My son and I saw the musical of The Wizard of Oz two years ago (when he was two years old), and he greatly enjoyed it. Somehow, he loved the movie too, even with the scary monkeys. Over the past two years, I’ve occasionally spied him acting out the story line (four friends go on an adventure down the Yellow Brick Road) with his stuffed animals. It definitely was time to visit the original story.
It’s hard to read the original for a story well known in another format (in this case, the well-popularized movie is much more familiar to me than the novel on which it was based). It’s probably scandalous for me to admit that the original story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (originally published 1900) leaves me unsatisfied. True lovers of classics, especially children’s classics, will probably be upset with me. But I can’t deny it: I don’t particularly like the book (and I’m ducking to avoid the rotten tomatoes). I feel that while the movie’s plot is tight and clever1, the book fails to do anything more than tell a silly story with little to hold it together.
The story in Baum’s classic is a fun one in an imaginative new world far away from our own. We come to know different people, from the Munchkins to the Winkies in the land of the Wicked Witch of the West. This is a world where one can say a magic spell over a golden hat and get flying monkeys to fulfill wishes. There is a separate land in the midst of Oz where porcelain figurines live and play. Truly, Baum’s world is dream-like in it’s randomness and cleverness. I enjoyed reading the back story to Dorothy’s friends, from the Tin Woodman’s tragic love lost to the Scarecrow’s developing consciousness.
I read the book as a child (probably between the ages of 10 and 12), and I enjoyed it enough to seek out sequels, where new characters are introduced and more adventures enjoyed. Returning to Oz as an adult was rather disappointing for me. I simply felt a lack of interesting language (I felt Baum droned on and on), as well as a lack of coherency between each stage of Dorothy’s adventures. Things simply happened to the friends on their journey, but nothing brought the entire epic in a full circle. While there was nothing inherently wrong with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, it felt mediocre, not fantastic, to me. 2
Raisin and I have been reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz since May. There were weeks where we missed reading completely since summer has kept us busy, but in general in the past few weeks, we’ve read much more consistently. Taking this book slow made it hard for my son to see the correlation between this book and the movie because it is rather different, especially after the witch is melted (which happens about halfway through the book).
In general, I believe he enjoyed the book. Here are some sentences he wrote about the book. (The page we wrote the sentences down on had a picture of Dorothy, and so he wanted each sentence to say something about Dorothy, for the most part.)
Dorothy went through a cyclone! I liked the book because the flying monkeys were nice. I liked when Dorothy melted the witch. (It was so amazing!) Dorothy got on glasses at the Emerald City. Dorothy got attacked by the fighting trees and the Hammer-heads. At the end of the book, Dorothy got home again!
Have you read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? Do you enjoy the Oz books, or did you when you were a child?
- Because this post is about the book and not the movie, I’ll relegate these thoughts to a footnote: In the movie, Dorothy, who doesn’t believe in herself, must find the strength within herself to get home, and in the end her dreams come true as she does so. I love how the entire movie story was actually a dream, and yet it still helped her find her place. ↩
- This is quite a generality, but I think I tend to find myself less satisfied with American classics than with English classics. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which I obviously need to reread next, comes to mind as another seemingly random children’s adventure, and yet, I recall it being far more polished and satisfying to read. ↩