The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

It always baffles people that I have never read ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’, well until now. It was without question my favourite film as a child, as my Gran (who is called Dorothy funnily enough) will vouch for as we would sit and watch it together endless amounts of times from me being three onwards, in fact when I next go I should dig it out for old times. In fact, excuse the small aside, when we were watching ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ Gran said ‘ooh we have come a long way from The Wizard of Oz haven’t we?’ during a particularly raunchy (verging on uncomfortably so) scene. I think because I felt I knew the story so well I didn’t see the need but as the new film is out, and I am beyond excited that I am going tonight, and Hesperus sent me their stunning new editions of the books I thought the time was right to go down the yellow brick road again.

**** Hesperus Press, paperback, 1900 (2013 edition), fiction, 142 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I imagined that I would have no need to tell you the premise of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ because we all think we know it don’t we? Yet actually I was really surprised by just how different the story is from the story I know because of the film.

Yes, Dorothy is a young girl living in Kansas with her Aunty Em and Uncle Henry with her dog Toto. Ok, she does happen to get stuck in the house during the arrival of an unexpected cyclone and wake up in the mysterious Land of Oz, but there is so much more to the book than that. Though the ending we all know so well is pretty much the same except without the ‘what a world, what a world’ which we all know and love. Did I mention I was obsessed with the Wicked Witch of the West?

I was most surprised with how much darker the book is than the film. For example whilst the Scarecrow is really just a lovely, erm, scarecrow the Tinman and the Lion are altogether darker (though the Lion isn’t as dark as Patrick Ness has a character in his new novel ‘The Crane Wife’ make him out to be, more on how much that made me laugh, wickedly, soon) characters. The tale of how the Tinman became so was much more gruesome than I would have ever expected, like an original non-Ladybird/Disneyfied Grimm Fairy Tale, and when the Lion almost ate Toto I was practically on the edge of my seat – and that isn’t sarcasm, it’s the truth.

“Once more the tinsmith came to my help and made me a body of tin, fastening my tin arms and legs and head to it, by means of joints, so that I could move around as well as ever. But, alas! I now had no heart, so that I lost all my love for the Munchkin girl, and did not care whether I married her or not. I suppose she is still living with the old woman, waiting for me to come after her.”  

I have to admit I was never really terrified of the film, I just loved it, but I have actually met people who are petrified at the mere mention of a certain green witch, who in turn is just as wicked as you would hope but looks nothing like the Wicked Witch that I have had in my head since my youth, when the obsession – have I mentioned the obsession much – started. She might not have been in the book as much as I imagined she would but when she was she was just as I like her.

“Now the Wicked Witch of the West had but one eye, yet that was as powerful as a telescope, and could see everywhere.”

I also loved the twists on the bits I knew; such as the fact that Glinda doesn’t rescue Dorothy and her friends from the field of poppies, and also the bits that I didn’t such as; a terrifying journey down a river, a great ravine jump, the Winkies, the Golden Cap and the Kalidah’s. It was all really wonderful, no pun intended, to read and get the story I thought I knew and so much more too.

You can probably guess that I absolutely loved reading ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ for the first time, even at the age of thirty. It completely appealed to the younger me who watched the film over and over with his Gran and also the older read who likes a book with hidden darkened depths. If you haven’t read it yet then do, I am now planning on reading all fourteen of the books in order, some in print, and some on the device-of-the-devil by the bedside. Not until after I have seen the new film though, which frankly reading this has made me even more excited about. I mean come on its got the Wicked Witch in it, seriously it’s a condition this obsession (I am going to be unbearable in the cinema, the poor Beard)…

So who else has read ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ and what did you make of it as a child or as an adult? Did you see the film before you read the book? How did you find the differences? Have you read any of the other Oz books and what did you think of them?

22 Comments

Filed under Hesperus Press, L. Frank Baum, Review

22 responses to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

  1. Laura Caldwell

    My sister and I read most of the WoO books when we were 9 or 10ish, and owned a few of them (this would be the mid-1960’s) which I have on my shelves today. I read a couple of these to my oldest son when he was quite young (he’s 34 now) and he credits these among his start to reading fantasy books. If you liked this first one, I say that they only get better! BTW I still have to look away at a couple of spots in the original movie when the witch appears. Too scary!

    • I weirdly have never been scared of the Wicked Witch of the West (though she was very creepy in her new guise in the new film) and have instead just found her fascinating. I was surprised by how little she was in the book, I wanted more.

      I am glad to hear they get better and better.

  2. The new editions look so beautiful, I’m definitely tempted to read the original stories now. It’s funny how for some classic stories the films eclipse the books, Peter Pan is another one feel I know inside out without ever having read the original book.

