Category Archives: 1900s

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum [1900]

Baum’s Wizard of Oz, now over a century old, varies from its popular representation in a fashion very similar to the manner in which all works of stage and screen vary from their literary counterparts.  The book features much the same cast, complete with scarecrow and tin man and lion, but offers a bit more depth and back story than the movie classic.  I will not attempt to summarize the work entirely but will point out a few key points and differences that struck me as interesting during my brief perusal.  No warranty is expressed or implied as to my own reader’s interest in anything I may commit to paper.

Firstly, I found it interesting how Baum’s stress on the dull gray landscape of Kansas translated into the movie’s depiction off the text.  This was a natural and wonderful coincidence given that at the time movies themselves were undergoing a transition from black and white to color.  Baum notes:
The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.”
 
Everything truly is most painfully drab until Dorothy finds herself in the most radiant land of Oz.  Baum’s words of introduction could not be more perfectly reproduced than by the movie almost 40 years later.
“The little girl gave a cry of amazement and looked about her, her eyes growing bigger and bigger at the wonderful sights she saw. The cyclone had set the house down very gently — for a cyclone — in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of greensward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.”
From here the text and my analysis of it settle down a bit.  The good witch of the North who visits Dorothy in the opening of the text is, in fact, old rather than young and radiant as depicted in the movie.  She is not Glinda, as Glinda lives in the south and has become powerful enough to defy the passage of time.  Dorothy’s new-found shoes, lately belonging to the wicked witch of the east, are in fact silver, not red.  As the movie folk-lore tells it, they were to originally be of silver in the movie, but were changed to red so they would contrast more spectacularly with the yellow road of such pivotal importance.  I will not burden the reader with the myriad of differences in evidence.
As with all of Baum’s works though, there are a few points of keen wisdom to be acquired for the assiduous reader.  Of particular interest is the evolution of the principle characters during the series.  Our friend the scarecrow entreats:
Brains are the only things worth having in this world, no matter whether one is a crow or a man.”

A constant conflict boils just under the surface as to whether wisdom or compassion or selflessness are most important attributes in humanity.

The man of tin is given a sad and macabre back story in the book that would terrify children if it were reenacted.  He retells the story briefly in chapter five in which he was the victim of love and the wicked witch of the east.
“She thought of a new way to kill my love for the beautiful Munchkin maiden, and made my axe slip again, so that it cut right through my body, splitting me into two halves. Once more the tinsmith came to my help and made me a body of tin, fastening my tin arms and legs and head to it, by means of joints, so that I could move around as well as ever. But, alas! I had now no heart, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl, and did not care whether I married her or not.”

The tin man’s history makes him a much more complicated personage as we realize that unlike the scarecrow, he has firsthand knowledge of what he has lost.  He was once a man in love, but fell victim to the heartlessness of another.

In the textual version we also learn what is suspected of the magical city of Oz in the movie.  Indeed, it is merely a façade, a hollow rendering of a greater place.  We see this laid out for us in chapter 12.  Dorothy and the others are forced to don green goggles before they enter the Emerald City.  Upon their exit, an examination of their clothing reveals the true nature of the city:
“but now, to her surprise, she found it was no longer green, but pure white. The ribbon around Toto’s neck had also lost its green color and was as white as Dorothy’s dress.”

Oz isn’t so much a reality as it is an enforced state of mind, an illusion perpetuated by Oz himself.  If one were in a more cynical mood, one might extend this analogy to all of government.  But since one is not of such a mood, one will merely leave such concepts as an exercise for the reader, and perhaps refer them to some Orwell.

Most interesting to me, we also learn the reason why the flying monkeys find themselves in the service of the wicked witch of the west.  To shorten an otherwise interesting story, let it merely be said that they were a free and independent people under the influence of an enchantment which required them to serve the witch a prescribed number of times in a manner of her choosing.  Later they find themselves in the service of both Dorothy and Glinda, but like all points of real interest, this is left as incentive to the reader.

One of the things that is most keenly lost in the visual rendition of Baum’s work is his word play.  While the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is not the best example of Baum’s love of Pun, it does display itself.  Most prominently it appears in his gifts to the three non-human heroes.  To the scarecrow he endows a head full of bran and needles.  The “bran-new brains” include the needles to prove just how “sharp” the scarecrow has become.  While Baum’s puns are many, no promise is made as to their quality.  To the tin man he endows a simple heart made of cloth and stuffing and to the lion he gifts a stiff belt of whiskey to endow courage.  One finds it difficult to imagine how this last gift was lost from the movie version.

All in all, the book was as entertaining as the previous three times I’d bothered to peruse it.  No grand discoveries were to be made but it is a quick and simple read for those that find themselves in environments where distractions made more detailed reading impossible.  While it is written for a child, the age of the work makes it at least somewhat amusing for the more sophisticated reader.  Children of the current era will find little in it to amuse them.

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