Today I'll review a true classic of children's literature: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a book by L. Frank Baum. I have read this book fairly recently, so it is still fresh in my mind. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I actually enjoyed it a lot, so my book review is also a book recommendation. This classic of children literature is such a well rounded tale. You can read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz for free on the pages of project Gutenberg here (that's also the source for the quotes I'm going to use).
How is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz different from the movie version? It is actually different in a number of ways. For instance, Dorothy is initially depicted as living in rather depressive conditions. That is what the opening of the book shows anyway. Now, the film showed this by shooting in BW and switching to colour later on. That was a fine idea (very clever too), but still the film created an impression that it was more in Dorothy's head, while the book does paint Kansas as a gloomy place.There is no place like home is not the first thing that comes to one mind upon reading the opening lines of the first chapter. Moreover, the movie showed it all as being a dream, the book has a more realistic feeling to it and it is never implied that what happened was a mere dream:
First, a few words from the author himself:
Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as "historical" in the children's library; for the time has come for a series of newer "wonder tales" in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.Having this thought in mind, the story of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.L. Frank Baum
Chicago, April, 1900.
If The Wonderful Wizard of Oz aspired to be a modernized fairy tale, I'd say it achieved what it aspired to. The author also wanted to create a book that won't be overly moralizing and scary and in that he was successful. So, let's have a look at this book for children.
"Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cookstove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar--except a small hole dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.
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 to 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 came there to live 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. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.
Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.
It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly."
There are many ways in which the book differs from the movie and one of the significant differences happens right at the start, in chapter. When Dorothy lands in the magic land she accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of East. The Dorothy of the book is a much more an active character than the Dorothy of the film. The book version is a little girl who always makes the most out of every situation and she never complains. She is quite a brave and adaptive little thing, this girl:
"She was awakened by a shock, so sudden and severe that if Dorothy had not been lying on the soft bed she might have been hurt. As it was, the jar made her catch her breath and wonder what had happened; and Toto put his cold little nose into her face and whined dismally. Dorothy sat up and noticed that the house was not moving; nor was it dark, for the bright sunshine came in at the window, flooding the little room. She sprang from her bed and with Toto at her heels ran and opened the door.The little girl gave a cry of amazement and looked about her, her eyes growing bigger and bigger at the wonderful sights she saw.The cyclone had set the house down very gently--for a cyclone--in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of greensward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.While she stood looking eagerly at the strange and beautiful sights, she noticed coming toward her a group of the queerest people she had ever seen. They were not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age, although they were, so far as looks go, many years older.Three were men and one a woman, and all were oddly dressed. They wore round hats that rose to a small point a foot above their heads, with little bells around the brims that tinkled sweetly as they moved. The hats of the men were blue; the little woman's hat was white, and she wore a white gown that hung in pleats from her shoulders. Over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened in the sun like diamonds. The men were dressed in blue, of the same shade as their hats, and wore well-polished boots with a deep roll of blue at the tops. The men, Dorothy thought, were about as old as Uncle Henry, for two of them had beards. But the little woman was doubtless much older. Her face was covered with wrinkles, her hair was nearly white, and she walked rather stiffly.When these people drew near the house where Dorothy was standing in the doorway, they paused and whispered among themselves, as if afraid to come farther. But the little old woman walked up to Dorothy, made a low bow and said, in a sweet voice:"You are welcome, most noble Sorceress, to the land of the Munchkins. We are so grateful to you for having killed the Wicked Witch of the East, and for setting our people free from bondage."Dorothy listened to this speech with wonder. What could the little woman possibly mean by calling her a sorceress, and saying she had killed the Wicked Witch of the East? Dorothy was an innocent, harmless little girl, who had been carried by a cyclone many miles from home; and she had never killed anything in all her life."
