ve kind of shipped Conor with Abeke, so that could work. I hope by this time, you haven’t gotten tired and continued reading XD. I’ve been blabbering for a while, but hopefully it’s worthy of a reply. Toodles!

    -Arrow

  • This is absolutely worth a reply! You are awesome, and writers are lucky to have readers as thoughtful as you!
    Cheers,

    Jonathan

  • Arrow says:

    Hello again, Mr. Auxier! It’s been a while since I checked up on the Spirit Animals website- I see that you answered some questions readers had about the book. Although, I noticed another thing. They haven’t released any information about the new book yet! Usually they release it after two or three months following the release of a new book, but I’ve waited and it still hasn’t come. Do you maybe know why they haven’t released it yet? In a few days it’ll have been three months since the last release, and it just seems weird that they’re not letting any information out. If you don’t know I won’t be surprised or disappointed, but I just wanted to ask someone who might have a clue. They are having two or three more books released, I know that much, but… when? Thanks for reading, and I hope you reply. Have a good morning/afternoon/evening :)





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