Monday, April 19, 2010

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The 2nd of the B’s and the 5th book in the Challenge.

This was the 1st genuine ‘childrens’ book that was recommended. Even as a book for children The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a short book, at just over 100 pages it’s more a novella than a full length novel.

Most people know the book because of the 1939 film that made Judy Garland into a star. It’s written in a very simplistic, easy to read style and there is nothing particularly remarkable about the prose or the story itself, although some of Baum’s ideas such as animated scarecrows and tin men are delightful and were, for the time, (the book came out in 1900) quite original.

The book and the film differ on a number of points. For the most part, the movie follows the novel only in a very general way. Many details are omitted or altered, while some of the perils that Dorothy encountered in the novel are not even mentioned in the movie. The book has the Good Witch of the South, who is not named, and Glinda is the Good Witch of the North, the former did not appear at all in the fim. One of the most noticeable changes is the colour of Dorothy’s shoes. In the movie they were ruby slippers in order to take advantage of the fact that the film was shot in Technicolour. In the book they are silver shoes. Unfortunately the China Country and the Hammerheads were also cut for time reasons. The role of the Wicked Witch of the West was expanded for the film. She only appears briefly in the book and her demise is rather disappointing as she provides scant resistance to Dorothy and her friends and isn’t at all frightening.

It’s hard to pin down why this is a classic. It may be because of the time it was written, possibly some of the original ideas Baum came up with for it, it also could be due to the fact that Baum also wrote 13 follow up books which fleshed Oz out considerably and made it more real in readers minds than the original book would ever have done. The major reason is probably the film, which is a celluloid classic and you would hard put to find someone who hasn’t seen it at least once. The book Wicked and the stage musical of the same name wouldn’t have hurt, either.

If you’ve never read it you probably should. It won’t take long and at times it does give you that sense of wonder that only the very best fantasy provides. If you enjoyed it or want something similar for children to read you could try any of the other 13 Oz books, I’d also recommend Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair books, although they’re considered very politically incorrect in this enlightened day and age. Older readers may wish to tackle Gregor Maguire's Wicked.

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