Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I grew up on a steady diet of The Wizard of Oz movie, but, embarrassingly, never read the book. Until now. Sadly, I didn't love it. It was quirky but it lacked the whimsical sense of fun that I was expecting. I know it's not fair to compare it to the movie, but with the story so ingrained in my brain, it was hard not to. I was amazed at just how different the two versions were. I knew that in the book, the famous slippers were silver, not ruby, but I didn't expect so many other things to have been changed.

The same basic plot is there, of course. Dorothy and her dog Toto get whisked up in their house in a tornado, travelling from Kansas to the land of Oz. She immediately wants to go back home, and has to travel to the Emerald City along the Yellow Brick Road to request the help of the great wizard Oz. Along the way, she picks up friends in a Scarecrow who wants brains, a Tin Man who wants a heart, and a Lion who wants courage.

But while the movie intertwines the worlds of Kansas and Oz, as the latter is a manifestation of Dorothy's subconcious, the book presents all the events as real within the world of the story. Dorothy really does travel to the land of Oz. While there, her adventures are a series of disconnected incidents with no cohesive thread - other than the fact that Dorothy wants to get home, of course. The Wicked Witch of the West does not hound Dorothy out of revenge or a desire to claim the silver slippers as her own. In fact, she doesn't even appear until the second part of the story. She attacks Dorothy and her friends purely because she's wicked.

Given the fact that L. Frank Baum states in the introduction that he wanted to create a modern-day fairy tale without the violence and horror of traditional stories, there was a suprising amount of gore and death. All of the characters, Dorothy included, attack others in gruesome ways with few qualms. Granted, it's often in self-defence, but it's still pretty disturbing. This didn't help me connect or sympathise with the characters. On top of that, they all repeat themselves so often (the Scarecrow on his lack of brains, the Tin Man on his lack of heart and so on) that it gets quite tedious. I know it's a children's story, but I got tired of reading the same things in every bit of dialogue.

There were some wonderful parts to the story, of course. A highlight for me was the charming china village. The prose is lovely. Perhaps I would have adored the book if I had read it as a child. As an adult, I wanted it to be half the length and twice as enchanting.

Rating: 3/5

15 comments:

  1. I read this for the first time in adulthood too and like you found it quite a bit darker than the film. I also didn't enjoy it as much as the film, but then, the film is amazing!

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    1. Yes the film is pretty hard to top :)

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  2. Love the fair review you've given the book. Likewise, I love the film but have never really been able to get into the book. Perhaps they just did too much of a good job on the film ...

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  3. It's a shame you didn't enjoy the book Belle because it's an old favourite of mine. Of course the movie version is spectacular but I think the book is also brilliant in its own right, especially for the time period in which it was published. Back then fantasy novels were virtually unheard of and it was stories like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that carved these great niches.

    You also mention that the witch didn't try to attain the silver slippers when in actual fact she did. She stole one slipper from Dorothy after tricking her and this is when Dorothy melts her with a bucket of water. Just like the movie, the shoes are a huge part of the plot. She has her reasons for being evil and isn't just simply being 'wicked' as you imply.

    There is a bit of repetition within the plot I agree, but the concept of finding courage, brains and a heart is demonstrated much more significantly in the book than the movie I think. The movie focuses a lot on the theme of coming home and although this is also an important part in the book, it's the contradiction of human emotions that the book displays perfectly. The storyline has a good moral message about overcoming insecurities and realising values in ourselves that we sometimes can't always see.

    Sorry for this really long comment but these are just some thoughts I had after reading your review. As much as I love the movie, the book will always be dear to my heart. :)

    Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

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    1. Perhaps I would have felt differently if I had read it as a child. Regarding the shoes, I know she wants them, but she doesn't go after Dorothy from the beginning as she does in the movie - she waits until she enters her territory. That's what I was getting at.
      I did like the exploration of self-perception, but like I said it just got a bit tiresome when it was mentioned for the 50th time. :)

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  4. There are a lot of classic books to movies, I've watched but haven't read. It is embarrassing, but like this one, it seems like I can do without reading it. Plus, I don't want to ruin my warm memories of having watched the film countless times.

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    1. Yes I only read The Secret Garden, Peter Pan and A Little Princess as an adult too!

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  5. I re-read this one a few months ago as well, and I was surprised by the amount of violence in it--and by how subversive it was. I really did enjoy it, though, and plan to re-read the rest of the Oz books shortly. :)

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    1. So much violence! I found it off-putting - I don't know how kids would react! They might love it haha.

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  6. Great review. Not everyone knows what Wizard of Oz is.

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    1. Thanks. The movie is very popular but I guess not as many people have read the book.

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  7. I love it when you review classic books. This is another one where I think I'm going to stick with the movie. I love the movie version and everything I hear about the book makes me think I shouldn't taint my WoOz experience by reading it. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks Small! That would probably be wise :)

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  8. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the quintessential American fairy tale. It has enchanted generations. That being said, do you have any idea how many hanging plot threads L. Frank Baum left in the story? I do. Just a sampling - Who is Gayelette? Who is Quelala? Why is the Ruby Palace never mentioned again? What about the Golden Cap? Did you know that Glinda has red hair and sits on a Ruby Throne?
    All of these hanging threads demanded a story to resolve them. There was not one out there, so i wrote it. You can find The Hidden History of Oz, Book One: The Witch Queens, on Amazon or on Smashwords. For more on Oz and Baum's vision compared to my vision of the Land of Oz, visit http://hiddenhistoryofoz.wordpress.com.
    Thank you for reviewing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I am sorry that it did not meet your liking. Perhaps once you understand the history of the land and the characters, you will appreciate the framework that Baum laid out. Beneath the shadows of whimsy lies adventure. I'll see you there.

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