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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.
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.