Saturday, 16 March 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum
 "What should poor Dorothy do when a terrible tornado plucks her from the Kansas plain and drops her in the Land of Oz? Follow the Yellow Brick Road, of course! This title lets you join a brave little girl, a straw-stuffed scarecrow, a cowardly lion and a man made of tin as they set off to find the things they most long for."

I’m on a bit of an Oz kick at the moment, having finished Gregory MacGuire’s Wicked and being subjected to the animated adaptation Tom & Jerry & The Wizard of Oz, (A film so unusual that I may be forced to review it at some point in a simple attempt to make sense of what happened in it).
These adaptations inspired me to re-read the original tale and so I downloaded the entire fourteen part series that Baum wrote (there were several novels written after Baum’s death by a multitude of other writers but I’ll ignore them, sticking only to the original canon) which I plan to read over the rest of the year.

The first book in the series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is  a tale more familiar to most due to the 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland, I don’t need to talk about the film, we should all know how great it is, and won’t bother other than to say how radically different it is to the book. While it captures the main plot points of the novel, it jumbles a lot of things up and changes quite a few things.

The main difference is the witch of the west, the main villain of the film hardly appears at all in the book, in fact she is confined solely to one chapter, it is not even suggested she has green skin or any of the visual elements of her on screen counterpart. She appears and over the course of a few pages, kidnaps Dorothy and is killed, the end.
This happens little over halfway through the book and Dorothy in fact makes another journey after returning to the wizard, going to the south to meet Glinda. 

Textually the book is very simple, characters very little say anything other than what they mean and everything is delivered with a very literal tone. This bothered me the first time I read the book but this time I felt much happier reading through a book that is so simply presented.
The book is magical, each of the characters Dorothy meets are original and incredibly charming, from the familiar band of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion, to characters like the hammerheads and dainty China people the whole cast feel incredibly vivid.
The whole world of Oz has this same feeling and while you can’t read much into the story, it’s not an allegory, there are no metaphors  here, it’s a pure joy to read a book interested in nothing but being magical and fantastical.

Going back to the characters, the only measure of depth in the novel takes place with Dorothy’s three companions. They each exhibit a sense of self-denial, each of course wants their gift from Oz, a brain, a heart and courage, but throughout the novel each character shows regularly that they already possess these gifts. The lion leaps courageously across chasms, the scarecrow thinks of clever solutions to problems and the Tin woodsman weeps at the notion of harm coming to animals. I’m not sure if this contradiction is intended to be played for humour or not but I certainly found it enjoyable.

If you’ve never read the novel I’d massively recommend it, it’s a quick and simple read but I’ve no doubt you’ll find it an enjoyable one. The whole series of Baum’s books is available from the kindle store for less than a pound so you’ve really no excuse not to give it a go.
The only problem I have with this release is that they do not include the beautiful illustrations by W.W. Denslow that originally accompanied the book. If you get the chance I’d pick up a release that includes these as they are beautiful pieces of work. Go on, treat yourself.

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