The wonderful wizard of Oz – Frank L Baum
Like many I grew up watching the Wizard of Oz over and over. Christmas was considered a tragedy the film was not listed in the TV Guide. My house echoed with cries from my sister saying “Melting, melting, oh what a world!” or “Put ‘em up, put ‘em up. I’ll fight you with my eyes closed…”
I always meant to get around to reading the original books but the closest I have come is reading Maguire’s, “Wicked” which I found was a great concept but a poor book. and the forthcoming film reignited this endeavour. When I mentioned this to Jacqui, being Jacqui she immediately read the first two books and reviewed them. Now finally I have got round to doing the same.
Dorothy thinks she is lost forever when a terrifying tornado crashes through Kansas and whisks her and her dog, Toto, far away to the magical Land of Oz. To get home Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to Emerald City and find the wonderfully mysterious Wizard of Oz. Together with her companions the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion whom she meets on the way, Dorothy embarks on a strange and enchanting adventure.
I did not realise that Frank L Baum’s books were intended for children. Or to be more specific, I did not realise that they were so short and basic. This is not necessarily a bad thing (give me Baum’s original over Maguire’s tedious political versions any day of the week) but it did leave me sometimes wishing for more.
For starters I was looking forward to reading in greater detail parts of the film I loved, in particular the Wicked witch of the west and the winged monkeys. Not only did I find this sequences vastly different but disappointing in the book in some cases. The role of the Wicked witch of the West is greatly reduced to such an extent that blink and you will miss her. In the film the Margaret Hamilton’s witch is perfectly played as oozing malevolence and cruelty. In the book she is ineffective and almost spoilt. There is no indication that she poses any sort of threat to Dorothy and her companions herself, relying on others to do her bidding and sulking when they fail.
The winged monkeys on the other hand, are not evil in any way. They are slaves forced to grant three wishes to whomever possess the golden cap. Instead of making them interesting characters, they only serve as nice Deus ex Machina when the group needs to travel any sort of distance.
Dorothy herself is likable another, and the Scarecrow, Tin man and cowardly lion are every bit as enjoyable as the film. Frank L Baum tries to remind us constantly of the characteristics they lack in their speech I.e the Scarecrow will often state he can’t offer a solution as he has no brain but their actions often contradict what they say to the point where the lack of brain, heart or courage is irrelevant to their adventures. I get that this is kind of the point but still.
The only other disappointing aspect (and this comes with the territory of the a children’s book) is that you never get the sense that the quartet are ever really in danger. Each time they are faced with a hardship or problem it is immediately resolved. Sometimes I yearned for a bit of drawn out tension.
However, these are minor quibbles when you consider the target audience. There are a host of positives to the book. Some are so good it makes you wonder why they were never included in the original film. The china village, the scarecrows defeat of the crows, tin man’s defeat of the wolves and bees and the Twinkies in particular are all great little episodes.
The wizard is also better, appearing in a different form to each of the companions and his fraudulent behaviour exposed to a greater depth - the spectacles to enter the Emerald city for example, is a great idea.
All in all, I found the Wonderful wizard of Oz a charming read. It was enjoyable enough that I wished some of the parts expanded but as a children’s book is still stands the test of time.
My rating: 8.4