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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Book Review

Updated on January 31, 2014
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Why I Read This Book

Since this book is now in the public domain, it is a free Amazon Kindle download, (but you can find it on other sites as well). I’m all for free things, so I went ahead and “purchased” it, paying absolutely nothing for the download itself. I’m experiencing a children’s/young adult novel kick right now, and I thought, what better book to read than something as iconic and well known as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? I was also drawn to the book due to the recent cinematic revival of the Oz mythology, presented in such movies as Oz The Great and Powerful and Dorothy of Oz , starring Lea Michele as Dorothy (currently in post-production now). It’s amazing that such an old story has stayed in the public eyes and hearts over a century later. They are still making movies and children’s books are still being written about Oz and its colorful array of characters. This indicated, to me, that the story would undoubtedly live up to its continued hype.

This is much more cheerful than the book.
This is much more cheerful than the book. | Source

Synopsis and Film Discrepancies

I was very much surprised to see that, plot wise, the 1939 film adaptation followed the book with a fair amount of fidelity. Many of the key plot points of the movie remained the same as the book: Dorothy is indeed a young girl being raised in Kansas by her aunt and uncle. A tornado comes and sweeps Dorothy, Toto, and the farmhouse into Oz, and the house inadvertently kills the Wicked Witch of the East. Along with becoming acquainted with the Munchkins, Dorothy meets the Good Witch of the North (who is not Glinda, as in the movie). The Good Witch gives Dorothy the Wicked Witch’s silver shoes (which are, of course, ruby slippers in the film) and, with a protective kiss to the forehead, sends her off to the Emerald City to seek the Wizard so that Dorothy may find the way back home.

Along the way, Dorothy acquires three traveling companions who also want help from the Wizard: the Scarecrow who wants a brain, the Tin Woodman who wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who wants courage. They eventually reach the Emerald City after crossing a river, running away from creatures called Kalidahs, and thwarting the field of poppies. At the Emerald City, they each go see the Wizard, and he tricks them each into seeing a different being in place of himself. He tells them each, separately, that, in order for him to help them, they must kill the Wicked Witch of the West.

So, the journey continues on to the land of the Winkies, a people enslaved by the Witch. Along the way, they encounter road blocks put in place by the Witch. They resist most of them, but they are finally defeated by the infamous Winged Monkeys who capture the Lion and Dorothy, dismember the Scarecrow, and drop the Tin Woodman off a cliff. Dorothy is forced to do housework in the Witch’s castle. When the Witch takes one of Dorothy’s shoes, Dorothy, in a rage, pours a bucket of mopwater on the Witch who, of course, melts. The Winkies are pleased, so they help reassemble Dorothy’s traveling party. Dorothy has the Winged Monkeys return her and her companions to the Emerald City.

When they return to the Emerald City, Toto indeed reveals the true Wizard hiding behind a screen. He gives the three companions each a material representation of their abstract desires and reveals that he is from Omaha and wishes, like Dorothy, to return home. They construct a hot air balloon in order to go back, but Dorothy misses the ride home because of Toto. So, the companions kindly accompany Dorothy to Glinda’s palace, where Dorothy learns of the silver shoes’ magical powers. She says good-bye to her friends and returns home with Toto.

Oz the Great and Powerful Official Trailer

Darkness Prevails

Unlike the film, the book is pretty dark, especially for a children’s book, at least in the modern way that we perceive youth literature. Unhappiness pervades the text, and the characters are continually in danger of losing their lives or are in some other stressful crisis, many of which are neglected or toned down in the film. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion are all plagued by self-doubt and lack of self-confidence. Although the Scarecrow is very bright, he is convinced he is not, and that he needs physical brains to validate himself. This is the same with the Tin Woodman who is very sweet and tender-hearted and the Lion who exhibits bravery throughout the narrative. It’s darkly humorous, but it’s still dark and upsetting on a certain human level.

Dorothy’s predicament is terrifying in an altogether different and more potent way. The inability to return home to those whom somebody loves is frightening, especially for children. Dorothy is continually powerless, and she is forced to obtain assistance throughout the narrative simply to survive. It’s devastating to the reader when Dorothy misses her chance at returning home in the balloon, as it seems that there is no more hope left for our heroine. There is a darkness and a terror in this that is difficult to articulate, especially when it is occurring to a child character.

Although with psychological darkness, there’s a lot of morbidity and physically dark occurrences in the novel that are not present in the film. For one, there’s a lot of talk about limb-chopping. The Tin Woodman tells Dorothy and the Scarecrow of how he came to be made entirely out of tin. Due to being cursed, the Tin Woodman goes out to chop wood, but each time he does, he accidentally chops off one of his own body parts. He systematically has each replaced by a metal prosthetic. At the end of the tale, the Tin Woodman is made completely out of tin, which causes him great distress as he is convinced that his metaphorical heart is gone along with his physical heart.

There’s also a lot of killing involved in the story. One of the deterrents that the Witch sends is a pack of wolves. The Tin Woodman defends the traveling party by cutting up the wolves with his axe, until there is nothing left but a pile of dead carcasses next to them. The Witch also deploys a murder of crows, but the Scarecrow snaps each one of their necks. If that’s not dark, I don’t know what is.

The characters from Tin Man, a Syfy mini-series loosely based on the Oz stories
The characters from Tin Man, a Syfy mini-series loosely based on the Oz stories | Source

Numerology

The pattern of numbers in the book is an odd, intriguing topic indeed. Because the story is essentially a modern American fairytale, the rule of three is pervasive throughout the plot. For instance, there are three traveling companions that Dorothy acquires and a person can request a wish from the Winged Monkeys three times. Although the number three is characteristic of fairytales (Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs, etc.), it is also characteristic of Biblical mythology and lore. I’m not saying that there is a hidden religious meaning in the text; rather I am saying it is an odd coincidence, especially when you pair the incidences up with the times that the number forty arises in the text. Forty is another very Biblically-oriented number, and it appears twice in the story: the witch sends a pack of forty wolves and a murder of forty crows to attack our heroes. Although this detail holds very little water as far as significance, it is an interesting observation for the literary critic or burgeoning conspiracy theorist.

Dorothy of Oz Official Trailer

Parting Thoughts: But Wait! There's More!

Along with the novel, Baum continued the story with thirteen sequels. I plan on reading them in order to get the full Oz story. This book was both entertaining and interesting, although the storyline wearied me in places, due to my familiarity with it. Nonetheless, I am happy that I had the experience of reading it. I look forward to reading the rest of them, and I hope that they are as mentally fulfilling as the first.

Score: 7 out of 10.

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