Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz was never that big a deal to me when I was a kid. Not that I didn't watch the movie every year when it came on TV, but it was never my "thing." No, that was Star Wars. Still, I probably would have read it if I had known it was a book, but no one ever bothered to tell me that. I suppose that's what comes of having non-reading parents. By the time I found out it was a book (probably during high school, certainly not before), I just wasn't interested in it.

This was all sort of like my experience with Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, which was a movie that I loved as a child and still do to this day. But I didn't know it was a book and had never really even heard of Roald Dahl until I was in college, and I had no interest in reading it at that point. That came later after the second movie was made, which I didn't like but the Dahl family did, so I decided that I should probably read the book. And I didn't like it. It just wasn't magical like the movie had been. And I didn't like Charlie and the Glass Elevator, either, despite the high hopes I'd had for it since there was no movie to hold it up against.

Despite all of that, I decided I should give L. Frank Baum a try. If nothing else, I wanted to see what it was like before passing it on to my daughter, especially since she loved the Charlie books despite my dislike for them (which is great; maybe, I would have liked them when I was a kid).

In a certain sense, both Baum and Dahl borrow their style of story-telling from Carroll. As in the Alice stories, crazy things happen to the main character, and that character just goes along with those things as if they are normal. There's no plot as such. For Carroll, this is certainly true. Both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass just end. It's as if Carroll decided, "I'm though with this now," or, maybe, he just couldn't figure out how to end the story, so Alice wakes up and everything is over. I had that same sense from Glass Elevator. Dahl just got tired of writing or didn't know what to have happen next, so he just had it end. Chocolate Factory did have a bit more plot, but it was still kind of all over the place.

The stuff coming up about The Wizard of Oz will have spoilers. Now, you know. Also, it's kind of impossible to talk about the book and not talk about the movie. Okay, it's not, but I'm going to compare some things in the two mediums.

The book starts out describing how gray Dorothy's life is. Everything is Kansas is gray. The land, the sky, her aunt and uncle. Everything but her little, black dog, and, by extension, Dorothy herself (because there is a heavy implication that Toto is the only reason Dorothy has not become a gray person herself). On the other hand, Oz is full of color and life that Dorothy has never experienced and is amazed by (I'll come back to this).

The movie starts off in black and white, mirroring the tone of the book, and bursts into full technicolor after Dorothy arrives in Oz. I think this is the most amazing thing about the movie and possibly the one thing that has made the movie so beloved for so long. I can't imagine the effect on an audience who had almost exclusively only seen black and white movies.

The Ruby Slippers. The issue of the shoes is one of  the things I've most heard complained about from people that love the book, wherein the shoes are silver. But, well, I get the desire to make them red for the movie since they were doing the big color shift in Oz, and I think going with the red was the better choice. Visually, it just stands out more. So, no, there was "no good reason" to change the color of the shoes... except that there was, and there is no significance to the shoes being silver in the book except that that was the arbitrary color that Baum chose. Or not really color, because I think he was just going with "silver shoes" to contrast against the "golden cap."

And speaking of the "golden cap," it's completely missing from the movie, so why not change the slippers to red since there is no golden cap to go with the silver shoes. I get dropping the whole "golden cap" thing from the movie, because that was a plot thread that the movie didn't need. That's just what frequently has to happen when you adapt a book to a movie: you have uncomplicate the book, so leaving the golden cap out of the story makes sense.

Beyond all of that, I liked the book. It has a more careful attention to plot than either Dahl or Carroll put into their stories while keeping the whimsical "you have no idea what might pop up next" quality. Bad things happen to the characters, and, if I hadn't seen the movie, I might have wondered what was going to become of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman during Dorothy's captivity. I also like that Dorothy is actually gone from Kansas in the book rather than seemingly just waking up like in the movie.

