Reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a Grown-Up

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For the first time ever, I read the original Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum a few weeks ago. OK, I heard it in the car. The classic book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was written in 1900. Despite the fact that our culture is simply littered with Oz remakes and references, I don’t think tons of people have actually read the classic.

The kids and I drove to Ohio, and they pretty much ignored the first book we listened to, Because of Winn-Dixie. (Although I loved it!) But the land of Oz caught my daughter, and she loved hearing the tale of Dorothy and her mismatched gang of friends.

Quite a few things surprised me about the book, although it makes sense how they changed it for the cinema. Dorothy in the book really is a child, and she talks and acts like a child. Judy Garland was only 16 when MGM filmed the movie, but to me she always seemed like a young woman dressed as a girl, given her rich voice and mannerisms.

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The Wicked Witch of the West never appears outside the Western land of the Winkies. She is certainly wicked, but she’s not the haunting creature avenging her sister that we find in the movie. The good witch who visits Dorothy in Munchkinland is also a different person than Glinda the Good Witch of the North.

Listening to Baum’s tale, I could see why there are just so many adaptations of the work. (Baum himself wrote 13 sequels!) The characters are vivid, the land of Oz is enchanting and thrilling and perplexing, and the desire to know more about it lays beneath the story. It was quite to fun to see which details had been plucked out for certain adaptations: I recognized named and pieces that show up in Wicked, of course; Legends of Oz; and even Tin Man. (I’m not sure it really enhanced my viewing of The Wonderful Wizard of Ha’s, though, VeggieTales’ adaptation that I’ve seen quite a few times.)

The greatest difference between the movie and the book, perhaps, is that there’s no “it’s all a dream” moment. Dorothy really does find her way back to Kansas via her silver slippers, and Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are quite surprised to see her again. How did Dorothy explain that? Did Aunt Em then send her to a mental institution? I guess I’ll find out if I keep reading all those sequels. Libbie and I have started listening to the first one, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

Have you read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or just seen the movie? (Either? Neither?) Were you introduced as a child or as an adult? I’m wondering how different the world of Oz would seem to me had I been a devoted reader of the work as a child.

 

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