INTERVIEW: Theodora Goss, Author of “Lost Girls of Oz”

Theodora Goss’s publications include the short story collection In the Forest of ForgettingInterfictions, a short story anthology coedited with Delia Sherman; Voices from Fairyland, a poetry anthology with critical essays and a selection of her own poems; and The Thorn and the Blossom, a novella in a two-sided accordion format. She has been a finalist for the Nebula Award, Crawford Award, Locus Award, and Mythopoeic Award, and on the Tiptree Award Honor List. She has won the World Fantasy and Rhysling Awards. Her website can be found at www.theodoragoss.com.

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

My story is about Eleanor Dale, an intrepid girl reporter, who finds a way to Oz.  On her journey, she meets the Wizard, fights Nomes, and discovers that Oz is a lot more complicated than she imagined . . .

What was the genesis of the story-what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

My story is called “Lost Girls of Oz,” and it really does focus on girls.  I read the Oz books–all of the Baum ones–when I was young, and they influenced me deeply.   It was important to me that they were specifically about girls–in Oz, girls ruled.  There was Ozma, and Glinda, and even Dorothy eventually moved to Oz.  They were joined by Betsy Bobbin and Trot.  Although there were some male protagonists, Oz was a sort of girl’s paradise, where you could go off and find adventures, have wonderful friends such as talking lions, eat from the dinner pail trees . . .  So that’s the inspiration.  It begins with the idea that the Oz books are about girls–what it means to be a girl, what girls want.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

It was less of a challenge than I expected, I think because the story is actually written by Eleanor (who goes by Nell), and Nell sort of took over.  Once I got her writing, she just wrote.  (She’s a reporter, so she’s pretty good.)  The hardest part was finding her voice, and making sure I had my facts correct.  I kept clicking back and forth between my story and the map of Oz . . .

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

Oh yes!  In two ways.  First, I had wanted to write an Oz story for a long time.  As I said, the Oz stories were absolutely formative for me.  And second, it’s about girls and freedom and power.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot because I have an eight-year-old daughter who likes reading books about boys.  Female heroines are too passive for her.  She was recently upset by a video game because she was having difficulty creating a male avatar.  She could have chosen a female avatar, but all of them were wearing dresses.  Not so useful for adventuring in . . .  I think it’s important to have stories in which girls are strong, active heroines.  This is not that story–it’s for adults, and it’s about what Oz means, what Oz is.  It’s supposed to make you question your assumptions.  But that’s part of the reason the story is personal–I’m very interested in stories for girls.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I re-read a couple of the Oz books, the ones I knew had characters I wanted to use.  I had to look up the origin of H. M. Woggle-Bug, for instance.  But there’s a great deal of information online. The online character lists and maps helped a lot.  And I still remember a lot of the details.  So much of Oz is in my head . . .

What is the appeal of Oz? Why do you think readers/viewers love it so much?

I think it’s the combination of danger and friendship that it offers.  There’s danger: even though almost no one dies in Oz, characters are constantly having their straw scattered, losing their pumpkin heads, being turned to stone by a Liquid of Petrification . . . all dangers appropriate to who they are.  But in Oz, you can always find friends.  And Oz is incredibly diverse and accepting: you can be an animated sawhorse or a chicken from Kansas, and you’ll be accepted.  There is also a great deal of humor in the books.  I still love to read them, and I think that’s the mark of a great children’s book–when you still love to read it as an adult.

What are some of your favorite Oz memories (whether from the books or the various movies, or other “reimaginings”), and what makes them your favorites?

I love it when Dorothy finally gets to stay in Oz.  I always hated that she had to go back to Kansas.  But when she and Uncle Henry and Aunt Em finally get to stay–that’s the ultimate wish-fulfillment.  Baum contradicts the original lesson of the series, which is that you always have to go home: the magic doesn’t last.  In the end, he tells us, it can.  The magical country can become home.  The strangest moment of the series is when Tip turns into Ozma–how disconcerting, to be a freely wandering boy and then suddenly turn into a girl with responsibilities, the supreme ruler of Oz.  Part of what makes the books so effective is that they contain some of the same ingredients as fairy tales: they show us psychological processes externalized.  A young girl may well feel and behave like a boy, until she gets to a certain age.  And then she has to behave like a girl, at least in the era when the books were written.  But at least she can still be the ruler of a fairyland.  Baum called the Oz story an American fairy tale, and you really can see those fairy tale elements in the books.  They show us children grappling with the same issues as we find in the classic fairy tales by Perrault and the Grimms.  Also, for some reason I’ve always liked the Glass Cat.  Go figure . . .

What do you think about the new Oz movie coming out in March, Oz: The Great and Powerful? Excited? Dubious? Some combination of both?
What worries me about the movie is that it centers on the Wizard, who seems to be the hero of the story.  In the Oz books, the Wizard was never a central character: he was ultimately a friend of Ozma’s and Dorothy’s.  The action always centered on the girls.  I think certain stories, like those about Oz, can be rewritten many times without harm to the original.  But I’ll have to see the movie to judge how it deals with the original material.  In the stories, the Wizard does eventually learn magic, but it’s from Glinda–in a sense, he is her student and servant.  I think the way the Oz books deal with gender is very important, and I hope the movie recognizes that . . .