The book does, however, have one great flaw which keeps me from liking it more: Dorothy has no real motivation to go home to Kansas other than that she ought to want to go home to Kansas. It's clear at the beginning of the book that she doesn't like Kansas. She has no joy there other than her dog, and the dog goes to Oz with her, so, really, there's nothing that ought to make her want to go back, especially since she loves Oz. But she does want to go back, and it is her unwavering desire to go "home," for going home's sake, that drives the story. I found that, along with the lack of growth on Dorothy's part that accompanied that, to be rather inexplicable. Other than to make the story happen, why did Dorothy want to go back to a place she didn't like to people that, as far as we can tell, she had no true emotion for.

And, speaking of the lack of growth on Dorothy's part: Dorothy doesn't grow as a character during the story. She's the same girl going back to Kansas as she was when she got to Oz. However, she does serve as the catalyst for all the other character growth in the novel, which was interesting to watch and not often done, so, whereas I would normally dislike a story where the protagonist is static (see my review of Brave), I found that I didn't mind that so much in Wizard. Well, except that I really did wish she would have realized, "Hey, I don't have to go back to Kansas."

Mostly, though, I found the book most interesting in how it and the movie deviate from one another. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it so much just all on its own. At least not, now, as an adult. I wish I'd read it when I was a kid, though. However, I found it enjoyable enough (and Baum himself interesting enough) that I want to read more of the Oz books, so, I guess, you can't really ask more from it than that. Making me want to read the next one is its job, right? And it accomplished that. I'll have to wait and see how the rest of the books are.


  1. I know I've never read The Wizard of Oz (not my thing either, though I have seen the movie and am currently singing "If I Only Had A Brain") but I'm not sure I've ever read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have seen Gene Wilder film version though.

    And now I feel another song coming on...

  2. As a little girl I loved the movie.... but the book? I never, ever thought to read it. The differences sound so odd, silver slippers? A golden cap? A stagnant Dorothy?

    Kinda makes me want to say, what the hell?! I guess it's Dorothy's character that bugs me the most. But you are right about the plot lacking in all three styles of books. Hmph, never really thought about it this way. Kinda makes me sad... like when you read Romeo and Juliet in high school and realized they aren't star-crossed lovers, just obsessed teens.

    I think I shall have a pudding now. I love your book reviews! Keep 'em coming.

  3. I must admit that I've never read any of Dahl's children stories. Just don't like them. BUT. He has a few short story anthologies (My favorite is Kiss Kiss) that are dark and twisted and amazing.

  4. I never cared for the movie even as a kid. Thought it was too weird and twisted. I haven't read the books but I've heard most of them are much darker than the three movies. (Not counting The Wiz of course.) Your description of the book makes it sound like he broke a lot of the rules. Although back then, they didn't understand that those rules existed.
    I do remember reading the Willy Wonka books when I was a kid. They were all right. I'm not a Dahl fan either.

  5. Now I know I missed out on life 'cause I never even knew The Wizard of Oz was a book. It is my all time favorite movie.

  6. I've never read the book, but have seen the movie many times. Enjoyed it, and enjoyed showing it to my boys. They were ambivalent. I've found that in 99% of the cases, the book is better than the movie, just in general.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  7. Never read any of those books but have seen the Wizard of Oz movie a couple of times, once as a kid once as an adult. Liked it better when I was a kid.

    The going home bit is probably a product of the age in which it was written, of course a young girl would want to go home, young girls didn't go out on adventures in those days.

  8. Hey Andrew! I love the Wizard of Oz! And I'm referring to the movie. I've never read the book, although I did know it existed. When I was a kid the movie was on tv probably once a year or so, and was a big deal at our house. I loved the scarecrow, and how he danced, and the flying monkeys scared the crap out of me. I always wondered though, why the Scarecrow and Tinman's songs were basically the same tune with different lyrics, and the lion got a completely original song. The Lion was my least favourite character. I found him whiny and annoying...
    I always assumed that Dorothy wanted to go back to Kansas because she missed her family...and I thought it was neat how the Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion were actually farmhands on her uncles farm...and the Wizard was that fortune teller from the a kid, for some reason that really impressed me! I still really like this movie, although, I gotta say my sons have never liked it. They've never seen what the big deal is about it.

