Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

I get by with a little help from my friends . . .

Some books offer pure joy between the pages. There is no other reason to read them except for their entertainment value. These are not masterworks of literature like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Dickens’ Great Expectations, Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Consider the Danielle Steel or Nicholas Sparks’ romance or James Patterson thriller. The value of these books lies in capturing the attention of readers and keeping them turning the pages until the conflict is resolved.

I think L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz falls into this category. I decided to read Oz because I recently purchased a Kindle and found the free eBooks on Amazon. But it wasn’t the digital device that produced my happiness, but rather Baum’s prose and storytelling ability.

And what hooked me about Oz, aside from the colorful imagery of the Munchkins, the Flying Monkeys and the Wicked Witch, were the main characters—Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion—and how this band of misfits stuck together as they overcame obstacles while embarking on their journey to the Emerald City to see the Wizard.

I also liked how the group expanded along the way to include new members, all yearning for some need to be filled. At each stage, it was as if the existing members said to the strangers, “sure, come and join us . . . the more the merrier.”

This passage, courtesy of Mr. Baum, illustrates the point:

“Do you think Oz could give me courage?” asked the Cowardly Lion.

“Just as easily as he could give me brains,” said the Scarecrow.

“Or give me a heart,” said the Tin Woodman.

“Or send me back to Kansas,” said Dorothy.

“Then if you don’t mind, I’ll go with you,” said the Lion, “for my life is simply unbearable without a bit of courage.”

“You will be very welcome,” answered Dorothy, “for you will help to keep away the other wild beasts.”

In an introduction, datelined Chicago, April, 1900, Baum writes that the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was “written solely to please children of today.” He adds, “It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”

Even though the book was written more than a century ago, Marie Deegan, children’s librarian at the Sullivan Free Library in Chittenango, New York—the birthplace of Baum—says it still appeals to kids today because of its adventure story and “the concept of going someplace and losing yourself and finding your way home again.” But she says more adults than children come to the library in search of the book, in part due to the nostalgic appeal of Oz.

Having seen the 1939 MGM movie several times, I encountered one problem while reading the novel. I could not envision the character of Dorothy except as Judy Garland, who played the girl in the film. No matter how Baum described Dorothy or her actions, in my mind I could only see Garland in her full Technicolor glory.

In comparison with the film, the book reveals much greater character detail about the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion. For example, I discovered that the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman did not need to eat, drink or sleep in order to survive. I don’t remember this being mentioned in the movie. And I found it comical in one scene when Dorothy went to sleep and the Scarecrow stood in a corner and “waited patiently until morning came.”

For me I suppose the greatest testament to the literary power of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was I did not want to abandon the characters after finishing the book; so I decided to read it a second time. I also downloaded other free Oz-related eBooks by Baum.