"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a famous children’s story about a young girl named Dorothy and her little dog Toto who are transported to the magical land of Oz after a tornado tears them away from Kansas. Not knowing how to get home, Dorothy seeks the aid of the wizard of Oz, and along her journey meets some colourful characters who have problems of their own they would like the wizard to fix. The Scarecrow would like a brain, the Tin Woodman wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants some courage, so he can become King of the Beasts.

Baum was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland when writing the first instalment of the Oz series, and you can certainly tell. Dorothy in many ways resembles Alice: they are both mysteriously transported to a strange world, meeting odd creatures along their journeys. Dorothy is far less adventurous and curious, though. 

The writing style is simplistic but endearing; Baum paints a beautiful picture of Oz, especially the Emerald City, and its host of entertaining characters, creating a book full of charm with an engaging, fun story.

“Even with eyes protected by the green spectacles Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful City. The streets were lined with beautiful houses all built of green marble and studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds.” 

One thing about the book which astonished me was that Judy Garland’s infamous Ruby Red Slippers that she takes from the Wicked Witch are actually silver! Apparently the filmmakers wanted to take advantage of the latest Technicolor technology, so chose red instead. 

The characters are wonderful. My favourite is the Scarecrow; he is such a lovely personality, but he is always so hard on himself, claiming he is stupid because he has no brain:

“It is such an uncomfortable feeling to know one is a fool.”

“‘Anyone would know that’ said Dorothy.
‘Certainly; that is why I know it,’ returned the Scarecrow. ‘If it required brains to figure it out, I never should have said it.’”

“‘How can you talk if you haven’t got a brain?’
‘I don’t know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.’”
For a children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a little violent and can perhaps even be described as disturbing. First of all, learning how the Tin Woodman came to be made all of tin is a little gruesome. He used to be a human, working as a wood chopper in the forest of Oz, but the Wicked Witch of the East put a spell on his axe to prevent him marrying the woman he loved, so that each time he used it it would chop off a body part. One by one he replaced each part with tin, until he was completely made out of tin! He is basically a human trapped in a tin body, which I find quite eerie. Then further down the line the Tin Woodman makes a habit of decapitating animals with his axe, and at one point the Scarecrow kills a murder of crows by this vicious method:

“The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him.”

In conclusion, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a fantastic read. Apart from some of the more disturbing qualities, it is what I would call the ideal children’s novel: it has a host of entertaining characters, a mysterious land full of magic and strange creatures (such as flying monkeys and people made out of china), light-hearted humour and gorgeous illustrations. Furthermore, it has a subdued allegorical aspect; a story of friendship, and learning to have more confidence in your abilities - Dorothy’s trio of friends all had what they sought from the wizard right at the beginning of the tale, they just didn’t know it yet.

 Rating: 9/10

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