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.
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?