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July 31, 2014

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A space-age, modern journey for the characters of Oz

Dorothy and Toto aren’t in Kansas anymore — or even the Land of Oz in “The Oz Enigma,” Roger Baum’s newest installment in the Oz series.

The book, expected to be released in March, shuttles the characters off to the Big Dipper. Yet in typical Oz fashion, they must overcome obstacles using love, heart, wisdom and courage to return home.

It is the first time the characters have left the Land of Oz and ventured into space. The story is Baum’s way of easing the series out of medieval times and into the 22nd century while staying true to the world his great-grandfather L. Frank Baum created more than 110 years ago.

“Great-granddad never really believed in having the automobile or the airplane ... or current modern things in his fairy tales because fairy tales shouldn’t be modern,” Baum said. “When you take them up into space in a spaceship, you are getting somewhat modern. ... But the characters themselves carry with them the original theme wherever they go.”

Baum, a substitute teacher, said he came up with the idea after seeing the fascination children had with space. The constant stream of discoveries of unexplored worlds dominated class discussions, and it piqued his interest.

After writing 15 stories set in the Land of Oz, he decided it was time to give the series a jolt and make it more relatable to the interests of children today.

“These new discoveries are happening constantly because of the Hubble telescope and so on,” Baum said. “So all of a sudden, space is perfect. It’s time to move Oz.”

In the book, Baum has the Wicked Witch’s evil cousin, Maelstrom, whisk the characters off to the Big Dipper in a shuttle. They must then beat her in a race to the North Star to return to Oz. Along the way, the characters explore new worlds, meet new friends, defeat a giant jellyfish and discover the Big Dipper is actually filled with water, he said with a laugh.

Each obstacle is overcome with humble acts of courage, love and wisdom the series is known for. And of course, it has a happy ending.

It’s an adventure that launches the series into new territories, but at its core, it is still his great-grandfather’s fairy tale.

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