The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Fiction — print. Signet Classics, 2006. Originally published 1990. 220 pgs. Library copy.

Although I have seen the 1939 movie adaptation several times and a few other stage and movie adaptations, I never felt a desire to read the original novel until I finished slogging through Gregory Maguire’s prequel to Braum’s tale.

The novel tells the story of a little girl from Kansas named Dorothy who is swept off to the land of Oz by a tornado with her house and her little dog, Toto. The house lands on top of the unnamed Wicked Witch of the East, whose silver shoes are given to Dorothy in thanks by the Glinda the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins, and Dorothy wears them during her journey to the Emerald City to beseech the Wizard of Oz to help her home. Along the way, Dorothy makes friends with a cast of characters who all claim to be missing a vital characteristic – brains, a heart, and braveness.

The introduction to the edition I borrowed from the library explains how this is the first American fairy tale and how Toto is actually the unsung hero of the book. It is Toto who leads Dorothy to Oz after heading into the house rather than the storm cellar during the approaching storm, who reveals the Wizard’s true identity, and who saves Dorothy on more than one occasion during her cross-country voyage home to Kansas. Having now read the book, I would certainly agree with that assessment – poor Toto deserved more than being held by his ear!

One aspect I loved about this novel is – spoiler alert! – the fact that the characters are searching for what they already have. The Scarecrow laments how he lacks any brains yet, when we first meet him, it is the Scarecrow who instructs Dorothy on how to get him down from his perch. It is the Scarecrow who figures out how to save Dorothy from the toxic poppies with the Tin Man. The Tin Man says he has no heart, but his story before he was turned into tin and his actions afterwards show he is capable of forming relationships with people. The Cowardly Lion does not hesitate to leap across places along the Yellow Brick Road where the bridge has crumbled away. And even Dorothy, despite her fervent desire to go home, is able to craft a home-like environment and new family in the land of Oz. The whole purpose of the novel, therefore, is not to travel to the land of Oz but to show readers that sometimes what you think you lack, what you are searching for is something you already have.

I always thought the transition from black and white to color in the film, which completely surprised me the first time I saw the movie, was a clever film technique meant to show off the availability to create films in color. In actuality, the “technique” is codified in novel with Braum using drab, dreary words to create Kansas and more colorful words to describe Oz. (Although, silver shoes are decidedly less colorful than red.) Auntie Em is a cold woman unaccustomed to a child’s laughter unlike the film where she is actually very loving towards to Dorothy, and it struck me as odd that Dorothy was so eager to leave colorful Oz for drab Kansas. But, I suppose, Dorothy noticed how easily people can become blinded to the important things in life by false coloring and imagery.

I can certainly understand why this tale is considered a classic and why, according to the introduction, this book became so immensely popular when it was first published in 1900. I only wish I had read it when I was younger – either before or after I saw the movie – as I think it would have really captured my imagination just as the film did.

Others’ Thoughts:

The Classics Club:

I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post, project post, or spreadsheet of titles.

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2 thoughts on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

  1. Well, hey, if it makes you feel better, I read these books at the correct age, and my imagination still wasn’t captured by them in the same way as by the movie. The movie somehow makes the story feel way more magical than the books.

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