Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum


I have mixed feelings when it comes to this beloved classic. I have deep roots with the Wizard of Oz and now that I have finally read this book I am glad the movie is nothing compared to the book. I am curious if they ever make a brand new Wizard of Oz movie if they will be faithful to the material because the book would be considered too gruesome for children in the 21st Century.

Growing up my parents never had cable because we were barely in the house, if we were going to watch the tv then it was going to be a rented VHS from Hollywood Videos (Am I officially old?) or a movie in this humongous collection of Disney & Children films. When I saw the Wizard of Oz in VHS I was enamored by the magic and beauty of Oz. I wanted to escape the real world and be taken up by the tornado with Dorothy and wear those Ruby Slippers. I could never understand why she wanted to leave Oz and I still don't.

My fascination became to the point of obsession that I would sing all the songs, say the lines before the characters would speak, and I could spend hours watching the films over and over again and never be bored. The Wizard of Oz still has a foothold in my world that I went to see the 3D version in theaters, seen countless miniseries or spinoffs, and yet I have not read the iconic book. Shocker right? Well not really... I hated reading as a child I remember opening the book to just see the illustrations.

Technically I have read the Wizard of Oz but I dismiss it entirely because in Elementary School we had to read books to earn points for a grade (What a genius of our educated system am I right? :( ) and they had the watered-down editions of classics so instead of 224 pages of this edition they would shrink it to 100-150. So major scenes were either cutdown or they hired another writer to write this iconic classic for children's to get the simplified version of the story. 

We are know the story of Wizard of Oz because we've all seen the iconic Judy Garland as Dorothy and if you haven't seen it then you must be living under a rock because that movie is always playing on TV and I will watch it whenever it shows up. But for the few that haven't seen it I will give a general synopsis.

This book was published in 1900 which is over 100 years ago and that is an important detail later on. We meet Dorothy Gale who is a farm girl living with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry. She is an orphan and we don't get a reason how she became an orphan but then again this is a children's book. She has a dog named Toto and life is rough on the farm. The crop has been doing too well this season and Dorothy hints in many ways that she wants to escape this gray-view Kansas.

Luckily for her a tornado brews up in Kansas and comes heading her way. Her aunt and uncle reach underground for protection and she would have too except Toto escaped and running around the house and hiding so Dorothy tries to capture him but it's too late. The tornado blows the house away and Dorothy is caught stuck inside the tornado. Surprisingly being inside a tornado is relatively calm until they crash to the ground.

Dorothy thinks they have landed faraway from the farm but when she opens the front door immediately we are introduced into this different world. Clearly we are not in Kansas as flowers of different color are blooming, colors of all spectrum is shone beautiful across the landscape and weird buildings are popping up in front of Dorothy.

We are introduced to munchkins and the Good Witch of the North. She tells Dorothy that she has brought peace to the land by killing the Wicked Witch of the East with her house. She has used the munchkins as slaves and was too powerful to be overthrown by the Good witch. She tells her that there are 4 witches in total: the Good Witch of the North & South, and the Wicked Witch of the East and West. Dorothy is in awe by all this and in that moment of wonder she realize that Auntie Em is still in Kansas. 

She begs to be returned to her world and the Good Witch tells her that if she visits the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald city it is quite possible that he will grant her wish. To protect her from evil the Good witch gives her the Wicked Witch silver slippers and a protective kiss on the forehead (I see J.K. Rowling stoled this idea from this book).

During her journey to the Emerald city, she encounters new strangers who become her companions such as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion. Each one seeks something such as a brain, a heart, and courage and believe they can get it in the Emerald City and tag along with Dorothy who in many ways saved them from their troubled-life.

Throughout the story, these lovely characters stumble into trouble that test their wits and endurance which luckily having all 4 of them helps with creating a plan and how to survive. When they finally meet the Wizard he tells them that Dorothy must kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Simple right? Well try telling your 7 year-old that she needs to kill someone and see how well they take it. 

For now I will stop spoiling the story because they is plenty of action to read (I believe a little bit too much I'm afraid). While reading this story I couldn't help make the connection that this book is a mixture of Grimm Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Andersen, with a dose of Alice in Wonderland. What I loved about the book is it went into detail and explain certain plot holes that the movie either doesn't explain or changes because it couldn't cater to special effects back in 1939. I'm curious if it were filmed now would it be live-action or making it animated would be the simpler route. 

I was shocked by the gruesomeness of the story when it came to animals attacking the characters. The Tin Woodsman chopping head off, the Scarecrow breaking crow necks. Yikes. I couldn't believe these horrors were written for children but then again in 1900, children read Grimm Fairy tales for bedtime so this was normal to them compare to now this book would be considered for older kids. I couldn't give this 5 stars because I grew up with the movie and even though the book came first, if it contradicted the movie I was disappointed and the whole repetition of wanting a brain, a heart, and courage became tedious in the book. 

One thing that the book could have erased altogether which the movie did brilliantly was the ending. In the last 30 pages or so the characters have to go on this long and tedious adventure to help get Dorothy back to Kansas and at that point I wanted to give up. The segment was trying to cater to the magical hat that Dorothy discovers that allows the Winged Monkeys to obey her bidding for 3 events. She spends one of them and then that long plot to cater to the other two which wasn't necessary. I love how in the film Glinda just shows up in a bubble to help Dorothy.

I miss all the scenes where we get to see the Witched Witch because in the book she is such a minor character and her storyline last for 2 seconds so her appearance is brief whereas the film you felt her presence everywhere which is brilliant. The Tin Woodsman is an idiot the way he became tin because if you had a magic axe that kept chopping up your body then how about getting a new axe when your arm got chopped off the first time? 

I never understood why Dorothy wanted to leave Oz. I know she wants to be with her Auntie Em but if you realize how powerful were those slippers you could either transport them to Oz or create a tornado to bring them to you. Why leave this beautiful and magical world to go back to the boredom of Kansas? Life was miserable in 1900s especially for Farmers so why live in a world that magic doesn't exist, your Uncle has to build and buy a new farm, and work like a slave whereas you are treated like a Princess in the magical land of Oz. Plus by the time we reached the ending, Dorothy is bit cruel to her new friends (no wonder Danielle Paige got the idea for Dorothy Must Die). 

Overall I enjoyed this book (a bit disappointed I'm afraid) and I would love to continue this series but I'm afraid my journey ends with this book. I believe if I read anything else it will distort the Oz that I grew up and cherished which was an phenomenal world and not this nightmare that I discovered.

Before I end my review can I just mention that Judy Garland is the only one who can sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow? I cry everytime I see her singing that song in the movie. Believe it or not it's one of the hardest songs to sing and almost every single famous person I know screws it up. It's meant to be sung like a lullaby and the hardest part is to have emotion in the voice while being on pitch. Half of the singers today just want to belt and all these atrocities that ruins the song. If you would like to see the clip here it is:

Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Judy Garland

Then I can't forget that I saw MadTV do a skit of Wizard of Oz and I lost myself in tears of laughter and I still crack up every time I see it and I highly recommend everyone to watch it:


P.S. If this helps anyone, this edition that I read which I got from Barnes & Noble, it's missing a few illustrations because I checked my original copy of the Wizard of Oz and theres like 5 illustrations that didn't make the cut in this copy so I would highly recommend reading the reprint original 1900 hardcover edition.

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