  9. Oh, boy! Where to start. The movie is easily one of my all-time favorites. I read the book as a kid and was glad to and even enjoyed it for the differences. I like that there's a Witch of the South in the book, for instance. I tried the second book fairly recently and didn't care for it. The subtle political allusions of the first book are far more blatant in the second. Wasn't impressed. I'd be interested to know what you think if you read it.

    As for Charlie, well, that might be my favorite children's book of all. I have mixed feelings about both films. Neither is quite the book, though the second one comes closer. You're absolutely right on one point, though: GG Elevator is terrible!

  10. I guess I'll always have a soft place in my heart for "The Wizard of Oz" since it was the first touring stage production that I worked on after touring with a magic show. I did 3 year long tours with "Oz" and never grew tired of doing it.

    Also, I loved watching the movie every year when I was a kid. I saw it on our 21" B&W TV and it was several years before I realized any of the movie was in color. You're right about the effect of the shift to color--it is magical.

    Never read any of the Baum books, but I've read a lot about them and know there are some pretty strange things in them. Haven't read Dahl either, but I would imagine my preference would lean toward Baum. But I doubt that I'll be reading any of the Oz book series anytime soon. Too much other good stuff that I'd rather read.

    Tossing It Out

  11. If you have a kindle -- or an online Kindle app for your computer-- you may still be able to get the ENTIRE works of Baum's Oz set for free. I did that.

    When I was younger I read all of the Oz books and loved them. So when I got them for free, I decided to start reading them to Mr F. (We get through about 1-2 pages at a time, so we're only up to where Dorothy has been told to follow the yellow brick road.)

    But I, like you, found it different than the movie. For one thing, Dorothy is a lot poorer in the book: the house is a one-room house with no cellar, just a hole in the ground. And Glinda is older, too.

    So far, Mr F is unimpressed.

    But I liked the Dahl books, which I also read before I saw the movies. I thought both versions of "Chocolate Factory" captured different aspects of the book and liked them both, for different reasons. I don't recall "Glass Elevator" that well but didn't it have weird aliens in it or something? I know I liked it.

    I think you'll like the Oz books.

    Fun fact: I was in our middle school production of "Oz," playing "Lord Growlie." He's the guy that meets Dorothy at the Emerald City gate. I tried out for the part of the Lion but lost to Jeff Purvis, who, I will admit, was a very good lion.

  12. I just got the complete collection of 14 Oz books for 99 cents for Kindle.

  13. M.J.: But which one? There are many good songs in that movie? Knowing you, though, you're singing the candy man song and wishing for more cupcakes.

    Jean: Yeah, of all of Shakespeare, R&J is the one I like the least. I just think "stupid teenagers!"

    Misha: I've only read the two books, and I don't think I'll be trying anything else by him.

    Alex: Three movies? I'm not sure which ones you're referring to.

    JKIR,F!: Well, now you know. Although, if that's your favorite movie, you may want to stay away from the book.

    Tina: Wizard of OZ is usually listed as the top movie that is better than the book. It has been on all of the lists I've seen, anyway.

    Jo: That's the one thing I like about Baum. He was married to a radical feminist and has very strong female characters.

    Eve: The lion is much more cowardly in the movie. Part of the thing is that they want stuff they already have so that the Wizard doesn't actually have to give them anything, but, in the movie, the lion really is a big baby, so it doesn't work as well as in the book.

    TAS: When I read it, I'll be reviewing it.
    My issue with Burton's version mostly centers around all the crap with Wonka's father. Dahl's family was all about how faithful Burton was to the book, but none of that crap is in the book; that's crap from Burton's childhood, and, frankly, I'm tired of Burton telling that story over and over again. I have no interest in ever seeing Burton's version again.

