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Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion—they’re now as beloved a part of American folklore as Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan. Since its first publication in 1900, L. Frank Baum’s story of a little girl carried away by a tornado to the strange and beautiful Land of Oz has had an extraordinary emotional impact on wide-eyed readers young and old.
As Dorothy journeys down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, hoping the Great and Terrible Wizard who lives there will help her return home, she shares adventures with the famous trio of characters, defeats a wicked witch, and learns about the power of friendship, loyalty, and self-confidence. While scholars have debated for decades over possible political meanings hidden within the tale, Baum himself claimed he simply wanted to write a “modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” As it has done for generations past, this classic of fantasy adventure speaks movingly about what every child needs: the Woodman’s compassion, the Lion’s courage, and the Scarecrow’s wisdom.
With original illustrations by William Wallace Denslow.
J. T. Barbarese teaches at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, where he is a member of the Rutgers Center for Children and Childhood Studies. He is the author of four books of poetry and a translation of Euripides.
For readers who come to the novel after having grown up with the movie, the biggest shock is to find in the novel none of the film’s comforting, gap-filling backstory. Some of the cinematic revisions, such as the snowstorm that wakes the sleepers in the poppy field and that replaces their rescue by the Queen of the Mice in chapter IX, were cost-efficient alternatives to special effects that might have proven impossible or inadequate to the illusion.5 The change from Silver Shoes to Ruby Slippers in the 1939 movie, as most people know, was dictated by technical considerations (red showed up more vividly on the film stock of the period than silver); and American culture would be poorer without some of its memorable dialogue. But the principal changes are in the overall characterization and in retrospect seem less defensible. In the book Uncle Henry and Auntie Em never really emerge from the background and appear together only in chapter I, Auntie Em appearing alone in the very brief closing chapter. The film, however, shows them as loveable (if two-toned) representatives of a loveable Kansas home. Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch turns out to be one more ripple in Dorothy’s concussed subconscious and the Kansas prototype of the Wicked Witch of the West, who even has a name—Almira Gulch. Auntie Em is hardly the “thin and gaunt,” childless old woman whose eyes had lost their sparkle and were as gray as Kansas. She is an all-American original with a tongue and a personality to match. “Almira Gulch,” she says on hearing of Almira’s plan to destroy Toto, “just because you own half the county doesn't mean you have the power to run the rest of us!” Perhaps the biggest change is in Dorothy herself, who is actually a feistier child in the novel than on film. Consider the witch’s death. The film stages the event as an accident—Dorothy aims a bucket of water at the burning Scarecrow and douses the witch instead. But the novel makes it no accident. The witch tricks Dorothy and obtains one of her Silver Shoes. Dorothy gets “so very angry that she picked up the bucket of water that stood near and dashed it over the Witch.” Judy Garland’s Dorothy is tearfully apologetic; Baum’s is outspoken and “angry.”6
The screenwriters (Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson, and Edgar Allan Woolf) also expanded the roles of the three companions and turned the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion into metamorphosed versions of farmhands named Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke. Professor Marvel (Frank Morgan), the genial fraud who watches Dorothy head off as the tornado prepares to descend, reenters her dream vision as the Wizard (as well as, once in the City of Oz, the doorman of the Emerald City, a cabdriver, and the Wizard’s guard). These were more than touches of simple psychological realism. Like the technical stroke to shift to color from black and white when Dorothy arrives in Munchkin Land and the suddenly indispensable musical score, these permanent contributions to the Oz mythology are also improvisations that may not necessarily constitute improvements.7 They blur the clarity of the original, superimposing a second relational network on a clearer original. Dorothy and her companions each lack something and venture to the Emerald City to request it of the Wizard to find it, but in the novel neither the companions nor their deficiencies have reciprocal counterparts in the “real” world of Kansas. Oz is no Purgatory or compensatory educational experience, and it is definitely no metaphor for unconsciousness. Yet the film persuades the audience of a nearly allegorical symmetry between Kansas and Oz and raises unique questions. Is this Dorothy’s way of disclosing in dream truths too dangerous or painful to bear while awake? Are the three companions, like the three beasts who temporarily block Dante’s entrance to Hell, reflections of flaws in her personality? We don’t really know. The movie supplies teasing closures to questions that only it raises. The screenwriters’ brilliant adaptation—whether you find it welcome or not—turns each character into a symbolic referent, a point on a carefully plotted postcyclonic rainbow that begins and ends in Kansas. As a result, the film displaces emphasis from fantasy to psychology and makes several “unforgivable” changes.8 Whatever its justification in commercial or technical terms, the film forces its audience to measure the distance between Kansas and Oz in psychic, not imaginative, terms; it tidies up certain loose ends, such as the origins of the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow, each of whose histories is explained in the book, by eliminating the need for explanations. Everything that occurs in the end occurs in Dorothy’s mind.
