Such a fun read even if it’s showing its age.
L. Frank Baum
What They Say
One of the best-known stories of all time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (often shortened to The Wizard of Oz) is a timeless classic. Written as a children’s book it has captured the hearts and minds of generations and can be read and enjoyed at any age. The story chronicles the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the Land of Oz, after being swept away from her Kansas farm home in a tornado. She makes her way to the Emerald City, along the way meeting the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion, all desperate to meet the infamous Wizard whom they believe has the power to grant their most desired wishes. All Dorothy wants is to go home – but there are no ruby slippers here – they were an embellishment added by the 1939 MGM movie.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Rereleased with three other Oz books to tap into the publicity created by Disney’s recent movie Oz: The Great and Powerful, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the first (of what ultimately became 14) of L. Frank Baum’s famous Oz series, and provided the basis for the film classic, The Wizard of Oz, with Judy Garland. There’s also a popular theory about the book that it is a political allegory describing the then fight for a bimetal monetary standard and the increasing separation of wealth and prestige between upper and working classes, though it is as yet unproven as to whether Baum really intended the allegory. Ignoring that, what we have is a fantastical tale that is sometimes frustrating to read from a modern perspective but otherwise has much in common with classic fairy tales.
Dorothy Gale lives with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, two hardworking Kansas farmers who would have no joy in their lives if it wasn’t for their unendingly chipper niece. But their happy little utopia is ruined when a tornado hits their farm, tearing the house away and Dorothy with it. After floating for a couple days, the house finally lands in a strange land. The town she lands in is populated by Munchkins, who all look at Dorothy as a great savior as her house just happened to land on the Wicked Witch of the East, who had enslaved the Munchkins years before; as a thank you, Dorothy inherits the Witch’s Silver Shoes which are said to hold great power.
Dorothy of course doesn’t care about any of this: she just wants to go home. So a visit from the Good Witch of the North sees Dorothy traveling the Yellow Brick Road to make the long journey to the Emerald City, to see the Great and Terrible Oz, a mighty wizard who is the only person in the land that can help Dorothy. Along the way, she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin Man, and a Lion who all have their own reasons for wanting to visit Oz, and they join her in her quest.
If you’ve seen the original movie, then you have a pretty good idea of what this book is about as it is fairly faithful to it. That said, they do take some creative licenses with the material (as all movies based on books do), so it isn’t all exactly the same. The biggie, of course, is that Dorothy has silver shoes in the book rather than the iconic Ruby Slippers she has in the movie (likely to show off its glorious Technicolor). There’s also quite a bit more danger in the book than there is in the movie. Dorothy and the gang have to pass quite a few tests in order to both get to the Emerald City and to complete the quest that Oz gives them.
And this is where much of the frustration of reading the Wonderful Wizard of Oz comes from. Perhaps frustration isn’t really the right word, but you do have to be aware and understanding of the way fantasy/fairy stories were written at the time versus today to fully appreciate what the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is doing. See, while Dorothy has many struggles in her quest, the way it is written basically trivializes those struggles in favor of keeping the narrative flow and pace. Come across a great chasm? Have the Tin Man cut a tree down. Have a great distance to travel? Call the Winged Monkeys to carry you. Many of the issues they come across are brushed off in just a few sentences. Even the confrontation with the Wicked Witch of the West is over pretty quickly.
But this would only be a problem if it wasn’t such a joy to read. Like other early fantasy such as Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, or The Chronicles of Narnia, it takes much of its approach to the subject matter from classic fairy tales, and as such, it is more concerned with its message and its storyteller’s tone than it is with building dramatic tension. This is the sort of story a parent would tell a child at night than it is supposed to be a heavy dramatic work, and therefore the darker elements are glossed over in favor of progressing the story. As long as you keep that in mind while reading, then it is a lot of fun.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a classic novel, and one of the pillars of the fantasy genre. It has a lot more in common with fairy tales than it does with modern fantasy tales, and therefore it can be tough to read if you aren’t aware of that. But as long as you keep that in mind, it is a lot of fun. Even if you have seen the movie, this is well worth the read as there’s quite a bit the movie glossed over. Highly recommended.
Content Grade: A-
Published By: Hesperus Press
Release Date: April 1, 2013