One difference that is evident from the start has to do with the plot. When Dorothy of the book arrives to the land of Oz and accidentally kills one witch, she is met by another good witch (never named) who gives Dorothy advice to the best of her ability. It is only towards the end of the book that Dorothy meets Glinda, the main good witch. This makes much more sense because in the movie version it turns out that Glinda refused to tell Dorothy that her shoes can take her home while in the book, she was met by the witch who simply didn't know what the shoes could do, only that they were somehow magical. Glinda of the book is a much more likable character, I have to say. Glinda turns out only towards the end, but she makes sense as a character, more than she does in the movie. The same goes for Dorothy. Besides significant differences, there are also some details that are different. Believe it or not, the shoes Dorothy wears in the book are actually silver and not ruby red. In the movie, the movie makers made them red so they would be more visually appealing.
But the little woman evidently expected her to answer; so Dorothy said, with hesitation, "You are very kind, but there must be some mistake. I have not killed anything.""Your house did, anyway," replied the little old woman, with a laugh, "and that is the same thing. See!" she continued, pointing to the corner of the house. "There are her two feet, still sticking out from under a block of wood."Dorothy looked, and gave a little cry of fright. There, indeed, just under the corner of the great beam the house rested on, two feet were sticking out, shod in silver shoes with pointed toes."Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" cried Dorothy, clasping her hands together in dismay. "The house must have fallen on her. Whatever shall we do?""There is nothing to be done," said the little woman calmly."But who was she?" asked Dorothy."She was the Wicked Witch of the East, as I said," answered the little woman. "She has held all the Munchkins in bondage for many years, making them slave for her night and day. Now they are all set free, and are grateful to you for the favor.""Who are the Munchkins?" inquired Dorothy."They are the people who live in this land of the East where the Wicked Witch ruled.""Are you a Munchkin?" asked Dorothy."No, but I am their friend, although I live in the land of the North. When they saw the Witch of the East was dead the Munchkins sent a swift messenger to me, and I came at once. I am the Witch of the North.""Oh, gracious!" cried Dorothy. "Are you a real witch?""Yes, indeed," answered the little woman. "But I am a good witch, and the people love me. I am not as powerful as the Wicked Witch was who ruled here, or I should have set the people free myself.""But I thought all witches were wicked," said the girl, who was half frightened at facing a real witch. "Oh, no, that is a great mistake. There were only four witches in all the Land of Oz, and two of them, those who live in the North and the South, are good witches. I know this is true, for I am one of them myself, and cannot be mistaken. Those who dwelt in the East and the West were, indeed, wicked witches; but now that you have killed one of them, there is but one Wicked Witch in all the Land of Oz--the one who lives in the West.""But," said Dorothy, after a moment's thought, "Aunt Em has told me that the witches were all dead--years and years ago.""Who is Aunt Em?" inquired the little old woman."She is my aunt who lives in Kansas, where I came from."The Witch of the North seemed to think for a time, with her head bowed and her eyes upon the ground. Then she looked up and said, "I do not know where Kansas is, for I have never heard that country mentioned before. But tell me, is it a civilized country?""Oh, yes," replied Dorothy."Then that accounts for it. In the civilized countries I believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians. But, you see, the Land of Oz has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. Therefore we still have witches and wizards amongst us.""Who are the wizards?" asked Dorothy."Oz himself is the Great Wizard," answered the Witch, sinking her voice to a whisper. "He is more powerful than all the rest of us together. He lives in the City of Emeralds."Dorothy was going to ask another question, but just then the Munchkins, who had been standing silently by, gave a loud shout and pointed to the corner of the house where the Wicked Witch had been lying."What is it?" asked the little old woman, and looked, and began to laugh. The feet of the dead Witch had disappeared entirely, and nothing was left but the silver shoes."She was so old," explained the Witch of the North, "that she dried up quickly in the sun. That is the end of her. But the silver shoes are yours, and you shall have them to wear." She reached down and picked up the shoes, and after shaking the dust out of them handed them to Dorothy."The Witch of the East was proud of those silver shoes," said one of the Munchkins, "and there is some charm connected with them; but what it is we never knew."
