The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz
Book 1 in the Oz series
By L. Frank Baum
Illustrated by W. W. Denslow
Published May 1900
So. I read The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum for the very first time last month. By the end, I was all “What the heck were you waiting for? That was awesome!” Yes, I often talk to myself this way, don’t you? Thought so.

Reading The Wizard of Oz for the first time was a bit like culture shock. Like most Americans, I grew up on this story. The movie comes on practically every year! I can quote lines and of course, I know Somewhere Over the Rainbow by heart. Who doesn’t? Familiar elements were there in the book, but for the most part, everything looked so different! It was such a surprise! The gist of the story remains the same. Lonely MidWestern girl, along with her dog Toto(!), is swept up by a tornado leaving behind monochromatic Kansas and her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, and deposited in Technicolor Land of Oz. And the house lands on a witch. A Wicked One. Lots of munchkins gather around in awe. No, they do not sing. A Good Witch is there to take the shoes off the Wicked One’s feet and give them to Dorothy. They Are Not Red. They Are Silver. (Color me surprised!) The Good Witch tells Dorothy if she wants to get back home, she needs to go see the Wizard of Oz. And off down the Yellow Brick Road we go, with a kiss from the witch on our Dorothy’s forehead. And, of course, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion along the way.

The adversary, the main one, the Wicked Witch of the West, didn’t seem all that scary to me. It seemed like she was barely in the book! The more frightening to me were the Kalidahs and the Hammer-Heads, and honestly, the Wizard himself. I may not be remembering correctly, but in the movie he seemed more of a bumbling fool. The Wizard in this book didn’t really have that quality for me. The lengths he would go to hide himself from the citizens of Oz, from Dorothy and the others, and perhaps even himself were extraordinary! The fact that he hopped on out of Oz at the first opportunity speaks volumes to me. He’s like a deadbeat dad, gives what little he can to get himself out of trouble, then hops on the next bus, or, rather, balloon in this case, out of there. This makes me look forward to the new Disney movie about the Wizard himself; I’m interested to see how they interpret this character and what led him to be the way he is.

Another thing that interested me was the difference in how Dorothy was treated in Oz and Kansas. In Kansas she was poor, often didn’t have enough to eat, and was lonely. In Oz, she was well cared for by everyone she met, they fed and bedded her on her travels, she was protected by the bad “things,” and had friends who loved her. Kansas was a bleak and dirty landscape. Oz was beautiful and bright and colorful. Kinda makes you wonder why she wanted to go home so badly! I also enjoyed how the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion already have what they are looking for (a brain, a heart, and courage) but need the validation of their journey and the Wizard’s gifts to realize it. Their self-doubts feel a lot like my own. And the main bad guys, the Kalidahs, were only bad guys because of the Wicked Witch. Once the Golden Cap was in Dorothy’s possession, they were most helpful. And then, once Glinda gives them the cap, and therefore their freedom, they go on their merry way leaving everyone alone and were not scary at all.

All in all, I’m genuinely surprised I enjoyed this as much as I did. Like I said, I grew up on the movie and rather thought I knew it all. My only regret is that I read a cheap ebook version, when I have the Annotated edition I have pictured above. In writing this up, so poorly it feels like because I’ve forgotten so much, I want to go back and read the Annotated. Plus I missed out on all the illustrations! I read the Wikipedia entry on this book to refresh my memory and it left me wanting to know more. Highly recommended. And thanks Kristen from We Be Reading for leading us in this readalong over at The Estella Society!


7 thoughts on “The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

  1. Great review, Heather! I’ve read The Wizard of Oz a couple of times — for school and then a funky illustrated edition later on. I find that I’m far more interested in the economic and social symbolism in the book. As a kid I would’ve likely eaten it up for the story’s sake, but as an adult I found the story lacking but liked all the history surrounding it. Lots of levels here, and I bet I’d really enjoy the annotated edition.

  2. I love this one. I remember being shocked that the shoes were silver though! I’ve been slowly reading all of the books in the series over the last couple years and there are quite a few good ones.

  3. I’m glad that you enjoyed this one, Heather! I also have the Annotated edition but didn’t read it this time since I read with the kid. But I think I would appreciate more of the history in it than I did ten or fifteen years ago when I first bought that edition.
    I really hope you join in with Ozma of Oz next year. It’s a much different story!

  4. Interesting that the shoes are silver (movie version only here…) I suppose that wasn’t as bright as the producers would have wanted so they changed it. That would be my theory, anyway. It is strange how the Wizard is so eager to be out of there though, this scary person who isn’t. I always thought the going home part was to show the importance of family, and how relationships triumph. An annotated edition sounds lovely! You could always go back and pick out the parts you liked the most to re-read.

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