Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This is an old review, which has been sitting at the bottom of my next-up feed for a long time. I don’t really know how it got there or why I kept it there, but it was probably read during a dry period, perhaps when I was sick or on vacation. At any rate, a couple of years ago I actually ordered a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (actually, I think I remember picking it up at a book store) and read it. L. Frank Baum’s book is only the first in a series, though it is often read alone and was of course made famous mostly by the 1939 film that burst into color after the first scenes, to the delight of an audience that had been seeing their fantasy worlds in black and white up until then.

Cover image from Wikipedia.com

The series is:

  • The Wizard of Oz (1900)
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz
  • Ozma of Oz
  • Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz
  • The Road to Oz
  • The Emerald City of Oz
  • The Patchwork Girl of Oz
  • Tik-Tok of Oz
  • The Scarecrow of Oz
  • Rinkitink in Oz
  • The Lost Princess of Oz
  • The Tin Woodman of Oz
  • The Magic of Oz
  • Glinda of Oz
  • The Royal Book of Oz (by a different author)
Image from Amazon.com

With their amazing retro covers and illustrations (if you can find a copy that way), the series is alluring, but I’m pretty sure I’m happy with just the first, classic story and the many adaptations and cultural references. (I read the Gregory Maguire series some time ago, including the book that became the runaway Broadway hit, Wicked.) Perhaps just the first and second one? I’d be curious to hear what someone would say who had read them all. They get decent reviews on Goodreads, all the way through, though it seems most people would have been happy to stop at the first one or two.

I’ll tell you what this book mostly did for me: it made me want to draw and paint, to do art. It inspired me, awoke my creativity, and that’s not half-bad, for a reading experience. That’s what The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is, isn’t it? A trip into the imagination? A slightly psychedelic transportation with a simple story and a little bit outdated writing style? Well, it’s also political, which always makes me want to avoid a book, or at least we all started thinking so in the 60s, which is a time period I find many older books were suddenly found out to be an allegory. Perhaps the issue was with the people of the 60s. At any rate, it is often read as an allegory to either Populism or Jungian psychology, or whatever. It might have had everything to do with the politics of the 1890s (publishing in 1900), but even though Baum was a political activist, it’s not the allegory that really shines here (like in Animal Farm). It’s the story, setting, and characters.

If there is any way you don’t know, The Wizard of Oz is about Dorothy, a turn-of-the-nineteenth-to-twentieth-century teenager who lives with her aunt and uncle on a farm in the middle of absolutely nowhere Kansas. Dorothy has a dog who has a run-in with a neighbor and pretty quickly a tornado comes streaking toward the farm and the real story begins to unfold. Dorothy is knocked out by a shutter trying to save Toto (the dog), and the little house–with only the two of them inside—is transported via tornado to the magical land of Oz, where Dorothy will eventually be joined by the Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion on her journey back home through villains like the Wicked Witch, conflicted characters like the Wizard, and helpful characters like Glinda. Like I said, the real strong points here are a traditional story with nice variations, a cast of memorable characters, and a setting that makes it fantasy or fairy-tale. We also all know the moral: “There’s no place like home.”

I would recommend it as a classic that is easy to read and one that you could share with your children. I would also be tempted to slate some time afterward to let your imagination run wild and your creativity to flow.

MOVIES

Image from Amazon.com

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Can there be much to say about this movie? It is so well-known, so classic, so part of our cultural memory. Even my kids, who hate old movies, have seen it and I have seen it so many times I can’t even begin to say how many. But when have I ever sought it out? Maybe just to watch it once with my kids. It sticks pretty close to the book, especially in the moral of the story. Judy Garland is too old to play Dorothy, but she has become the iconic Dorothy with her blue gingham dress, ruby slippers, and braided pigtails, not to mention her warbling of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” There are so many mistakes in the movie (as well as so many tales of terrible things that happened while filming), but it remains a cinematic masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it, it’s still entertaining to watch, today, though you’ll definitely feel the age of it.

Image from Amazon.com

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Told from the point of view of Oz the magician (and eventually “Wizard”—as in there is no Dorothy in this movie), this movie was a much anticipated prequel and not much celebrated. It has okay ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, so I wouldn’t completely write it off. If you’ve just read the book, it would be fun to watch, though, as I said, it doesn’t follow the story in the book (though it may have some basis in some of the other books? Somehow I doubt that with its modern feel). It’s full of big name actors, CG effects, and vivid, imaginative scenery and costumes, but it just didn’t come alive for people. I don’t remember it super well, but most complaints are of the flimsy story and some bad acting or at least casting. There are those who love it, too.

(I found my old review: “In some senses, this movie was just what it should be: full of saturated color, crazy characters, and good versus evil with some in-between. I didn’t find James Franco’s acting as horrifying as some complained of (I thought the China Girl was more mediocre). What I did find distracting was 1) the slightly outdated CG and 2) the pacing. There were scenes that seemed so slow to me. I even found both Oz’s and Glinda’s talking to be slow. The promise of the beginning credits just didn’t flower into a wonderful movie.”)

Note: I will eventually be re-reading The Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire to review for you. It was many years ago, but I remember liking them despite finding fault with them literarily.

*HERE is a review for Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz graphic novel.

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