The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
By L. Frank Baum.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories I though I knew. After all, I’d grown up with the movie, even gone as Dorothy for a few Halloweens. I’ve read all of Gregory Maguire’s “Oz” retellings, and I am a huge fan of “Wicked.”
I figured it was high time I read the original (and the Classics Club spin helped me decide to read it now!)… and it was quite a surprise to me!
In the Introduction Baum notes that he sets out to create a story that will simply entertain. So I tried to approach it with that in mind – a fun story meant to entertain. It was hard to put aside all the expectations I carry from the retellings I am familiar with – but pretty quickly I was forced to do just that as Dorothy is not greeted by the very familiar Glinda The Good, floating around in her little bubble. Rather, she first meets the Witch of the North – an old woman with many wrinkles and nearly-white hair.
[T]he story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out. – L. Frank Baum
The story does follow a pretty familiar pattern. Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the East, ends up with her shoes (in this case they are silver, not ruby), and she sets out to find the Wizard in the Emerald City. Along the way she makes friends with The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodsman, and The Cowardly Lion. The Wizard resides in Emerald City and sends them to kill the Wicked Witch of the West.
The Wicked Witch of the West is bested by a bucket of water, and when they return to the Emerald City the Wizard is unmasked; he gifts the Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion with trinkets to help them feel they have what they have the traits they have already exhibited, and he sets out to take himself and Dorothy home in a balloon. Dorothy’s gets stuck behind because of Toto – but the story as written by Baum continues from there. It is only after all of this that Dorothy meets Glinda – following a harrowing journey through Oz.
So many of the details of the story are different, lots of characters that appear in the story who did not make the cut in the movie, but a few events really stood out to me. The story of the Tin Woodsman, for instance – once a normal man and slowly turned into a man of tin – would make an interesting tale in itself; one of the many stories-within-the-story that this short book holds. The Winged Monkeys, and the way they have been tied to the power of a magical crown, was an interesting shift (and to see when the characters chose to use their limited chances with the crown.
The difference that I found the most intriguing was what brings Dorothy to throw the bucket of water on the Witch. In the movie it is the burning Scarecrow, water thrown to save a life… but in this story Dorothy threw the water at the witch because the witch stole her pretty silver shoes! It’s an accident, of course – Dorothy doesn’t know that the water will kill the witch, but she earns some serious points for being a rather self-sufficient individual for her response.
First, as a well-raised young lady, she apologizes. Then, once the witch melts into what is described as a “brown, melted, shapeless mass,” Dorothy “drew another bucket of water and threw it over the mess. She then swept it out the door. After picking out the silver shoe, which was all that was left of the old woman, she cleaned and dried it with a cloth, and put it on her foot again.” Then she goes to free her friends who have been taken captive, and to find the friends who have been destroyed (such as the poor scarecrow).
I really enjoyed this story, and look forward to reading the rest of the books in the Oz series at some point. A fun and light read, it really does entertain (as it set out to do), but also carries some good messages that we can all embrace. I found a lot of power in the fact that the Tin Woodsman – the one seeking a heart – had to constantly be re-oiled to keep from rusting because he felt so deeply. Sometimes those things we think we are lacking — because of our own self-doubt, or because of something we understand about how we must be, or something someone has said to us – are the exact gifts that we actually carry in great quantity.