Virtually everyone has seen the classic movie The Wizard of Oz starring Hollywood legend Judy Garland, including me.
But very few have ever read, or even know the complete legacy of the book. And to say that the original tale and the history it spawned are fascinating, is a massive understatement.
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz by L. Frank Baum was the first successful book written by the man who had lived a long and varied career. Published in 1900 with illustrations by W.W. Denslow, this fairy tale with no heartache became an instant bestseller.
This pushed Baum, who wanted to do other children’s stories, to make sequel after sequel, something he was not happy with. After his passing in 1919, new Oz stories were continously produced under Baum’s name, but written by others for quite some years. And of course film adaptations proliferated, with the aforementioned Judy Garland musical being by far the most famous. More Oz followed over the years, with cartoons, movie remakes, film sequels and prequels, graphic adaptations, and brief allusions in Once Upon A Time, being just some of the ways the series has lived on.
As for the original story which provided the DNA for all of this imagination, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz surprises with how accessible and easy to follow this children’s tale is. Having read other books written within decades of Oz, sometimes the time period and style oozes through the pores of the story, making it a slight slog to get through. But Oz does not really suffer from this problem, and it also surprises with how much of the storyline they did use for the Garland film.
We start with Dorothy, a very young orphan girl living with her Aunt and Uncle on a very desolate poor Kansas farm. At light speed a tornado plucks Dorothy, dog Toto, and her shanty house and zips over thousands and thousands of miles to the magical land of Oz. The house plops down on the Wicked Witch of the East and kills her. Dorothy inherits the Witches shoes, wants to go home, and heads out on the Yellow Brick Road to ask the help of the Wizard to get back to where she once belonged. Along the way, she bumps into a Scarecrow who wants a brain, a Tin Man who wishes a heart, and a Cowardly Lion who yearns for courage. When they reach the Wizard, he demands they slay the Wicked Witch of the West, which they set out to do. During a confrontation, Dorothy gets the Witch wet and she melts. The Wizard, it turns out, is a fake and a fraud, and is also from Kansas. When Dorothy and the Wizard attempt to return by balloon, she gets left behind by accident. The Good Witch shows up, tells Dorothy to use the magical shoes to get home, and she does.
And you all are saying, hey that is exactly like the classic movie!
And, you would be right for the most part.
But right away, noticeable differences exist. While the movie takes the basic blueprint from Baum, the book has a very different tack, one that is abit more gory in come cases, more metaphysical in others, and filled with tangents that are strange to say the least.
Dorothy, for one, is quite young here, and I believe her age is supposed to be about five. Also, the “out” of it being all a dream is definitely not used, or even hinted at here. This tale happened to Dorothy, most certainly, and Oz is a real place on Earth, a huge land surrounded by dessert.
The question of what is life screams to the reader all through any part where the Scarecrow is heavily featured, and in some ways, this also happens with the Tin Man. His origin is not only heartbreaking, but kind of gross with its violence, making Tin Man a sad figure in all this.
Also, as they travel along the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy and her companions face all sorts of strange obstacles, all of which are shown to be impossible to conquer, then suddenly are figured out and fixed rather quickly. Baum really hammers home the point that each character already has what they seek, which they easily use to repeatedly save the day, they just don’t realize it yet. Subtlety is not Baum’s strong suit here, for he wants his moral lessons to be easily transferred to the readers.
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz moves at an extremely quick pace, with the story and setting changing every few pages. You can tell Baum wanted the story to entertain, never stall, and impart very important life lessons. And even over a hundred years later, it still does.
…is currently reading Divergent by Veronica Roth.