    Lee: Man, I can't actually imagine watching Wizard in just black&white. The color of Oz such a part of the movie. That seems like watching Star Wars without the soundtrack.

    Briane: I've checked into that, but there are two problems:
    1. I have not been able to find ONE collection that actually has all of the parts in it. They claim to, but, then, they end up missing one or two of them, and I don't want a bunch of different collections on my Kindle trying to make sure I have all the books.
    2. I was my daughter to read them (assuming she likes them), which means getting physical copies for her.

    Yes, Glass Elevator had the... monsters that liked to eat the Oompa Loompas.

  14. Jo: See, there are more than 14. Like 18 or something. All of those say "complete collection," but I haven't found one that actually is a "complete collection."

  15. I've never read The Wizard of Oz but, from the sounds of this post, maybe I should?

    I always enjoyed the movie, so I'll have to see how my experience differs (if it does) from yours.

  16. I remember reading that Baum didn't care much for the Oz books, but that people loved them and so he kept writing them to make money. You'll have to tell us what the rest of the books are like (I have to admit, I didn't care much for the Wizard of Oz, the novel). I wonder if he was right about his books.

  17. Mark: I think I would say that it's a book worth checking out, but I won't know for sure until I read more of the series.

    Jeanne: I've never heard that, but, then, I've never looked into it. I may have to check on that.

  18. I loved the books as a kid. In fact, the series was the only real kid series I read other than Anne of Green Gables. I wish I hadn't gotten rid of all those books, as I owned the entire series and they're hard to come by now.

    Having said that, I haven't read them again as an adult, so no idea how I'd feel about them now. I do want to find them for my daughter, though.

    Have you seen the movie Return to Oz? I actually liked that one more as a kid, because it was scary (and I guess that's my thing...). It's not scary now, of course, but it scared me back then.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  19. Oh yeah, and I had the same thing happen with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Absolutely loved the movie, but the book was so much...less. Didn't like it. I do, however, have it in all Spanish so I can use it to learn Spanish again.

  20. I felt the exact same way when I read Wizard of Oz. Why is she so determined to go back? Especially once she's defeated the witch. She's in a beautiful, colorful, magical world, and she has Toto. Based on the beginning of the book, what more could she want.

    As for Dahl (I know, whiplash subject change) I think his writing really is meant for children. Everything and everyone is a caricature, either a monster, or a saint. Or in the case of Willie Wonka, God? It's a child's view of the world, simple, and certainly not always wonderful. The bad and the good come without explanation, as they would in the eyes of a child. No reasons why, things just happen, and you deal with them or be happy.

    And I have now ranted for way too long. Sorry.

  21. Shannon: Was Return to Oz the animated one with the pumpkin headed dude?

    They are hard to come by, now. I've been looking for them and, really, all you can find is Wizard. My daughter is protesting reading Wizard, though (because she always has to protest first), so it may not matter.

    Stephanie: Not to mention that she didn't have any friends in Kansas and her aunt and uncle barely paid attention to her. That's the only thing that nags me about the book.

    I don't know what to say about Dahl. I'd have to read more of his stuff, but I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.

  22. Yes, I understand your objections to the daddy issues. The old Gene Wilder movie, though, is so far removed from the book that I couldn't handle it when I first watched it. Since, I have learned to appreciate that film on its own merits but I still prefer the Burton one.

  23. Yeah, I think I got more excited about the yearly showing of Puff the Magic Dragon that I got to watch than I did about the Wizard of Oz. But I did see those ruby red slippers before at the Smithsonian. A photo of mine was exhibited there at the time and I really wanted to go see it, so I did, and there was Dorothy's shoes right beside it.

    I know that Oz movie that came out last year had to be very careful that the only pulled material from the Baum books and not the MGM movies, so they could not make mention of ruby red slippers or 'flying monkeys'... I forgot what they were called in the movies, but they weren't flying monkeys. So weird.

