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.