He was an American author who penned 55 novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems and numerous movie scripts. The inventiveness of his Victorian-era fiction anticipated gadgets and trends that were decades away, such as television, laptop computers, wireless phones, and women in dangerous occupations. But mostly Lyman Baum was known for two things: his many children’s books; and his failure at just about every venture he tried before writing.
Lyman was born on May 15, 1856, in New York, into a prosperous and devout Methodist family. Lyman never cared for the name his father gave him, and instead went by his middle name, Frank. As a child he suffered from poor health and was tutored at home. He turned his interests to several creative pursuits such as writing. When he was 11, Lyman’s father purchased him a cheap printing press, and the boy spent many hours publishing thin journals and catalogs, mainly about stamp collecting.
When he was 20, Lyman took up poultry breeding, which at the time was a national craze. And although he published a monthly trade journal, The Poultry Record, and later wrote a book on the subject, the venture otherwise failed.
For awhile, Lyman worked in his brother’s dry goods store, but he was drawn to acting and the stage. In 1880, his father built him a theatre in Richburg, New York, and Lyman quickly wrote several plays, and assembled a stage company to perform his work. But while he was touring with the company, his theatre caught fire and burned to the ground, consuming all the props, costumes, and the only known copies of several of Lyman’s scripts.
In July 1888, Lyman and his wife moved to the Dakota Territory, where he opened a store that specialized in upscale merchandise. It was a very bad idea. Lyman was not a savvy businessman, and Baum’s Bazaar quickly went bankrupt. Lyman then turned to editing a local newspaper, The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, for which he wrote an often controversial column. The paper went under. The column went with it.
Failed chicken farmer, failed theatre manager, failed shop owner, failed newspaperman. It was time to try something else. So, at the age of 44, Lyman finally pursued one of his first loves, writing. First up, an unusual children’s novel based on whimsical stories he frequently shared with the neighboring kids. He finished The Emerald City on October 9, 1899. It was rejected so many times by so many publishers that Lyman kept a journal of all the rejection letters he received. He called it “A Record of Failure”!
One editor stated the book is “Too radical of a departure from traditional juvenile literature.” Lyman persevered, however, and found a publisher willing to print a modest run of 10,000 copies in January 1901. Within less than six months not only had the first printing sold out, but a second printing of 15,000 copies also was close to being depleted.
Since that time, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz has sold over 15 million copies. The novel and it’s 13 sequels have been adapted into numerous movies, stage plays, and comics; and the wondrous Land of Oz continues to capture the imaginations of children of all ages. Not a bad finish to Lyman’s track record of failure!
“…But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and extending myself unto those things which are ahead, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13 Jubilee Bible 2000)