Sunday, September 22, 2013

REVIEW: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum 
“I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas."
"That is because you have no brains," answered the girl. "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home." 
The Scarecrow sighed.
"Of course I cannot understand it," he said. "If your heads were stuffed with straw, like mine, you would probably all live in beautiful places, and then Kansas would have no people at all. It is fortunate for Kansas that you have brains.” 

Dorothy lives in Kansas with her uncle and aunt. It is a grey little farm on a grey little plain. One day a tornado swoops down and takes Dorothy and the house up into the sky and down again, landing in the Land of Oz on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy and her new friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion travel through perils to the Emerald City to each receive what they most desire from the great and terrible Wizard of Oz. But will Oz's price be too much for them to pay?

Please do not read this if you are a part of my book club! This is my first time reading the books. I have seen the movie several times, and I have vague memories of reading Oz stories in picture book form, but I never had all of them, and the ones that stood out were the visit to Oz, the china town and the Hammer Heads. I had never read it all the way through.

I love it! The style is so charming. I shouldn't say that it reminds me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of her Own Making, it should be the other way around, but I hadn't read Oz yet!

I loved that the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion weren't just Dorothy's backup dancers. They each had their own very specific talents -- ironically the exact talents they thought they lacked. On every adventure, the Scarecrow would come up with the plan, the Tin Woodsman built or used a tool to help with the plan, and the Lion had to complete the scary task. They used teamwork to solve problems and they could not have accomplished any part of their journey without the other. There were very few moments like that in the movie where they separately shone as part of the whole.

Dorothy, while still a child, is much more sensible than the Dorothy in the movie. As much as I love Judy Garland, she is very much the damsel in distress. Dorothy keeps a close eye on the food supply for the journey, and keeps her head down when she needs to. She deals with the supposed death or loss of her companions multiple times, and she handles herself in Oz with maturity. When the witch takes her prisoner, she obeys and comforts the lion (one of the more touching moments of the book for me). The end rescue happens in reverse from the movie. Dorothy has had enough and in a fit of frustration throws water on the witch and melts her (rather than as a desperate impulse in the movie). She rescues the lion and then goes to rescue the Tin Woodsman and the Scarecrow.

I was so shocked at the violence in this book. The Tin Woodsman kills a lot of animals with his ax. But I did appreciate how Baum handled Oz' request for Dorothy, a little girl, to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. She cries and states that she cannot kill someone willingly. I felt this was missing in the movie, the full weight of asking a child to kill someone.

I did feel that the adventures post Oz's departure were a bit too much. The movie handled it nicely, having Glinda appear at the balloon launch. Perhaps it was because I was used to the movie's ending that I didn't fully grasp the trajectory of this story.

I missed the parallels between farm life and the Land of Oz to show that she still carries some Oz with her at home. It makes me wonder if she will be as happy as she claims in the grey land of Kansas. And you do wonder, after the 100th time they repeat the brains, heart, courage, home mantra...what did Toto want?

I did love the book, however, and I will definitely put it on my shelf of classics I will read to my children, along with Peter Pan and the Secret Garden.

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