Was (novel)

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Penguin Group 1993 edition
Author Geoff Ryman
Country UK
Language English
Publisher Harper Collins
Publication date
01 May 1992
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 352 pp (hardcover edition) & 368 pp(paperback edition)
ISBN 978-0-00-223931-8 (hardcover edition)
OCLC 26301503

Was (or Was... in the UK edition) is a WFA nominated[1] 1992 novel by American author Geoff Ryman, focusing on themes by L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the musical film version. Ranging across time and space from the 1860s Kansas to the late 1980s California

The concept of WAS is an adult parallel to the magical Land of Oz, that never existed as a real place. Instead, the novel explores the tragic, but very moving life of "Dorothy Gael" in 1800s Kansas, whose traumatic experiences with Aunt Emily and Uncle Henry after her mother's death lead her to create an imaginary and idealized world in her mind based on some of her real-life experiences as a way of coping with her bleak reality.

The book also goes into depth about the importance of a healthy, stable childhood and explores the life of Judy Garland as she plays Dorothy Gale in the 1939 movie. The novel tells the stories of the characters and how they are connected to one another without the characters themselves realizing it.

Plot summary[edit]

The novel is separated into three parts, "Winter Kitchen", "Summer Kitchen", and "Oz Circle". The primary focus is put on Jonathan, a gay male actor with AIDS who goes on a pilgrimage of sorts to Manhattan, Kansas and the "real" (in the novel) Dorothy on whom the book's version of L. Frank Baum based the character.

Characters include Baum, who makes an appearance as a substitute teacher in Kansas. Millie, a makeup girl on the set of the original film version film narrates an encounter with Judy Garland, its lead actress.


Was discusses a number of complex themes, including the importance of a stable childhood. Much of the novel is devoted to the dreary life that Dorothy Gael (surname different from Baum's character) leads with her aunt and uncle, Emma and Henry Gulch. Neither parental figure is capable of providing Dorothy with the affection or the attention she needs. As a result, Dorothy becomes silent at home and aggressive in school.

Jonathan's childhood, in contrast, involves his dependence on the imaginary characters from the first airing of The Wizard of Oz on television.

A roughly fictionalized version of Judy Garland's difficult life as a child actress is also shown, speculating on the marriage of her parents.

Was has been described as more somber than Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, and an attempt to correct the deceptive fantasy of that work, illuminating the realistic implications of having a fantasy world to retreat to.[2] It has also been called a critique of American society.[3]


Listed in The Gay Canon as one of the great books that every gay man should read. [4] *The Publishing Triangle placed it number 79 on its list of best gay and lesbian novels, and the book was republished as a part of Orion's Masterworks series.

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Finalist for the World Fantasy Award[1]
  • Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, 1993[1]
  • Inducted into the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards Hall of Fame in 2002.[5]

Musical adaptation[edit]

A musical production of the book, sponsored by the American Musical Theatre Project, premiered at the Ethel M. Barber Theatre at Northwestern University in October 2005. It was directed by Tina Landau, with libretto and lyrics by Barry Kleinbort, and music by Joseph Thalken. An earlier version of the musical had appeared at the Human Race Theatre in Dayton, Ohio.


  1. ^ a b c "1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-17. 
  2. ^ Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth, p. 134
  3. ^ Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth, p. 136
  4. ^ The Gay Canon: Great Books Every Gay Man Should Read, By Robert Drake, Edition: illustrated, Published by Anchor Books, 1998<, ISBN 0-385-49228-6, ISBN 978-0-385-49228-7, page 456
  5. ^ Kelly, Mark R. (2003–2007). "2002 Gaylactic Spectrum Awards". Locus Publications. Retrieved 2008-11-13. 

External links[edit]

  • Was at Worlds Without End