Back in the late summer of 2007, before the release of The Rough Guide to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and the movie The Golden Compass, I remarked to Pullman in an email note that I thought the best cinematic portrayl of the bond between a dæmon and its person was the relationship between Toto and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
I was flabbergasted when he responded that although he knew some of the songs from the movie, he had not seen it, nor had he read Baum’s novel. I had assumed that every child in the English-speaking world during the 1960s watched The Wizard of Oz annually, just as so many American kids did, that it was as much a shared cultural experience as Beatlemania.
But a little research revealed that the BBC aired the movie infrequently at best (which raises all kinds of questions about The Dark Side of the Moon).
Imagine my surprise the first time I picked up The Rough Guide to flip through to a half-page still from The Wizard of Oz and then to read:
The story of Oz–in celluloid and literary form–has had a significant influence on Pullman’s imagination. As the fantasy writer J.L. Bell has shown, Pullman’s The Scarecrow And The [sic] Servant is directly influenced by Oz, paying homage to specific scenes and character names. 92
Oh really? I tracked down the Bell essay, a post on his blog ozandends from May 2006. In fact, Bell stops far short of claiming that Pullman was directly influenced by movie or book.
So I wrote Bell. Were Pullman ever publically to address Oz influences on his novels, those who had read only Simpson’s summary of Bell’s observations would at that point conclude Bell was the source of the negative knowledge Simpson relays.
Bell alerted his blog’s readers to Simpson’s misreading of his observations on The Scarecrow and His Servant and Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz. Referring to the passage quoted above, Bell notes:
Actually, I didn’t show that [‘directly influenced’] at all. I simply pointed out some similarities, but I didn’t feel they were close enough to prove influence, nor did I have any evidence about Pullman’s reading.