Penguin Group 1993 edition
|01 May 1992|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
|Pages||352 pp (hardcover edition) & 368 pp(paperback edition)|
|ISBN||ISBN 978-0-00-223931-8 (hardcover edition)|
Was (or Was... in the UK edition) is a WFA nominated 1992 novel by American author Geoff Ryman, focusing on themes by L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the musical 1939 film version. Ranging across time and space from the late 1800s of Kansas, to the late 1980s in California.
The concept of Was is an adult parallel to the magical Land of Oz, that never existed as a real place like in Baum's book. Instead, the novel explores the tragic, but very moving life of "Dorothy Gael" in 1800s Kansas, whose traumatic experiences with her unloving Aunt Emily and abusive 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. Throughout the story, Dorothy uses this as way of coping with her harsh and bleak reality.
The book also goes into depth about the importance of a healthy, stable childhood and explores the unhappy 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 ever truly realizing it.
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.
Other important characters include Baum himself, who makes an appearance as a substitute teacher in Kansas. Also Millie, a makeup girl on the set of the original MGM musical version and narrates an unforgettable encounter with its lead actress, Judy Garland.
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. It has also been called a critique of American society.
Listed in The Gay Canon as one of the great books that every gay man should read.  *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
- Finalist for the World Fantasy Award
- Shortlisted for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, 1993
- Inducted into the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards Hall of Fame in 2002.
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.
- "1993 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
- Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth, p. 134
- Jack Zipes, Fairy Tale as Myth, p. 136
- 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
- Kelly, Mark R. (2003–2007). "2002 Gaylactic Spectrum Awards". Locus Publications. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
- Was at Worlds Without End