This is an essential point: Baum’s Oz, like the Elysian Fields in Greek mythology or the witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel,” is a place you can get to from here. There is no complicated prospectus, more fit for adults than children, of dream projections of waking originals. The text has a serene confidence in its own imaginative conditions that, along with its disquietingly simple style, are its lasting strengths. For those raised on the movie, what is “missing” is surface complexity, density of characterization, and witty dialogue. Baum’s prose is clear and childlike and represents an uncompromising attention to plot rather than style, to events over character. It’s almost as if children’s literature had found in Baum its own Homer, a writer whose straightforward and occasionally pedestrian style is the determined outcome of the oddness of the story he has to tell. You may miss the character overlays of the film and its calculated verbal ironies, derivative of the more sophisticated children’s books. You may long for the closure you feel when you see Ray Bolger behind the Scarecrow’s outlines or hear the Wizard in Professor Marvel’s voice.9 On the other hand, the novel dispensed with Wonderland-ish exits such as Dorothy’s coming to at the end or the final tableau where the ensemble, including Professor Marvel, gathers around her bed like a Broadway cast taking a second bow. While the last person to consult in matters of intention is the author, it’s noteworthy that Baum’s stated purpose was to “please children of today” with “a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” Simplicity, in other words, was his goal, not stylistic flash or psychological nuance.
Posted May 16, 2011
After reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, I was completely pleasantly surprised. I have seen the movie more times than I can count and have performed the play more than once so I am extremely familiar with the story. I was very sure there was no way the story of the Wizard of Oz could re-spark my interest but I was wrong. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum's writing is very simple making it accessible to all age groups. After realizing this, I understood how the book became such a classic. The simplistic writing didn't take away from the story at all, though. I found that the plot of Dorothy traveling through Oz, trying to return to Kansas, was far more intricate than in the film adaptation. The story was much more fantasy based, as well. The whimsical details created a story so magical I couldn't help but be pulled in. The story also spoke to a message about personal potential, a theme I had not connected to before while watching the movie. Throughout the novel, there are many instances of the scarecrow, lion, and tin man acting contradictorily to what their supposed problem is. For example, the lion acts against his fear and protects the rest of the characters while in the woods. This courageous act proves that the lion and all of the characters do not need the help of Oz and was capable all along. This is reinforced when Oz gives them gifts that have no real effect at the end of the book. This lesson of personal potential is a great one for kids to learn and in general, is an uplifting message for all. All in all, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a classic for a reason; it tells a wonderful, captivating story that speaks to all ages and people.
8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 21, 2005
The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, receives four out of five stars from me. This book receives four out of five stars from me because it is a wonderful children¿s classic that has survived for a very long time. It broadens the imaginations and extents the mind of its readers. I take away the fourth star because in the book, the tin man chops off the animals¿ heads. I think this matter could be handles in a different, more mature way. This book (in all other ways) is very child friendly and does not talk about blood and gore as other books would. The child¿s imagination will run wild with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, Toto, and all of their friends as they venture down the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City to see the Wizard of Oz, the greatest wizard of all time. Will the strange group of friends receive their greatest desires? Or will they be sent home disappointed? I think this book is better than the movie because the movie leaves out some interesting but yet important parts. Like when the unfortunate group falls under the curse of the Poppy Field, the Queen of the Field Mice carries them to safety. She also helps them at many other parts of the adventure. This was a page turner for me and I would recommend it to all my friends.
6 out of 13 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2011
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a classic tale. A very well written piece. This book lies the true deatails of Dorathy's adventures in these odd countries that the movie does not. A MUST READ!!!!!
