5 Ways The Wizard of Oz Changed En Route To the Big Screen

If you are reading this, I assume you are alive, and if you are alive, I assume you have seen “The Wizard of Oz.” (You can experience the beloved classic in a whole new way today, when it hits theaters in IMAX 3D. And starting on October 1, you can buy it on Blu-ray.) But have you ever read the books? They’ve been in print for over a century, but I’m willing to bet most people experience the movie version first. I sure did, and when I finally read Frank L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that it bears only a superficial resemblance to the movie it inspired.

Below, find five surprising differences between the book and the movie.

1) The Wicked Witch of the West? Not such a big deal after all. By far the most unexpected part of the book was how small a role the Wicked Witch plays. Onscreen, she’s the main antagonist, pestering Dorothy throughout her journey to the Emerald City. Her character is so iconic, she became the antihero of Gregory Maguire’s postmodern Oz novels (the first of which was adapted into one of the most successful Broadway musicals of all time). In the original book, the witch appears in… one chapter. In the middle of the story. Dorothy probably doesn’t even remember killing her once she’s cooling her heels back in Kansas.

2) There’s no framing device. The movie’s black and white frame story, set before that cyclone carries Dorothy off to Oz, takes great liberties with the source material. The movie suggests that the adventure was all a dream: the actors who play three friendly farmhands in Kansas show up later as the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion in Oz; town dog-hater Miss Gulch later pops up as the Wicked Witch; and Professor Marvel, a traveling Vaudeville magician, is recast as the Wizard. The book gives us no reason to doubt the veracity of Dorothy’s adventures: the farmhands, Miss Gulch, Professor Marvel—they don’t appear in the story at all.

3) The slippers are silver! In the book, the magic shoes that whisk Dorothy back to Kansas are a bit less colorful than the film version. Hollywood legend holds that silver shoes didn’t take full advantage of the fancy new Technicolor film technology, so they were altered to be more visually appealing.

4) Dorothy sees a lot more of Oz in the book. Remember that scene when Dorothy passes through China Country, populated by living ceramic people? Or when the Cowardly Lion fights a giant spider? Or when Dorothy is beset by the creepy armless Hammer-Heads, who attack her by… um… hitting her with their heads? No? Then you probably only saw the movie.

5) The grass isn’t greener in the Emerald City. The movie’s take on Oz’s capital city, with its towering Technicolor spires, is hardly faithful to the book, in which the city isn’t made of emerald at all. The Wizard just tricks everyone into wearing special glasses so they think it is emerald. The Wizard: kind of a jerk.

Do you prefer onscreen Oz, or the original version?

  • lesley_williams

    I love both, but of course they are very different. The book was the first in a series of 14 marvelously creative and offbeat stories. Although Dorothy reappears frequently in the series, she is rarely the central character, and the Wizard doesn’t reappear until the 4th book. The focus on “going home” is less central in the books, in fact Dorothy and her family move to Oz in the 6th book! And there is increasinlgly less violence as the series progresses: the villains are usally humiliated and stripped from power rather than killed.

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  • Karen Rae Maes

    I love both. I will admit to bring an Oz movie trivia nut though. (My family usually refuses to watch the film with me now!) If you read the book and then watch the movie soon after you can catch a lot of subtle references that you may have missed before.