Finding Dorothy – Elizabeth Letts

Finding Dorothy

This richly imagined novel tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum’s intrepid wife, Maud.

Hollywood, 1938: As soon as she learns that M-G-M is adapting her late husband’s masterpiece, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, for the screen, Maud Gage Baum sets about trying to visit the set. Nineteen years after Frank’s passing, Maud is the only person who can help the producers stay true to the spirit of the book – because she’s the only one left who knows its secrets. […]

Finding Dorothy is the result of Letts’s journey into the amazing lives of Frank and Maud Baum. Written as fiction but based closely on the truth, Elizabeth Letts’s new book tells a story of love, loss, inspiration, and perseverance, set in America’s heartland.


This book was everything I wanted it to be, and more. As promised, we are taken behind the curtain to discover the lives that inspired L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and also the creation of the iconic film. From the very first pages, we are whisked away to the magical world of Hollywood – the bustling sets, the glamour, the veneer, the fragile heights of stardom. The book is structured in two alternating time-frames: this filming of the movie in 1938 Hollywood, and chapters set in the past, which fill in the rich history of Maud and Frank’s life.

Amongst the tales of Maud and Frank’s life, we begin to spot recognisable moments and characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s satisfying to spot them – we discover the origin of the scarecrow, the tin man, the white city and much, much more. We come to love Frank for his vivid imagination (a lens that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary), Maud for her determination and for grounding Frank, and for the immense love that they share.

All this I expected, and was delighted by. But I was also surprised and very pleased to find a really gutsy undercurrent, exploring womanhood, gender equality and the women’s suffrage movement. I came to realise that, more than anything: this is Maud’s story. It is Maud we follow from childhood, as a strong-willed young girl holding her own in games of marbles with the boys in the neighbourhood. She shares this headstrong trait with her mother, who is the fascinating and extraordinary Matilda Joslyn Gage, a suffragist and activist public figure from the 19th-century. Maud is among the first women to be accepted to study at Cornell University, but quickly realises that she has no interest in acting like a “potted plant” or a “bird with clipped wings”. Women are also shown as being subject to their bodies and the functions of their bodies – early methods of contraception, the dangers of childbirth and sickness are all present in the novel.

All this, for me, balanced out what could otherwise have been a nice but perhaps slightly-too-twee story. Yes, there are some very sentimental scenes and speeches  in this book, but there are plenty of raw and gritty moments that counter them – representing the tapestry of experiences that make up life.

In fact, much of Finding Dorothy illuminates gentle tensions, which overlap and coexist in beautiful harmony. As with Kansas and Oz, alternate worlds exist together: history meets fiction; ordinary existence intertwines with the transformative power of imagination; moments of great tenderness exist alongside raw pain. Most significantly for me, the novel also addresses these tensions that exist within ourselves, and in particular, the pull in different directions that is often so acutely felt by women.

Letts’s writing has such lyricism and attention to detail, and it is just beautiful. She adeptly handles these variations in tone, and skilfully brings everything together to create this wonderful book.

Finding Dorothy, by Elizabeth Letts is published by Quercus and is available now. Many thanks to Quercus for the aARC via Netgalley.

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