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There's more to Oz than the Wonderful Wizard
The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum
Member Name: grahamt
The Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum
Date: 05/10/12, updated on 15/11/12 (44 review reads)
Advantages: Timeless stories ; now available for free in eBook format
Disadvantages: Not well-enough known
The Wizard of Oz is one of the all-time great Hollywood movies. It made Judy Garland's career and that of actress, Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch and who went on to have a very success acting career. The book upon which the film was based was written in 1900 and published under its full title, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". The book was a huge success and became a much loved children's story in America throughout the first decades of the 20th century.
I had never read this book, even as a child, and it wasn't until a film sequel was made in 1985 under the title of "Return to Oz", staring the brilliant Nicol Williamson as the Nome King, new-comer Fairuza Balk in the role of Dorothy and the marvellous Jean Marsh as the Witch, Mombi, that I was impelled to find out if this film was based on an actual book or just an attempt to capitalise on the success of the original film.
You can perhaps imagine my surprise when I discovered that Baum had written 17 Oz books in all, between 1900 and 1920, one of which is a cartoon strip, one a collection of short stories and one entirely about a single character, H M Woggle-Bug TE. It seems that Baum had been surprised at the success of his original book and kept being bombarded with requests from children for more stories. He professed throughout his life that he never ceased to be amazed at how popular the Oz books were. He also wrote a number of other non-Oz books.
I discovered that the second film was actually based on the fifth book, published as "Ozma of Oz", a character who appears in the film but whose relevance (and it's a big relevance on the context of the Oz stories) is not really explained. The reason is that her place in Oz is actually detailed in the second book, which also includes the witch Mombi. However, this book ("The Marvelous Land of Oz") does not feature Dorothy and so this probably explains why that book was never filmed.
With determination I set out to recapture my childhood and make up for what was clearly a major omission from my education. I actually didn't immediately read the original but started with the second book, mentioned above. This was a good move because, without it, some of the characters in the later books would be unexplained. I am now finally nearing the end of my marathon and am, at the time of writing this review, reading the final Oz book penned by Baum himself, Glinda of Oz (21 later sequels were written by Ruth Plumly Thompson, a huge fan of Baum's stories, between his death and hers in 1976). However, around the halfway point I finally got around to going back to the beginning.
And here was a big surprise: there are significant differences between the original story and the film. First and foremost, the ruby slippers aren't ruby: they're silver! More especially though, there are characters created for the film that do not appear in the book at all. I can see why they were created though: the characters of Miss Gulch, Professor Marvel and the three farm hands, Hunk, Zeke and Hickory, create a link with the events in Oz that help the "did it or did it not actually happen" sub-plot. In the original story though, Uncle Henry and Aunt Em were far too poor to have been able to afford to employ farm hands. Baum did not need these parallels because as far as he was concerned, the Land of Oz most certainly did exist.
However, be that as it may, the film proceeds with considerable faithfulness to the book. The story of a great tornado lifting Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's house up into the sky from Kansas and dropping it and its sole occupants, Dorothy and Toto, her dog, on top of the Wicked Witch of the East in Munchkin Land is just as in the book. From there, the journey to the Emerald City in search of the Wizard and her befriending along the way of the Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion are much as in the film.
There are, however, far more exciting adventures along the way than were included in the film. This is understandable as many would have required technology that would have been challenging for Hollywood of the 1930s. Dorothy and her companions finally reach the Emerald City, their interactions with the Wizard are far more extended.
Dorothy is challenged by the Wizard to kill the Wicked Witch, not just to bring him her broomstick, before he will help her return to Kansas and in doing so she faces and overcomes far more challenges from the witch than just the flying monkeys. In the end Dorothy prevails (I don't think I'm revealing any surprises here). However, left behind by the Wizard, just as in the film, it is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, who reveals that the silver shoes Dorothy wears have the ability to take her wherever she want. And so the story ends.
In the successive stories, Dorothy revisits Oz a number of times and eventually settles there for good, to enjoy numerous adventures with old and new friends. Even Uncle Henry and Aunt Em come to join her there in happy retirement.
I have been enthralled by the Oz books. It may have taken my nearly 60 years too long to get around to reading them but I can say with confidence that my childhood education is now complete. I can also say that the Oz stories get even better with each new book. The great writers, like Baum and Sir Terry Pratchett, seem to have this huge talent for always finding something new with which to keep the franchise fresh and compelling.
The stories are, it's true to say, very much of their era but they nevertheless pass the test of time with flying colours. The stories are highly moral, which we may consider quaint in these cynical days but is refreshing nevertheless. Would that some of our current generation would learn the lessons of friendship, kindness and faithfulness. Perhaps the World would be a better place?
The books I have read in electronic format. You can download them all for free from the Gutenberg Project, in formats suitable for most eBook readers. You can even download them in HTML format (but without illustrations) and in this format I have been reading them on journeys by bus or train, in the web browser on my Nokia 5230 mobile phone. Otherwise, I read them either on my wife's Kindle, converted to Kindle format with Calibre, or on my laptop with the Calibre eBook reader. This way I can also see the wonderful original illustrations, with which the books are strewn.
If you haven't read any of the Oz books then it still isn't too late, whether you are 7 or 70. These books are suitable for children of ALL ages, and that includes you.
Summary: Tells the real story of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, with lots more stories to follow