Monday, September 8, 2014

The Marvelous Land of Oz (a book review post)

As I mentioned in my review of The Wizard of Oz, I didn't know the Oz books existed when I was  a kid, so I completely missed out on these until I was too old to be interested. Well, as a high-schooler, I wasn't interested. After finishing the second Oz book, The Marvelous Land of Oz, I'm really starting to be disappointed that I missed these books when I was a kid. So far, they are pretty marvelous.

As a writer, one of the things I find most interesting about the series is that there was never supposed to be more than just the one book, the one everyone knows because of the movie. But there was a musical, stage version of Wizard done -- co-produced by Baum -- and the actors portraying the Tin Man and the Scarecrow were so good that people (kids, mostly) began requesting more stories about those two characters. Not about Dorothy, just about the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. The resulting book doesn't even mention the Cowardly Lion.

We also get a book that is much more blatantly about the politics of the day, specifically, the suffrage movement. Virtually every character other than the Tin Man and Scarecrow, which includes all of the "human" characters, are female. Which may be a statement to cause some confusion, considering the main character is a boy named Tip, but you'd have to read the book to understand.

I think I like this one more than Wizard. Well, actually, I do. The one big flaw of Wizard -- that Dorothy wanted to go home, a place she didn't like -- is hard for me to get over. This one has no flaw like that and is even more whimsical. Not to mention that the characters are much more real in this one.

In Wizard, the characters are all "happy happy joy joy" all the time, but that's not the case in Marvelous Land. They bicker. They bicker a lot. Some of them even seem not to like each other much, and the Saw Horse doesn't get along with anyone. Tip constantly threatens the Woggle Bug because of his punning, and Jack Pumpkinhead is... well, I like Jack, but he's a whiner. Most interesting, though, is the Tin Man. He's developed a serious case of vanity and has had himself nickel plated. He's still a nice guy, but he spends more time worrying about his shine than he spends worrying about his friends. Also, I like the contrast between the Woggle Bug, who has lots of knowledge, and the Scarecrow, who has Brains but not lots of facts. It's a bit of intelligence versus wisdom and, mostly, it shows us that we need both.

At the moment, two books in, I'm really enjoying the Oz books and will definitely continue to read them. If you know your history at all -- well, early 20th century history -- there is the added enjoyment of all the social commentary that's been thrown in. Hmm... That sounds haphazard. Weaved in is more like it. In all of the best ways, these books are like the classic Looney Tunes cartoons: Kids find them hilarious, but you can't really appreciate them until you're an adult.


  1. I read these when I was a kid, but now I'll have to do so again in order to understand the social undercurrents.

  2. I've never read any of the books. I've seen the movies and was told the first one actually captures the true feel of the book the least.

  3. These are wonderful books. I'm glad you're getting into them.

  4. I actually didn't even know these were books until, well, today. I like reading books that have the politics of the day sprinkled into them... may have to check these out at some point.

  5. Hey Andrew,I've never read the Oz books, but I've seen the movie about a million times and I still love it. I think the idea of Dorothy wanting to go back to a home she didn't like, was to remind us about the whole, 'you don't knnow what you've got till it's gone' thing.
    I did read once that the difference between the original book and the movie is that in the book those adventures really did happen to Dorothy, and in the movie, it was all a dream.
    I may check the books out...I know I appreciate Bugs Bunny much more as an adult than I did as a kid!

  6. I read a lot of these as a tween. I have the entire set for free on my Kindle, and I started reading them to Mr F one day. I still read them to him from time to time, although he is impatient and doesn't sit well for books that don't feature Buzz & Woody.

  7. Anne: I don't understand all of it, some of it's pretty specific, but I get the broad strokes.

    Alex: Yeah, I think the original Wizard movie did a good job of capturing the feel of the book.

    Denise: Well, I like them so far, but I'm only two in.

    ABftS: You may need to brush up on your turn of the (20th) century politics, first.

    Eva: Maybe in the movie, yes, but not in the book. It's very apparent in the book that she doesn't like Kansas, and it's never clear why she wants to go back.
    And, yes, in the book, it is not a dream.

    Briane: I have looked at some of the collected sets for the Kindle, but they were all different, including different numbers of the books and so forth, so I decided to just get each of them individually.

  8. I think the Looney Tunes is the perfect comparison. The humor of those old books is a lot less, well, childish for lack of a better word. Have you read any of the later books? There's been some argument over whether or not they're any good. Some people say that Baum didn't put any effort into them.

  9. I have an elderly copy of one of the Oz books. It belonged to my older sisters and me (they would disagree and say it belonged to one of them). I don't think any of us read that book. I know I didn't. I remember trying to read the book with one sister. We never got past the first chapter. We couldn't get interested in it, but I don't remember why.


  10. I don't think I knew these were books until that movie came out year or so ago with Harry Osborne in it. At this point this is so far down on my list of books to read that I seriously doubt I'll ever read them.

    But you never know. I'm happy that you like them

  11. Jeanne: Well, no, I've read just the two so far, but the third is already on my Kindle.

    Janie: I'd be interested to know which one. Marvelous Land was pretty captivating from the beginning.

    Rusty: I haven't seen that movie, yet.

    All of this with the Time books and the Oz books is about finding things my daughter will enjoy reading. She's much tougher to please in the reading department than the boys.

  12. I think Baum wrote the first 18. After that it was other writers.
    I had all of the originals (well scribbled over by my father and his siblings.) Got some of the others in paperback.
    There was a book that came out in 1954 with plot summaries, author and illustator biographies, and an alphabetical list of characters of all the Oz books to that point. Who's Who in Oz, by Jack Snow (who wrote some of the later books.)

  13. I have an omnibus of these on my Kindle to read at some point.

  14. I had no idea they were books either. I'm not surprised about the requests for Tin Man and Scarecrow. They were my favorites too!

  15. homecomingbook: Yes, people have continued to write Oz books, which is totally legal, now, because Oz is in the public domain.

    Pat: You should check it against a reliable list somewhere to make sure it has all of the books. Many of the "complete works" collections do not actually contain all the books Baum wrote.

    Elsie: I think the characters in the movie were modeled after the portrayals of the actors from the stage version.

  16. I love the first book but was only so so on the second.

  17. TAS: How many of them have you read?

  18. I didn't read them as a child either, but have enjoyed them as an adult. I plan to make sure my future kids have the opportunity to know the books' story before they graduate to adolescence.

  19. A.B.: I've been looking for some physical copies so that my daughter can read them, but they're hard to find other than Wizard (which she already read and is what caused all of this).

  20. I know I read these as a kid and liked them, but now you've got me thinking about hitting them again.

  21. Veronica: How many of them do you think you read when you were a kid?
    Re-reading them might not be a bad idea; I'm sure it would be a whole new perspective.

  22. TAS: Well, then, I'll let you know how they go.