    Anyway, I never read them either, and my father was a reader, but he didn't care much for sharing children's books with me, he loved two things in life from his childhood that he shared with me: Superman and the Lone Ranger (yes, he was a giddy man this summer... and he says he doesn't care how much they ruin the characters, he loves them unwaveringly).

    Anyhow, I don't intend on reading the books myself, I didn't know they were books until the past year or two when I started hearing about the movie. Just was never my thing I guess.

  24. I might not have been clear, the RECENT movie did not refer to the flying monkeys and flying monkeys.

  25. TAS: Well, like I said, my love of that movie formed well before I ever heard of the books. The movie is... magical; the book is just silly. And I'm not even sure that's the right word for it.

    Rusty: Oh, man, I loved Puff when I was a kid. And, yeah, way more than Wizard of Oz. (But The Hobbit topped all.)

    That's really cool that your photo was there next to the slippers. I don't know anyone else that can claim to have had something in the Smithsonian.

    The book has the flying monkeys, so I don't understand? Maybe they're always referred to as "winged monkeys" in the book. I'll have to check.

  26. I think they are called something other than 'flying monkeys.' It's tough to be that confident about something I haven't read, but I listened to a podcast about the Baum books and there was a lengthy discussion about the hoops the recent movie had to go through in order not to infringe on the things that they did in the Wizard of Oz movie that was not taken directly from the books. That was one of them... the term itself, not the actual creatures.

  27. Rusty: Yeah, Warner Bros. (it was them, right?) wasn't very happy with Disney over the whole thing, but, you know what, they weren't doing anything with the property and had no plans to do anything with the property, and the books are in the public domain... Let's just say I don't feel bad WB. (Especially since they can't seem to get their act together concerning DC.)

  28. OK, I don't see that anybody has said this yet, so I will: The theory is that the color of the shoes was significant in the book because it was an "monetary allegory."

    I learned this in several different economics classes. Having read the book, I believe this reading of it makes sense.

    Here is a link you may be interested in: Money and Politics in the Land of Oz

    "In the book version of Oz, Dorothy treads the Yellow Brick Road in silver shoes, not in ruby slippers. Silver shoes on a golden road? A key plank in the Populist platform was a demand for "free silver" -- that is, the "free and unlimited coinage of silver and gold" at a fixed ratio of sixteen to one."

    A quick Google search led me to several other sites on this topic:
    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - A Monetary Reform Parable
    PDF: Rutgers University - The 'Wizard of Oz' as a Monetary Allegory - Journal of Political Economy
    Money and Politics in the Land of Oz

  29. Callie: I may check out the links later, but I'm short on time today and, probably, tomorrow. However, I'd have to actually see what Baum had to say about the issue himself before buying into something like that. At this point, from what I've read about Baum, he wasn't that subtle. He wrote about powerful female characters because his wife was a powerful female character, which is a pretty obvious statement. But I'll look into when I get the chance.

  30. I don't think he ever said anything on the subject, although it aligns with his politics (based on a quick google search on the subject).

    The idea of silver shoes on a gold road that leads to the new "green" city that only pretends to have value seems to be nowhere near subtle, however.

  31. P.S. I seem to have broken the Rutgers link. However if you do a search for it, it should be an easy find.

  32. Callie: Well, when you put it that way...:P
    Actually, I'd really have to look more at the context. It might fit with the roaring 90s attitude (I think he wrote Wizard in 1900 or thereabouts) leading up to the crash and WWI.

  33. I did read these as a kid and had forgotten the silver slippers! I also loved the Pippi Longstocking books as a kid and looked forward to the movie rebroadcast every Thanksgiving...
    Odd how so many of us remember those 'special' showings. My kids will never have that...not with OnDemand, Netflix and cable.

  34. Veronica: I used to watch Pippi when I was a kid, but that was another thing I didn't know were books until I was much older.
    We bought for our kids some of those yearly Christmas shows because, yeah, those events just don't exist anymore.