Honestly, I was not aware that the book was so much better than the film. Alright, I don't remember the film in details, but I do remember that some things didn't add up. The film is visually stunning but the book makes much more sense. There is irony, paradox and humor in this book, where in the film there is mere comic relief. There is a background story to every character and it makes them come back to life. The characters actually underwent some significant changes in this book. In addition, unlike the film, this book doesn't imply that everything that happens to Dorothy is a dream. I'm actually curious to learn more about the country of Oz. I think I'll read the sequels as well!
The heroine of the book is definitely more likable than the film version. Dorothy is brave and stoic, while remaining innocent and childlike. She really is a wonderful protagonist. Her companions are very complex characters themselves. In the book all of them get a background story of them own. We learn how scarecrow came to life. We learn the background of everyone and it makes them more interesting. For example, in the third chapter Dorothy saves the Scarecrow and this is how we learn his history as well. Dorothy of the book saves all of her companions in a way and they all save her on a number of occasions:
While Dorothy was looking earnestly into the queer, painted face of the Scarecrow, she was surprised to see one of the eyes slowly wink at her. She thought she must have been mistaken at first, for none of the scarecrows in Kansas ever wink; but presently the figure nodded its head to her in a friendly way. Then she climbed down from the fence and walked up to it, while Toto ran around the pole and barked."Good day," said the Scarecrow, in a rather husky voice."Did you speak?" asked the girl, in wonder."Certainly," answered the Scarecrow. "How do you do?""I'm pretty well, thank you," replied Dorothy politely. "How do you do?""I'm not feeling well," said the Scarecrow, with a smile, "for it is very tedious being perched up here night and day to scare away crows.""Can't you get down?" asked Dorothy."No, for this pole is stuck up my back. If you will please take away the pole I shall be greatly obliged to you."Dorothy reached up both arms and lifted the figure off the pole, for, being stuffed with straw, it was quite light."Thank you very much," said the Scarecrow, when he had been set down on the ground. "I feel like a new man."Dorothy was puzzled at this, for it sounded queer to hear a stuffed man speak, and to see him bow and walk along beside her."Who are you?" asked the Scarecrow when he had stretched himself and yawned. "And where are you going?""My name is Dorothy," said the girl, "and I am going to the Emerald City, to ask the Great Oz to send me back to Kansas.""Where is the Emerald City?" he inquired. "And who is Oz?""Why, don't you know?" she returned, in surprise."No, indeed. I don't know anything. You see, I am stuffed, so I have no brains at all," he answered sadly."Oh," said Dorothy, "I'm awfully sorry for you.""Do you think," he asked, "if I go to the Emerald City with you, that Oz would give me some brains?""I cannot tell," she returned, "but you may come with me, if you like. If Oz will not give you any brains you will be no worse off than you are now.""That is true," said the Scarecrow. "You see," he continued confidentially, "I don't mind my legs and arms and body being stuffed, because I cannot get hurt. If anyone treads on my toes or sticks a pin into me, it doesn't matter, for I can't feel it. But I do not want people to call me a fool, and if my head stays stuffed with straw instead of with brains, as yours is, how am I ever to know anything?""I understand how you feel," said the little girl, who was truly sorry for him. "If you will come with me I'll ask Oz to do all he can for you.""Thank you," he answered gratefully.They walked back to the road. Dorothy helped him over the fence, and they started along the path of yellow brick for the Emerald City.Toto did not like this addition to the party at first. He smelled around the stuffed man as if he suspected there might be a nest of rats in the straw, and he often growled in an unfriendly way at the Scarecrow."Don't mind Toto," said Dorothy to her new friend. "He never bites.""Oh, I'm not afraid," replied the Scarecrow. "He can't hurt the straw. Do let me carry that basket for you. I shall not mind it, for I can't get tired. I'll tell you a secret," he continued, as he walked along. "There is only one thing in the world I am afraid of.""What is that?" asked Dorothy; "the Munchkin farmer who made you?""No," answered the Scarecrow; "it's a lighted match."
When Dorothy saves the Tin man we get to learn his story too. The story of Tin Woodman origin is actually quite touching and it has to do with love.
