I used to consider myself a Wizard of Oz expert. I’ve seen the 1939 movie a ton of times. I’ve seen the musical adaption movie The Wiz about a million times (Micheal Jackson, Diana Ross, Mabel King, Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor? YES, please). And then – just to put 10 on the 20 – I’m a theatre geek from waaaaaay back. I served as Technical Director and Lighting Designer (and I also danced in!) for the stage version of The Wiz. I used to know that script backwards and forwards. So you can’t fault me for thinking I knew my The Wizard of Oz.
Well, guess what? I did NOT know my Wizard of Oz!
I went into this read thinking I knew what was going to happen. I had the movies and the plays all circling in my head so I spent the entire read fighting with my memories and knowledge of the adapted works. The Wicked Witch that Dorothy kills is wearing silver shoes; the Good Witch that meets Dorothy upon her landing is NOT Glinda and she’s an old, weak witch about the size of the Munchkins; The Wicked Witch of the West has very little on-page time and Glinda doesn’t get page time til the very, very end. Like, Glinda didn’t even know Dorothy was in town til she came pounding on the Witch’s front gate. And those are just the initial big differences. There was just so much changed…
This is a relatively simple children’s book but it still follows the typical fantastical structure of the Heroic Quest. I quite like heroic quests so I think I may have enjoyed this book more than some [others who read it as an adult].
One of the first things I bothered me, however, was what seemed to be a bias of the narrator…who doesn’t seem to like Kansas, prairies or older women very much. After making a point in describing Kansas as uniformly grey, poor and draining, there was almost an entire paragraph dedicated to the death of Aunt Em’s faded beauty. Uncle Henry, on the other hand, is barely described at all. I think it bothered me simply because it didn’t really have anything to do with the plot. The description of Aunt Em’s beauty and age – or lack thereof – are from a time prior to the birth of Dorothy. So why bring it up?
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 grey; they had taken the read from her cheeks and lips, and they were grey 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.
- L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz, Page 2
I also was quite astounded by the sheer amount of violence that is to be found in this children’s book. Dorothy commits two murders personally (both Wicked Witches) and her friends help by killing quite a few more. During their trip(s) I counted about 125 deaths that can be directly attributed to the small group. O_O
Throughout the book, I kept wondering how freaking old is Dorothy??! Her age is never given and her actions hit multiple age ranges. The particular edition I own is illustrated and based on the photos I would put Dorothy somewhere between 8-12 years of age. So you can only imagine my face when the little group finally reaches the Emerald City and meet the “Great and Terrible Oz.”
“Well,” said the Head, “I will give you my answer. You have no right to expect me to send you back to Kansas unless you do something for me in return. In this country everyone must pay for everything that he gets. If you wish me to use my magic power to send you home again you must do something for me first. Help me and I will help you.”
- L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz, pages 89-90
When I read this, all I could think was What in the actual FUCK?! Did he just tell a little lost girl that she has to go murder someone – who she has not met and has not harmed her – before he would be willing to help her?! AND he knows it’s so dangerous that she could either be enslaved or killed?? WTF.
So Dorothy and her friends go off to commit murder. Again. They kill wolves and crows and even bees. Of course, it’s all fun and games until the flying monkeys attack. The flying monkeys seem to be the only animals the Dorothy Hit Squad can’t take out. What I found interesting is that the flying monkeys are not really bad guys (like the movie), they are actually pretty nice monkeys (all things considered). They were controlled by a special hat that forced them to follow orders.
Once the Dorothy Hit Squat takes out the Wicked Witch – who was not the sister of the dead witch and only wanted the silver shoes because of their power AND didn’t show up until pg 99 but was dead by page 112 – go back to the Emerald City to get their rewards from Oz.
Oz is shocked, of course, because he totally believed that he had sent Dorothy and her murderous friends off to their deaths. Being unprepared for how good the Dorothy Hit Squad was, Oz had no plans about what to when they returned. And once he was discovered and confronted for being a lying fraud, Oz pulls out this ying yang:
“My dear friends,” said Oz, “I pray you not to speak of these little things. Think of me, and the terrible trouble I’m in at being found out.”
- L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz, Page 135
Wait. Wait just one freaking moment. Did he just say “think of me” after he deliberately sent a freaking child off to what he thought would be her death or enslavement??! THIS is his response??! Where I’m from…that’s attempted murder! Oz has now admitted to fraud and deception AND he ordered an assassination. I can’t help but to think that Oz is a pretty bad guy…and possibly worse that the Wicked Witches. I mean, at least they were upfront and honest about their actions.
But anyway, the group of friends demand Oz fulfill his promises. So he gives the Scarecrow “brains,” the Tin Woodsman is given a “heart,” and the Cowardly Lion is give “courage.” Then Oz and Dorothy stitch together a hot air balloon so they can both try to float back to the States. Well, Oz floats off somewhere BUT Toto (in his usual M.O.) runs off and Dorothy gets left behind.
Since Dorothy gets left behind, she goes with her friends on [yet another] adventure to speak to Glinda, the Good Witch The Witch of the South. They travel through three lands which all could be edited out. This time they only kill one animal, so…progress?
Dorothy and her friends meet Glinda who helps them immediately. She arranges for the Scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Woodsman to get back to their new prospective homes and tells Dorothy how to use the silver shoes to get back to Kansas.
I can’t help but to admit that this was a rather entertaining read. There’s a decent amount of action but I felt it…meandered quite a bit. Especially after Oz floats away without Dorothy. When I compare this classic children’s book with The Chronicles of Narnia, Narnia is a lot more focused than The Wizard of Oz. I think I prefer that focus, tbh. I wanted to be done after Oz floated away. I was more annoyed than enchanted by the third adventure.
I don’t know if I’ll read this again unless I have children but I’m glad I did read it. While there are all sorts of things in The Wizard of Oz that I could nitpick and pull apart (like the representation of women), it’s still a good children’s book. The story was easy to read and relatively engaging throughout.
Funny article about the 1939 movie: 5 Reasons The Greatest Movie Villain Ever is a ‘Good’ Witch