One of the most interesting parts of being an academic, I think, is getting to attend conferences. Until this past week, I had had the pleasure of attending one conference, The Child and the Book, which we hosted here in Cambridge. The winter months brought conferencing lull for me, that is, until this past week, when there was a day-long conference on the Afterlife of Dorothy up in Manchester. Though my present research is less about what the character of Dorothy has been up to since leaving Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), my MPhil thesis involved both the book and the 1939 film (that’s the technicolor, Judy Garland version). And so, I strapped on my ruby/silver slippers and went.
I have never been to a conference on my own, and so felt a bit like Dorothy as I traveled from one train to another – “some of it wasn’t very nice, but most of it was beautiful” (that’s a slight exaggeration, but for the sake of the quote, we’ll have to forgive such things). When I arrived in Manchester there were no Munchkins or giant plastic flowers to greet me. The good news is that I didn’t kill or encounter any witches on arrival either!
After a peaceful night’s sleep at the hotel (unfortunately, there were no nearby forest clearings or Munchkin farmers’ cottages to offer me repose), I made my way past a few cornfields and poppy fields to the conference which was being put on by Hic Dragones, a small publishing company, which has close connections to the University of Manchester.
There I was able to listen to several very interesting papers, including a psychoanalytic reading of The Wizard of Oz (1939) by author Geoff Ryman, which explored how Dorothy’s dream-journey echoed both a desire for her dead parents and the history of the United States at the same time. Ryman peppered his talk with clips from the film which left all of us a bit emotional just in time for the coffee break. Nothing like tea to aid an emotional recovery!
The subjects of the other papers were as varied as a Queer reading of the musical Wicked (Johanna Schorn), an exploration of Baum’s transmedia storytelling (Matthew Freeman), and a look at feminine madness in Disney’s Return to Oz (1985) (Carys Crossen). I myself gave a paper using space-place theory to determine why the 1939 film stands out as the true American fairy tale over the novel on which it is based. Gregory Maguire, author of The Wicked Years series (1995-2011), even Skyped in to speak to us, resembling the floating head of the Wizard, though much more friendly.
By the time the conference was over, I felt a bit like Dorothy, sad to leave new acquaintances and a new landscape, but realising there’s no place like home. And so I rode a few more trains back, feeling upon arrival like I had “tried to get back for days and days!” But very, very glad for the experience.