Julianne's Reviews > The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
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Nov 10, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: childrens-fiction

Oh, this book is so bad. So, so bad. I can’t believe Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made a movie out of this. How did that work? I would love to know what went on at those business meetings. I have some term papers I’d like to turn into a musical…

This book is weirder than Alice in Wonderland without the subtle sense of whimsy or the political satire that made that book into a classic. In the Introduction, L. Frank Baum writes that “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to pleasure children of to-day” (which I’d say garners several Charles Dodgson creepiness points) and that “it aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.” To which I say, if given a choice, I’ll take Grimm, thank you.

I’ve read that beautiful faces possess a high degree of symmetry and that when several faces are combined (with computer software, for instance), people regard the amalgamation as more beautiful than any of the component faces used to create it. After reading this book, I imagine it is similar with fairy tales. The human faults and weirdnesses of tales created by an untold number of people (like those collected by the Brothers Grimm) are tempered and lessened simply by virtue of the vast number of people involved, while the tales created by a single author (like Alice and The Wizard of Oz) display their author’s individual faults and weirdnesses to a disturbing degree. L. Frank Baum must have been a very strange man indeed. Talking scarecrows? A man who accidentally cuts off his limbs, one by one, until he is made entirely out of tin? A land of color-coded roads, houses, and cities? Winged Monkeys? A witch that melts “like brown sugar” when doused with water by an unsuspecting Kansas girl who never sought to kill anyone? Indeed, Dorothy inadvertently kills two people in this book in which heart-aches and nightmares are left out. What’s the hidden message? That it’s okay to kill, as long as it’s an accident or that it’s okay to kill wicked people?

In addition, this book is very sloppily written, and I’m not talking just typos. Several times, I came across misused pronouns. For example: “After a great deal of hard work, for the Lion was heavy, they managed to get her up on the truck” (77-78). Her? The Cowardly Lion is female? What a strange twist! I wonder why they changed that in the movie. Let me just flip back to that chapter where they first come across the Lion and check…oh wait. Nope. Never mind. The Cowardly Lion is female only for that sentence. Another example comes when Glinda is talking to the Tin Woodman: “Your brain may not be so large to look at as those of the Scarecrow” (204). Hm. Yes. I hate it when those brain are small to look at. Such a disappointment.

In addition, I spotted several less forgivable lapses pertaining to narrative. For example, in the book, the Emerald City only appears to be green due to the green spectacles that Dorothy and her friends—and indeed, all the inhabitants of the city—must wear at the Wizard’s decree. An interesting idea and thematically related to the Wizard’s penchant for fraudulence, but in the end unworkable. Leaving aside the illogicalities of an entire city’s worth of people living night and day with spectacles “locked” around their heads, wouldn’t Dorothy and her friends have noticed the spectacles’ greenness when they first had them fitted on? I’m really supposed to believe they didn’t think to themselves “My goodness, this room looks greener than it did before”? However, on p. 109, we are told, “Dorothy still wore the pretty silk dress she had put on in the palace, but now, to her surprise, she found it was no longer green, but pure white.” Another similar narrative lapse occurs during Dorothy’s return trip to Kansas. Dorothy is told that the Silver Shoes (not Ruby Slippers) “can carry you to any place in the world in three steps, and each step will be made in the wink of an eye” (206) and subsequently finds that “the Silver Shoes took but three steps, and then she stopped so suddenly that she rolled over upon the grass several times [in Kansas:]” (207). However, when she stands up she finds herself wearing only stockings because “the Silver Shoes had fallen off in her flight through the air, and were lost forever in the desert” (207). Really? If one or both of the shoes fell off her feet in the desert, wouldn’t Dorothy have landed in the desert as well? Yet she makes it to her destination.

Maybe I’m nitpicking. After all, I accepted all of Grimm’s talking water jugs and enchanted princes shaped like birds or bears, without protest. However, somehow it wasn’t a struggle for me to do so. I didn’t have to talk myself into it. With this story, I have to talk myself into everything. Even the passages that are meant to embody “wonderment and joy” don’t fill me with wonderment and joy so much as the thought that “This isn’t a description of Paradise. It’s a description of the picture they would put on the Paradise trading card.” I say, save your time and watch the movie.
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