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 5, 2009
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The Wizard of Oz is a book I call a 'lifetime' book. I call it this because no matter what age you are you can take something from it. It is a great book for children of any age. We all know the story of this book based on the movie, but the book if quite a bit different. I like it more because it is more fantasy based. A lot of people have said the book is violent, but it's really not. Nothing is graphic or more violent than anything in the movie. The Wizard of Oz doesn't need a long review. It has such a legacy for a reason! Pick this up and read it, whatever age you are. Also, it is a very fast read.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2011
I grew up with hollywood's version on the TV and I love it to this day. SO I wanted to read the book. Usually I feel the book is much better then the movie, but not in this case. Dorothy's journey is alot longer and alot more different people she meets becomes lengthy and the reader becomes disallusioned with the plot. The name on the cover is where the book and hollywood separate. But I am glad I read it after I read about the author and why he wrote the story.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 2, 2011
Posted July 25, 2010
With the chopping heads off by the Tin Woodman and the winged monkeys ripping off the Scarecrow, I think this "children's classic" is PG-13. But seriously, I loved reading this book because the adventure never ends. Each chapter flows into each other. A great read.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 22, 2010
Although I watched the movie as a child I didn't realize how different the book was! Now, as a 30 year old, I enjoyed the book so much that I now want to go re-watch the movie again! Even though the story differs the twists and turns and different storyline kept me going for two days. I even snuck my nook into work and read because I was so deeply into the story! Maybe it was reading a childhood favorite or maybe it was just to see what would be so different, I don't know, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. And come on, $1.99 ebook? It's a great price. My only gripe is that some words were missing the first letter, but overall it didn't bother me that much.
Read it, you'll enjoy it all over again!
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Posted October 2, 2011
Posted January 20, 2010
This novel has some positive aspects. One of the positives is the interesting characters. I liked how Frank made interesting characters like the tin woodman to make the story very captivating. I also liked how the book wasn't predictable. The author always had a surprise, like the ending I also liked characters' relationship. I liked this because the four main characters were nothing alike except for the fact that they all wanted something from Oz. This journey brought them closer together. This book also had some flaws. Something that I didn't like was that the author didn't explain some of the events clearly and it took a while to understand what was happening. I also didn't like how he didn't put enough detail in some parts. For example, when Dorothy was going to the Witch of the South, the author had her face obstacles, but, the author didn't explain them enough. I also didn't like how when the book should have ended, it kept on going until it got plain boring. By the time that Dorothy reached the Witch of the South, all of the creatures seemed fine where they were and if Dorothy had left with Oz, it would have been a good ending. Those are some positives and negatives of the novel, The Wizard of Oz.
There are many writing styles used in this book. One is that this book was written in third person. The author tells the story instead of one of the characters. This story is fantasy. It involves going to another world that is highly unrealistic and could never happen. But, it has a good fantasy charm to it. The writing style is a very clear fantasy. I could know what everything looked like and everything was explained perfectly. Those are some writing styles used in this novel.
I highly recommend this novel. One reason is because it is a great adventure. Also, it's not just made for children or adults, anyone will like it. Also some parts are very humorous which will keep people reading. Some similar novels are, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Treasure Island. Three other books that I like are The Clique series, Twilight saga, and Walk Two Moons. Walk Two Moons is my personal favorite book of all time and it is a great mystery for everyone. The Clique is a great book for pre-teens because these girls face similar situations as pre-teens face. The Twilight saga is a great romantic adventure that takes into the world of vampires to a new level.
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Posted April 2, 2015
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Posted March 26, 2013
The overall rating of this book I personally would give this book a great review because it gives clear understanding of courage,hope and drive when it comes to allowing childrens to develop skills. Personally, my family has grown up around this book and this book is age appropriate and is a very classic book to read to students. I have cherished this book for many of years and it will remain in my heart for years to come. Eventually I want my children to be able to develop and learn from this book just like I did. After seeing the movie I still feel like the book had a bigger impact on me personally because of the detailed that had been used. The author did a wonderful job portraying many things and allowed the reader to get attached to many characters throughout the book.This book is an overall classic book and I would highly reccommend this book to anyone of any age.
Posted March 25, 2013
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Posted December 17, 2012
NOT FOR NOOK HD (no PagePerfect, i.e. graphically enhanced, books are).
They don't tell you this when you purchase a NOOK HD - which is the updated version of the Nook Color.
The newest reader gets fewer compatible books, and none with enhanced graphics! Nice.
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Posted September 14, 2012