Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I used to think everyone in the US had seen the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz at least once in their life, but I learned I was wrong when I met my husband -- who to this date still hasn't seen the movie in its entirety. Unlike him, I grew up watching Dorothy click her ruby slippers together and repeat, "There's no place like home..." Even though I've lost count as the number of times I've seen the movie I had never the read the book... until now.

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum has little in common with the movie. The story begins when a young Kansas girl, Dorothy, is caught up in a twister and carried to the land of Oz where she kills the Wicked Witch of the East when her house falls upon her. Finding herself in the land of Oz and amongst some Munchkins Dorothy quickly learns that if she wishes to get back to Kansas she must travel down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and speak with the Great and Powerful Oz. Along the way she meets a Scarecrow, a Tin woodman, and a cowardly Lion. When she reaches the Emerald City and meets with the Wizard she is told that she must first kill the Wicked Witch of the West before he will give Dorothy and her friends what they request. That is the basic plot of the story and that much and a few other minor details are the same between the book and the movie.

I discovered a few things while reading the book. First, how different some of the most famous story details were. For example, Dorothy's slippers were not ruby, but silver!

Second, Baum's tale for children was a little darker than the movie. One example of this is the story the Tin woodman tells as to why he is in search of a heart (it involves a lost love, an enchanted axe, losing some limbs and having them replaced with tin body parts). Unlike the movie where in each new scene someone breaks into song, the story has numerous characters some sweet and friendly like the Queen of the Field Mice and others scary like the Kalidahs (monstrous beasts with bodies of bears and heads of tigers).

Another difference is that both the Good Witch of the North and the Good Witch of the South appear, whereas in the movie only the Witch of the North is in the story. In the book the Witch of the South is Glinda (not the North as in the movie) and she doesn't appear until late in the story.

But differences aside, the story remains a classic. I personally wasn't a fan of the "darker" parts of the story finding them a little weird, but overlooking these I enjoyed the fairytale type land that Baum created somewhere over the rainbow.

I found my copy of The Wizard of Oz on a shelf in my local library. It is a hard copy 100th anniversary edition illustrated by Michael Hague. Published for children the print is larger and the 213 pages include several full color illustrations, some stretching over two pages.

At the end of the book a short biography was included. From this I learned that although already a two time author Baum initially had a difficult time finding a publisher for this book. Most publishers thought his writing "too radical a departure from the conventional children's literature of the day." Perhaps it was the Tin woodman's story, or the slaying of the wolves, or even the Hammer-heads, but whatever it was Baum did finally find someone willing to print his book... so long as he paid for the printing... which he did and on August 1, 1900 The Wizard of Oz joined the world. The book was an instant success and before the end of the year it had been reprinted twice! Baum had no plans for any additional books about the land of Oz, but after receiving many letters from his devoted readers (children) he went on to write thirteen additional books.

Having satisfied my curiosity about The Wizard of Oz I find it unlikely that I will go on to read the rest of his books, but someone who truly enjoys this first, as Baum's young readers did over a century ago, may be interested to see if their library carries the other thirteen.


Carrie said...

Jonathan hadn't seen it either when we got married. (He enjoyed it.) *I* still have not read the book(s).

Naughty me.

Rebecca Reid said...

I think the movie is rather dark too. I don't recall the book at all. Must reread.