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So yesterday in the UK, while I was sunning myself like a lazy feline in the market, all kinds of weather hell broke loose in the UK.  Lightning, landslides, flash floods, football-sized hailstones.  Even a tornado…

My Wiccan friend claims she has unleashed the wrath of the Goddess, so I’d like to thank her for at least sparing me from a drenching.  And all this storm-chasing leads me neatly on to todays guest post, written by Mark R Hunter.  Author of, appropriately enough, romantic comedy Storm Chaser, which you can buy here :

http://www.markrhunter.com/books/storm-chaser/

Today he’s talking about a classic of children’s literature, and how all the best new ideas are really just old ideas with a twist of lemon.  Over to you, Mark!

FANTASY SENSATIONS – A HARDY PERENNIAL

A writer toils away in obscurity, always on the edge of bankruptcy, then one day comes up with an idea that clicks : about a normal child drawn into an unknown world of magic, who experiences danger and great adventure.  The child is an orphan, but despite the doubts and fears of an unadventurous aunt and uncle, becomes a legendary hero in this magical world.

The work becomes a phenomenon, spawning a series of best-selling, highly anticipated sequels, movies, toys and even a theme park.  Sure, some people complain about exposing kids to the magical world of witches, wizards, giants and monsters.  Others are concerned with the way sometimes dark themes are matched with what some see only as children’s stories.  But overall parents enjoy the stories as much as their children, and the author becomes famous and generally loved until, sadly, he dies at an early age.

What?  Who did you think I was talking about?

I’m speaking of L Frank Baum, the author of fourteen Oz books.  You’ve no doubt heard of the first one, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The parallels between Baum and J K Rowling are obvious, and you can be forgiven for thinking I referred to the latter – after all, Harry Potter first arrived on the scene almost a century after Dorothy Gale was first carried to Oz, and many people have no idea her first appearance wasn’t, in fact, 39 years later with the Judy Garland film version (which was far from being the first Oz movie.)

Despite his health problems Baum was a writer of almost Bradbury-like proportions, churning out books and short stories (including some science fiction) under dozens of pen names.  His third Oz book, in addition to bringing Dorothy back to Oz for the second time, introduced Tik-Tok, the mechanical man, one of the first robots ever seen in literature.

That makes Baum a pioneer of both the American fantasy and SF genres.  He was also a pioneer in film making.  After becoming successful he moved to a tiny, almost empty, Californian village named Hollywood, and set up one of the areas first film studios.

What does this tell us?  That everything old can be made new again?  That there are no new ideas?  That great minds think alike?  That I use too many clichés?

Well, yes.  There may be no new ideas, but there are always new ways to deal with old ideas.  Despite their surface similarities, Rowling didn’t steal from Baum; she just took similar concepts and made them her own.  The Harry Potter books didn’t lessen Baum’s legacy, they complemented it.  It may be a good idea to take a chance on stories that at first glance appear to be a rip-off.

Or maybe it just tells us that every generation needs someone to bring wonder back into the minds of young and old alike.

In addition to his weekly humour column, Mark R Hunter is the author of the romantic comedy novel “Storm Chaser”, as well as the short story collection “Storm Chaser Shorts”, which contains a story featuring a character from the Oz books.  His website is www.markrhunter.com.

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