    The new Oz film looks gorgeous, I’m looking forward to seeing it too.

    • The new film is amazing in 3D, Oz is just stunning. That is all I will say on it for now… no spoilers.

      The new seires of the books is only four of them, I might have to get the others elsewhere, but lets move on from that too. I have not read Peter Pan, cant say that I want to though oddly.

  3. The film is a favourite in our household and I read the original book a couple of years ago before we went to see the West-End show. I enjoyed it very much – it was very different. The edition I read (OUP Classics) had loads of extra material in which was fascinating. I’m keen to go and see the new film, but don’t know if I can persuade my daughter who’s beginning to get a bit teenagerish about fairy tales!

    • Hadn’t quite finished … Have you read ‘Wicked’? I’ve seen the show, (brilliant) but never got round to the book.

      • I have and seeing the new film has made me want to read that all over again as I read it years and years ago, and loved it, not long before the theatre I worked at then had… Wicked, which I have seen endless times and love everytime.

        Amazing how much this book has inspired really isnt it?

    • Oh no your daughter should love it, it starts off a little saccharine and then gets really really good and dark. I would love to have read the additional material, there wasnt any in this edition, ho hum.

  4. I loved the movie when I was little, but was terrified of the WWotW and used to hide behind my dad’s chair when she was on!

    At some point I had the special annotated version of the book, but never got around to reading the whole thing and gave it away when I moved. I did read Wicked, which I remember not liking at all, although I loved the musical and have seen it twice here in SF (where it started).

    Now I’m sorry I didn’t keep my version. The antiquarian bookshop down the street had a glorious old illustrated set on display that was very tempting. You can see the photo in my Twitter profile at https://twitter.com/sly_wit and die of envy.

    • Laura Caldwell

      I have a few of those old ones pictured. I guess that makes me antiquarian, vintage anyway! 😉

      • Well, it’s not your typical used bookstore. (For Hitchcock fans, it was the model for the Argosy bookstore in Vertigo where they visit Pop Leibel to learn about Carlotta.)

    • Oh shame you didnt like Wicked, I loved that book so much. Wasnt keen on the sequel but am thinking that they might be another series that I need to return to at some point to be honest. I also love the musical and am pleased to learn they are making a film of that too.

      Oh I saw those pictures of Twitter, stunning. I would love all of those!

      • I think my problem with Wicked was that I’m not a big fan of writers who borrow someone else’s universe. And yet, I had no problem with the musical, in fact, I loved it! Because it’s a different format perhaps? Of course, it has been awhile since I tried to read either story so maybe I should pick them both up for a side-by-side comparison?

  5. I haven’t seen the show ‘Wicked’, but I read the book and thought it was a very clever way of turning the tables on Dorothy et al. I always liked the Wicked Witch of the West, I have to admit!

    • I loved what Gregory Maguire did, and I am surprised how I didnt mention it in the piece, or the fact I worked on Wicked the Musical, oops! The Wicked Witch of the West is a marvellous icon, well to me. I am often found cackling.

  6. I’m so glad you loved the book. It was the first book I ever read on my own when I was three years old and, needless to say, I’ve read many of the books in the series many, many times. I’ve decided to do an in order read finally and so I looked and figured out that I didn’t even have the second book in the series — The Marvelous Land of Oz. I had to e-book it for now as it might take me a while to find a vintage copy to fit with my set of the books. I hope you have fun continuing your journey through Oz!

    • You read this when you were three… by yourself? Really? Not a ladybird version or something? Wow!

      I think I might read them all in order too and will have to go down the, dare I say it, ebook route with some of them too.

  7. This brings back so many memories of Saturday morning at the flicks. I was terrified by the Wicked Witch and yet went back for more the next week! its astonishing how the ‘meaning’ of this book has been re-interpreted over the years and the red shoes have become so symbolic.

    • Hahahaha. I might be doing that with the new one, I loved it last night though alas there were some really awful kids there who shouted and talked all through it and the staff did nothing. I will just have to go back, shame😉

      Oddly the red shoes are only in the movie, nothing else.

  8. What do you think of the theory that the book is a representation of American Politics at the time?

  9. tortoisebook

    I read this a couple of years ago and was totally surprised by it. I loved the way the characters were looking for qualities they already had. In films and pantos the lion is cowardly and the scarecrow is stupid but in the book the scarecrow comes out with so many brilliant ideas and insights, the lion is so brave and the tin man a sensitive soul. Very cleverly done. Surprisingly I’ve never watched the Judy Garland film from start to finish but I did enjoy the BBC’s search for a Dorothy programme! And by the way world, the shoes are silver not red!!

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