What They Say:
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” is the classic story of fantasy that has delighted readers young and old for decades. Dorothy finds herself transplanted to the magical land of Oz when her house is sucked up by a tornado. To get back home she must follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to help her get back to Kansas. Along the way she meets several interesting characters including the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion who join her on her travels to ask the Wizard for help of their own.
To say that the Wizard of Oz is well known is certainly an understatement. I grew up with it as something that I saw a few times on home video, got introduced to The Wiz when that hit with its new take on the classic and then got a bit familiar with Wicked as a musical. When the new trailer for Oz, Great and Powerful hitting recently, I finally took to looking to see what the deal with was it. While I was familiar with the Wizard of Oz in its theatrical form, even if it’s been well over ten years since I last saw it, I wasn’t sure just how much material there was to draw from with the new movie. So I’ll admit that while I probably knew it at one point, I was surprised to find that L. Frank Baum had written some fourteen Oz novels. My curiosity was piqued and then really acquired when I found that a new ebook edition was available for my Kindle for just 95 cents. An edition that had all fourteen volumes. Suffice to say, I grabbed it and dived right into the Wonderful Wizard of Oz to get my grounding since it’s the first book in the series.
With mostly hazy memories and more parodies in mind than the full work itself (I’ll dig that DVD set out soon!), going into the first novel was like a revelation. With books from this era, originally published in 1900, I’ve found a lot of difficulty getting into the style of prose from some authors. But with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it was a very smooth read that made for a very enjoyable experience. The movie follows the structure of the book, but there’s so much more here that it really is surprising just how much it was sanitized for the film. With the basic introduction of Dorothy in Kansas, a gray land where it’s pretty much a wasteland where her aunt and uncle work and toil hard for little, it doesn’t take long for the tornado to hit and whisk her into the world of Oz. With such bright colors and colorful people, she’s set upon a journey to find the wizard of Oz, the one man who may be able to help her return to the “country” of Kansas. With her arrival having resulted in killing of the Wicked Witch of the East, she gains some reputation and aid from the start before setting off on her journey.
Some of the things that comes from it is really intriguing and colors your view of the film as well, such as a look at how Dorothy’s outfit has an interpretation of its own. With her time spent with the Munchkins at first, having freed them from slavery due to killing the Witch, they’re thrilled about her appearance. While she has the silver shoes of the witch, she also has the classic white and blue check dress. The blue, it turns out, is the color of Munchkins so they take that as a representation of her saving them. The white is that they believe she must be a good witch, in addition to the shoes, so they take to her quite plainly as she seems to embody a version of them in a way.
Dorothy’s journey also paints a picture of the differences between Oz and Kansas that I certainly didn’t make as a child and really isn’t done all that strongly in the film. While Kansas was a wasteland, time is spent here showing us how Dorothy takes in this beautiful land that she crosses where the skies are bright blue, the fields are full of crops and flowers and greenery abounds. It’s a stark contrast from what she’s used to and her delight in it is quite apparent. It also runs parallel to her strong desire to return home to that gray world because that’s where family is and that means more to her than anything else. It’s the driving motivator here and one that works well as it keeps her moving.
Naturally, she meets the three members of her party along the way. The Scarecrow is far more developed here and doesn’t feel anywhere near as comical as the film, instead have a touch of sadness to him but also some sharp insights. The cowardly lion is obviously a huge difference since in here, it really is a lion and not just someone dressed poorly as one. The more literal approach changes the dynamic when it comes to things. And the Tin Woodman is probably the starkest difference for me, as we learn his origin in all its bloody and brutal glory with how he went from being a normal man in love with a Munchkin to ending up cut apart by his own axe. Did the Tin Woodman even have an axe in the feature? He wields it here in the book like Abraham Lincoln does in the Vampire Hunter movie that was just released does. He’s an impressive figure with it, though with a weakness in rusting.
With the way the structure of it all works, we get to see the different lands, the encounter with Oz and his revelation as well as how it forces all of them to go and deal with the Wicked Witch of the West. While we saw them all going for their qualities and things they want, brains, heart and courage, here we see that they have all of it very plainly up front, just not the ability to see it. Dorothy doesn’t bring it out of them, but the adventure their on has them dealing with it. The Lion comes across as ferocious many times. The Scarecrow has many good ideas that would belie his belief he doesn’t have any brains. And the Tin Man shows much heart in how he helps everyone and cares for their well being. It’s simplistic to be sure, but it feels far more natural and less forced here.
What I really loved about reading this was seeing the little things in it that changed perceptions. Understanding the origins of the Flying Monkeys changed my opinion of them, enjoying the way they were utilized here as they weren’t exactly scary but rather sad. Oz didn’t change all that much for me, but I really liked the twist to the Emerald City. While the emerald green is a big part of it, having the residents being forced to wear green goggles that are bolted onto their heads makes for an amusing view of the place. And having them forced onto everyone else for the duration of their visit, even Toto, gives you quite the imagine of the amusing little party. What I really enjoyed the most though with the original work is that Dorothy isn’t the damsel in distress that we get from the film. It’s a definite cooperative group that faces a lot of varied dangers, several of which were not adapted into the film that’s most well known, and that she’s a fairly engaging character for her age and situation.
With the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it sets a foundation for many adventures ahead while making this a very complete adventure. An episodic adventures, but an adventure nonetheless. While it was intended as something for children at the time, likened to an updated Alice in Wonderland for that generation, it’s a story that doesn’t hold back from some terrible abuses of its characters in their origins and what they face at times. It’s not watered down, though it’s not exactly explicit either, and it gives you a far more engaging story. I really wasn’t sure what to expect here, having never read the original material before and being so long disconnected from the film. But there’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, from the political, natural and even the economic side that is dealt with in a way, while still getting a solid morality tale as well. Reading this has definitely properly cemented me for the other novels, grounding me into what Baum had started with and viewed as the way the world of Oz works, shifting me away from the softer, tamer and lighter movie adaptation from 1939. Definitely recommended reading.