So, while they were walking through the forest, the Tin Woodman told the following story:
"I was born the son of a woodman who chopped down trees in the forest and sold the wood for a living. When I grew up, I too became a woodchopper, and after my father died I took care of my old mother as long as she lived. Then I made up my mind that instead of living alone I would marry, so that I might not become lonely.
"There was one of the Munchkin girls who was so beautiful that I soon grew to love her with all my heart. She, on her part, promised to marry me as soon as I could earn enough money to build a better house for her; so I set to work harder than ever. But the girl lived with an old woman who did not want her to marry anyone, for she was so lazy she wished the girl to remain with her and do the cooking and the housework. So the old woman went to the Wicked Witch of the East, and promised her two sheep and a cow if she would prevent the marriage. Thereupon the Wicked Witch enchanted my axe, and when I was chopping away at my best one day, for I was anxious to get the new house and my wife as soon as possible, the axe slipped all at once and cut off my left leg.
"This at first seemed a great misfortune, for I knew a one-legged man could not do very well as a wood-chopper. So I went to a tinsmith and had him make me a new leg out of tin. The leg worked very well, once I was used to it. But my action angered the Wicked Witch of the East, for she had promised the old woman I should not marry the pretty Munchkin girl. When I began chopping again, my axe slipped and cut off my right leg. Again I went to the tinsmith, and again he made me a leg out of tin. After this the enchanted axe cut off my arms, one after the other; but, nothing daunted, I had them replaced with tin ones. The Wicked Witch then made the axe slip and cut off my head, and at first I thought that was the end of me. But the tinsmith happened to come along, and he made me a new head out of tin.
"I thought I had beaten the Wicked Witch then, and I worked harder than ever; but I little knew how cruel my enemy could be. She thought of a new way to kill my love for the beautiful Munchkin maiden, and made my axe slip again, so that it cut right through my body, splitting me into two halves. Once more the tinsmith came to my help and made me a body of tin, fastening my tin arms and legs and head to it, by means of joints, so that I could move around as well as ever. But, alas! I had now no heart, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl, and did not care whether I married her or not. I suppose she is still living with the old woman, waiting for me to come after her.
"My body shone so brightly in the sun that I felt very proud of it and it did not matter now if my axe slipped, for it could not cut me. There was only one danger--that my joints would rust; but I kept an oil-can in my cottage and took care to oil myself whenever I needed it. However, there came a day when I forgot to do this, and, being caught in a rainstorm, before I thought of the danger my joints had rusted, and I was left to stand in the woods until you came to help me. It was a terrible thing to undergo, but during the year I stood there I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart. While I was in love I was the happiest man on earth; but no one can love who has not a heart, and so I am resolved to ask Oz to give me one. If he does, I will go back to the Munchkin maiden and marry her."
Both Dorothy and the Scarecrow had been greatly interested in the story of the Tin Woodman, and now they knew why he was so anxious to get a new heart.
"All the same," said the Scarecrow, "I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one."
"I shall take the heart," returned the Tin Woodman; "for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world."
I have to say that the portrayal of characters really impressed me in this book, it is so detailed and well done. The character development was handled really well and it was more complex than I expected. The motivations behind the characters' actions absolutely made sense. With the background stories, you can really understand why the Scarecrow wants a brain and why a Tin man wants a heart. It is also possible to understand Dorothy and her motivations. The episodes with the wizard of Oz were well done as well.
The lion, in particular, is such a well rounded character. In the book, the 'cowardly' lion is actually quite brave. In every situation he demonstrates courage. There is a scene in the book where he risks his life to save his friends and he does it without thinking. At the same time, the lion believes himself a coward because he feels fear. In other words, he doesn't realize that feeling fear is normal and that it doesn't make him a coward.
On overall, I was impressed with this one. The narrative is logical. The language is pretty simple but still imaginative, very appropriate for the targeted audience: the children. The story itself was pretty fast paced and enjoyable. Moreover, the ending was both sensible and satisfactory. What more could one want in a story? I really do recommend this book! It's a wonderful tale of finding inner strength and courage. It is a book for kids, but one that adults can enjoy as well.
Thank you for reading & commenting.