The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L Baum

The Wizard of Oz is one of our favourite family films at Gaskell Towers, and my daughter and I are really looking forward to going to see the new production at the Palladium during the Easter hols.

It struck me though that I’d never actually read the original book, and the OUP very kindly sent me a copy of the Oxford World Classics edition – which has a lot of extra material for grown-ups about the history of Baum and his Oz stories, plus some of the original illustrations.  I was amazed to find out that the story was originally published in 1900, and it had had stage, film and musical versions just a few years later. Of course, it was the advent of Technicolor that made possible the different film musical we all know and love much later in 1939.   In the notes, I also found that Baum got the name for the world of Oz from his filing cabinet O-Z.

For the rest of this post, I am assuming you’ve seen the film and know the basic story, so for no spoilers stop reading now.

The story itself is both the same and very different to the film – notably, Dorothy’s slippers are silver not ruby (changed to take advantage of Technicolor, red shoes being such objects of desire!).   The obvious initial difference though is that there is no character-building extended introduction with Dorothy running away from Miss Gulch, finding Professor Marvel; no time to wistfully sit and hope for better times around the corner.  We are introduced to the gray prairies of Kansas …

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.

When Aunt Em had come to live there she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too.  They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled, now.

… very depressing indeed. Then it’s straight into the cyclone, and off to Oz.  Baum’s original Oz is a darker place – still full of colour, but much more menacing.  The party seeking the Emerald city have to fight off many marauders and have much cause to be thankful for the Tin Woodsman’s sharp axe and the Lion’s claws.  After the balloon goes up, they go on another supplementary quest to find Glinda, the Witch of the South so Dorothy can get home, and we meet the denizens of the Dainty China Country, the Hammer-heads and the Quadlings before Dorothy learns she had the means of her return on her feet all the time.  Interestingly she says ‘Take me home to Aunt Em‘ rather than ‘There’s no place like home‘ while clicking her heels together, and Aunt Em is the first person she sees in the short final chapter.

Theories about the book being an economic and political allegory abound.  I don’t know anything about turn of the century American politics, so can’t comment on that.  However it’s clear that Baum appreciated the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, wanting to write a less horrific modern fairy-tale that combined the fantastic with home comforts.  Apparently Dorothy is influenced by Carroll’s Alice, but whereas I love Alice’s questionning nature, I do find Dorothy rather too ready to accept her role as a future wife and housekeeper – the home comforts loving side of her nature is too submissive for me. I mean, she would never have managed to kill the Wicked Witch of the West if she’d not had a bucket of water ready for washing the floor!

This was an interesting book to read.  It would be nice if today’s children would continue to read it.  (7/10)

Source: Review copy –  Thank you to Oxford World Classics.

To buy from, click below:
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oxford World’s Classics)
The Wizard Of Oz (includes Sing-Along Version) [DVD] [1939]

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