Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Well, I’m going to be doing something that I imagine few book bloggers ever have: I’m going to read all 14 of L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books, one a month, all the way to the end of 2013.

I first got this idea over the summer, when I was writing my YA novel Over the Rainbow (currently out to literary agents), a modern update of The Wizard of Oz. When I was a kid I got the first 8 Oz books but only read two or three of them. I remember falling in love with the characters, with the world, but never taking the time to tackle the complete series. And going into 2013, as I look at a potential major rewrite of my novel, and possibly even come up with sequel ideas, I thought it would be important (and fun!) to read Baum’s series, one at a time, and take you along for the ride. 

And we start with the original, and to what to Baum was always intended to be the only. Instead of picking up any old copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I found an awesome edition of the book at the local library calledThe Annotated Wizard of Oz, which has the complete text, as well as hundreds of pages of trivia, biographies, funny anecdotes, and more. I devoured this 400-page book in about five days and loved every second of it. The book starts with about 100 pages on Baum’s history, and how he came to write Oz, and its thirteen sequels. I was unaware that Baum had been publishing multiple books throughout the years before Oz came along, including 55 novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and more. Even after writing The Wizard of Oz, he set out to redefine himself with other works of fantasy for children, all works that have been forgotten today. He didn’t want or need to write a second Oz book; he only did so when he was inundated with letters from children who demanded he write a sequel. All these years later, we can be glad he did, because these books are pure magic, and I’m excited to dig through this series, which includes at least 8 or 9 books I’ve never picked up before.


Not having read The Wizard of Oz since childhood, I was struck by a lot of things, mostly obvious of which how different the endeavor is from the classic 1939 MGM production, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’d been so long I just figured the book and the film were sort of similar, but I was totally wrong! Here, for example, are some major differences in the book:
  • No time is spent in Kansas hardly at all in the beginning. Within just a couple pages we’re tossed into Oz. There’s barely any Uncle Henry or Auntie Em, and none of the other characters from the film.
  • Dorothy is about 5 or 6 years old, definitely not teenage like in the movie. Oz producers initially wanted Shirley Temple, who would’ve been more in line with the age in the book. 
  • The shoes are silver, not ruby! Apparently ruby was chosen for the movie because red would look better against yellow on film. 
  • The Wicked Witch of the West is barely in the book! She doesn’t greet Dorothy at the site of her sister’s death, she doesn’t shout at them from atop a roof by the Tin Woodman. The Wicked Witch is in one single chapter about halfway through the book, and she’s described as short, old, mannish, one-eyed. Nothing like the movie!
  • No singing (obviously)!
  • The scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion all reveal to Dorothy in detail their histories, something the movie barely touched on. Did you know, for example, that the tin man was in love once and that’s why he needs a heart? 
  • The poppy field Dorothy and the lion get sleepy in is not enchanted by the wicked witch, but simply is what it is! Even worse, they leave the lion behind for a short while!
  • There are a ton of mini stories not featured in the movie, like a stork saving the scarecrow’s life, and the tin man beheading a wildcat and saving the lives of mice. Yes, that’s right, there’s a beheading. Not exactly material for 5 year olds. 
  • They have to wear green sunglasses in the Emerald City, or otherwise they’d be blinded by the bright lights!
  • The Wizard’s reveal as a normal old man doesn’t come at the very end, but arrives with another 50-60 pages of the book still to go!
  • Where the film ends, the book is just getting started, with plenty more adventures in store! Dorothy in the book does not just click her heels together; she has to travel all the way to the land of Glinda, the Good Witch (who is the witch of the South here) to find a way home. Along the way the scarecrow, tin man, and lion take advantage of their newfound traits. And they stumble across the Attacking Trees, which was a deleted scene nixed from the film!
All in all, I’ve have to say I still prefer the movie, but the book is loads of fun, too. I love Baum’s simple, classic writing style, which doesn’t overload the reader with unnecessary information. The whole adventure has a casual nature to it that makes for light, pleasing reading. I could totally see myself reading this book for a child of mine in the future. It’s filled with so many wondrous, magical characters, both the leads that are also in the movie, but also side characters who don’t even show up in the background in the famous film. The book is enchanting, and sets up so many questions about the world that it seems odd Baum didn’t intend to write any sequels. It’d be like if J.K. Rowling had written Sorcerer’s Stone then never wrote another Harry Potter. Doesn’t make sense. Therefore I’m glad I have many more opportunities to travel back to this world!

With my newest YA novel at the forefront of my mind, and with all of these Oz books to read, and with the awesome-looking Sam Raimi film opening in March, my life right now is consumed with Oz! And I couldn’t be happier. Check back next month for a look at the 1904 sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz!

1 comment: