Pins & Needles No. 4: Timothy Schaffert

Interviews with Fairy Tale Authors

bad wolf
© A.T. Velazco


“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”

No. 4: Timothy Schaffert

Hot air balloons, swoon. Why this machine?

I, myself, would be terrified of going up in a balloon. I’d almost certainly jump from fear and confusion. The Wizard of Oz, however, was an entertainer. When Dorothy asks what a balloonist is, he explains: “A man who goes up in a balloon on circus day, so all to draw a crowd of people together and get them to pay to see the circus.” As noted by Oz scholar Michael Patrick Hearn, Oz would have been a contemporary of Washington Harrison Donaldson, who, like Oz, was also a ventriloquist, magician, and balloonist. One day Donaldson ascended at the Chicago lake front, and he and his balloon were never seen again. The dead body of his only other passenger, however – a newsman named Newton Grimwood – eventually washed up on shore. Among Grimwood’s last words before ascending: “I only care to go this once, just for the experience.”

If you would, describe L. Frank Baum’s writing style in 25 words or less.

Tinged with a humor that’s somewhere between wit and whimsy, and in the vicinity of a kindly sarcasm. (As I mentioned, Dorothy asks Oz what a balloonist is; after he tells her, she says “Oh, I know.”)

Which Oz character—from any of the 14 books in the series—are you?

I’m overjoyed to be able to say that I’m not a single one of them. My pleasure in the series stems not at all from being able to relate to the characters. I mean, I loved, as a child growing up on a farm in Nebraska, that Dorothy was a farm girl, and that there were tornados and scarecrows, and a balloonist from Omaha, but I was always blissfully troubled by the characters’ logic.

Timothy Schaffert guest co-edited The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review alongside Kate Bernheimer and the editorial staff of graduate MFA students at the University of Arizona.