Top 10 Oz Illustrations, Part 13: The Magic of Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill

It's with a bittersweet sense of satisfaction that I write the second to last installment of my series of top 10 Oz illustrations. Next week will be the very last time I post about Oz altogether, (at least for a while,) but in the meantime, here are the top 10 illustrations from The Magic of Oz.

But first, a bit of background: this book was published a little over a month after L. Frank Baum's death in 1919, making it one out of two of his Oz books that were published posthumously. It is also the second of his Oz books to feature Ozma's birthday as its main plot point, the other being The Road to Oz. (But, unlike The Road to Oz, this book has a much richer plot with many interesting events taking place, and is a lot less linear in its storyline.)

So, let's hop to it:

10.) Tailpiece from Chapter 21: Here we are close to the very end of the book, where they all live happily ever after, and the Wizard is playing a game that, by the look on his face, he seems to really be enjoying. Neill very skillfully conveys fluid gestures, as he does with just about all his figure drawings, but here it is more obvious due to his use of a line of action from his right foot to his raised right hand.

9.) Double page spread from Chapter 11: I mentioned briefly in an article about Percy J. Bilinghurst (a completely different artist,) that it's a real challenge to draw expressive animals. And yet, because human-like animals are a very common theme in the Oz books, that skill is a prerequisite for illustrating them. Neill handles this challenge like it's no big deal, and here especially we get to see a large variety of animals with a large variety of expressions, ranging from pensive to solemn, to amused, to angry. In my opinion, there's no better image to showcase his skill with drawing expressive animals than this one.

8.) Full page illustration from Chapter 1: One of the things that makes this book so interesting is that it has a very rare example of a villain who is also a child. (The vast majority of Baum's villains are maladjusted adults.) This image happens to depict this villain, named Kiki Aru, in the act of setting off the chain of events in the book by discovering a very powerful magic word that had been nailed under the floorboard. He would later use this word, ("pyrzqxgl",) to cause all kinds of trouble, and to make matters worse, he teams up with the Nome King , Ozma's sworn enemy, to destroy the Land of Oz.

Again, just as with the first illustration, we see Neill's skillful rendering of spontaneous, fluid gestures. He just doesn't do stiff, and that's a good thing!

7.) Full page illustration from Chapter 4: In this image, Kiki Aru and the Nome King have used "pyrzqxgl" to transform into eagles so as to fly into Oz to cause trouble. Just as with the animal picture above, Neill uses expression very effectively here. You can just tell by the menacing looks on these birds' faces that they're up to no good. To balance out the composition, Neill adds the landscape of Oz below, and the movement and direction of the birds naturally leads your eye down towards it.

6.) Color plate from Chapter 8: Kiki Aru and the Nome King have very creatively transformed themselves into a beast of their own creation. These Li-mon-eags, as they called themselves, have the heads of lions, the bodies of monkeys, the wings of eagles, and brass knobs at the ends of their tails.

Neill's use of composition, expression, and whimsy all come together wonderfully in this illustration. Need I say more?

5.) Double page spread from Chapter 16: Another thing I really like about this book is that it makes very subtle references to WWI, which was taking place at the time this book was being written. (It was published roughly seven months after the Armistice was signed.) Take this illustration, for example. In it, a few of the characters have been transformed (no doubt by "pyrzqxgl") into giant soldiers. These soldiers are portrayed in WWI uniforms, and their size and stature make for a very dignified portrait of those who gave their lives serving our country.

4.) Title page: The hand lettering on this is absolutely wonderful, but the image itself is also very well done and very apropos. This book's title is The Magic of Oz, and we can see magic written all over this image. The Wizard is cooking up something fantastic, and yet, magic being what it is, we don't see much behind his dramatically posing, black coated figure. Only the suggestion that he's working with magic, as is conveyed by the billow of smoke. Seeing this when we first open the book, we are left wondering what sort of magic we will encounter within its pages...

3.) Dedication: This is one image that does not have anything to do with Oz at all, and could just as easily be an illustration for a completely different story. It probably should be, given who the book is dedicated to. A solemn, respectful homage to a devastating conflict in which so many gave so much. Nothing more, nothing less.

Aside from this, I feel the need to comment on the use of depth in this image. As the flag waving figures recede further into the background, the lines become thinner and wispier, and the crosshatching becomes more sparse. (Not counting the perspective, of course. That's a given.)

2.) Dorothy and The Wizard (from front matter): I absolutely love the composition and the use of detail in this image, but the hand lettering really steals the show.

One thing I can't figure out, though, is why Dorothy looks so much older than her age. Maybe this was another one of Neill's recycled images?

1.) Color plate from Chapter 5: This image has almost everything you could want in an Oz illustration by John R. Neill! Fluidity of motion, expression, whimsy, color, composition, you name it. It's got it! What is especially eye catching about it, though, is the color. So many colors in one picture, it's unbelievable! Probably very costly to print, too, especially back then...

And that's it for this list. Do you agree with it? What image from The Magic of Oz was your favorite? Maybe there was one you wish I had included?

As always, please let me know in the comments section so we can get a nice conversation going.

Till next time!

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