Top 10 Oz Illustrations, Part 3: Ozma of Oz, Illustrated by John R. Neill

After a somewhat hectic week, I'm back again for part three of this series, and I'm very pleased to be writing about the illustrations in what is aesthetically one of my favorite Oz books: Ozma of Oz. In this book, we finally see a departure from John R. Neill's somewhat inauthentic attempts to imitate W. W. Denslow, and this book is also the first Oz book since The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to use such a profuse amount of color. Aside from this, Ozma of Oz also sets the tone for the rest of the series by introducing a few iconic characters, including Tik-Tok, a mechanical man, (and literature's first robot;) Billina, a talking hen; and The Nome King, Oz's most enduring villain.

Now let's get right into it.

10.) Author's Note Headpiece: One of the advantages of no longer being constrained by the style of someone who very seldom used light and shadow, (W. W. Denslow's style predominantly consisted of line art, often to the exclusion of any shading,) is that one can play around with light and shadow for effect. This is exactly what Neill does here, and in the process, he creates what is quite possibly the most dramatic illustration in the whole book. Also, if you look at the background, you'll notice that his cross-hatching fans out rather than going in one direction, which adds more depth and definition to the background. And Neill's choice of lighting direction (from the bottom) gives the illustration a very sinister feel.


9.) Partial Double Page Spread (From Chapter 10, The Giant With the Hammer): This book makes seldom use of ornamentation, and almost every illustration has a more direct purpose than to simply decorate the book. But even so, we see that Neill works overtime to give his work a decorative feel while at the same time serving its main purpose. In this illustration, for instance, we are aware of which scene is being portrayed, but at the same time, the fact that it spreads across the middle of two pages (with text at top and bottom,) as well as its ornamental border, are what give it the feel of an ornament without it actually being one.

8.) Tailpiece (From Chapter 13, The Nome King Laughs): There isn't much to say about this illustration that hasn't already been said about the previous one, since it serves the same function. But what can be said is that it clearly shows Neill's proficiency at drawing facial expressions, and I also like how he puts Dorothy's hands and hairpiece outside the border. I mentioned his use of this effect in Part 2 of this series, but I think it bears reiterating that placing parts of the image outside of the border give it a very three-dimensional, comic-book-like feel. You almost feel like you can reach for her hands and pull her into safety.

7.) Chapter 19 Heading: One thing I've always loved about Neill's work is that it shows just the right blend of realism and whimsy. While we've seen (and are about to see more of) how realistic his figures are, he doesn't shy away from adding a cartoon-like flair when called for. In this image, we see a row of absurdly shaped nomes, each one different from the others, but all very comical in their appearance. It almost reminds me of children's fantasy movies of the 80s, particularly movies such as Labyrinth and The Neverending Story, in that, while the people look real, the fantasy creatures are the ones that look fanciful. (Maybe this type of illustration is how Jim Henson got his ideas...)

6.) "It's a Wheeler!" (From Chapter 3, Letters in the Sand): This book has many two-color illustrations, but it also doesn't skimp on full-color images taking up an entire page. It's interesting to note that these illustrations aren't color plates, as they are on the same print-run as the rest of the book, which is unusual for full-page color pictures. I'll be reviewing four of these illustrations in this article, but I place this ahead of the rest of them simply because it's the boldest and most brightly colored of them all.

5.) Mister Tinker Visits the Moon (From Chapter 5, Dorothy Opens the Dinner Pail): This image is very whimsical, but I appreciate it especially when viewed in the context of its time. In the dark days when we had about sixty-nine years until we could finally step on the moon for the first time, there was a pervasive fascination with lunar travel. The most famous example of this would be Georges Méliès's 1903 film "A Trip to the Moon," but there were also many other pop culture references to visiting the moon, such as James Horton's 1892 hit "My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon." Other songs, such as "The Moon Has His Eyes on You" (1905), attempted to personify the moon, which only added to its allure. I think it's interesting that L. Frank Baum would see fit to acknowledge this in a book of his, but Neill's interpretation really takes the cake. His depiction of the moon as a house, (complete with window and chimney,) with someone actually living in it, is not only strongly suggestive of Neill's brand of whimsy, but, when viewed in its historical context, it's also wonderfully nostalgic and quaint.

4.) "The Princess Won't Like It," Said the Maid (From Chapter 6, The Heads of Langwidere): The main thing that sets this illustration apart from all the rest of them is its creative use of a decorative border made up of women's heads. (For context, in the story, Princess Langwidere is a somewhat gruesome character who changes heads the way you or I might change our underwear.) Also, rather than being separate from the picture, the heads appear to look disapprovingly towards the scene in which the maid is denying Billina entry into the palace. (I guess that makes it yet another one of those "No Animals Allowed" establishments... *sigh*)

3.) Tailpiece (From Chapter 14, Dorothy Tries to Be Brave): This is another dramatic illustration, particularly due to its use of lighting. Dorothy, having rescued prince Evring, is escorting him out of the Nome King's palace into the light, which is skillfully placed at the back of the image. His use of textures and cross-hatching is also very well-done.

2.) Dorothy Opened Her Tin Dinner-Pail (From Chapter 5, Dorothy Opens the Dinner Pail): As with number 4 above, this image also makes creative use of a border that is almost an image in itself. But what I find more appealing about this one is that the border is not centered, but placed off to one side, with the main image de-centered to the other side. Both the main image and the border illustrate two separate parts of the narrative, but even so, they seem to be interacting with each other, and for this reason they go together beautifully. As a nice little finishing touch, we see a tree branch go outside the border to achieve the three-dimensional effect previously mentioned.

1.) Chapter 1 Heading: Just as we begin our third journey to Oz, we see this beautiful and dramatic image, which lets us know we are in for a bumpy ride. Aesthetically, there are so many reasons to love this image: To begin with, Neill draws the water with varying line thicknesses, (even using a brush with ink for some of it,) which gives it depth and texture; next, we see what looks like a floating bell in the foreground, with the ship in the background, creating that extra illusion of distance; and then we see his skillful use of hand-lettering, (which has definitely proven to be a very useful ability down the line, as we'll see in later books;) and last but not least, we see the type blending seamlessly with the image in an interactive way, so that the two are seen as a whole rather than separate parts.

Do you agree with this list? Which Ozma of Oz illustration is your favorite? Please let me know in the comments section below.

I look forward to our chat...

Till next time!

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