Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

Unlike the other fantasy titles I'm reading this year, which were chosen in order to broaden my reading horizons, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was chosen out of pure curiosity. I remember trying to read it as a child, as I loved the film version, but I could not get into it. Now I keep seeing it mentioned in different homeschooling and book-related Facebook groups I am in, usually with positive comments, so I decided it was time to try again. While I easily breezed through it this time, however, I am still not all that impressed.

Typically, I like to read books before I see their film adaptations, as I prefer to conjure up my own ideas of how the characters look, sound, and move without the influence of the actors who portray them, and because the book is usually better. In this case, though, if I had read the book first, I'm not certain I would ever have wanted to see the film. The writing style is very straightforward, to the point that it is almost all telling, with no showing. Part of this may be due to the fact that the book is meant to be more of a fairy tale than a work of literary fiction, but to me, it felt like the author spent a lot of words on minutiae but continually skipped past the most potentially exciting parts of the book with just a few sentences.

Elements of the story that I love from the film version - the conceit that the entire story is a dream starring people Dorothy knows, the antagonism of the Wicked Witch of the West toward Dorothy, even the red ruby slippers - are completely missing from the book. While I knew better than to expect the film and the book to be identical, I was surprised and disappointed that the things I have always considered to be the heart and soul of the Wizard of Oz story are not actually part of the original work at all. Honestly, it is amazing, now that I've read the source material, that the creators of the film were able to make such a wonderful, iconic movie out of such a drab and boring tale.

I also did not care for the illustrations. The copy I have is the 100th Anniversary Edition, which reproduces the pictures - including 24 color plates - exactly as they appeared in the first edition. Unfortunately, these images just look old-fashioned and unappealing. The figures are almost grotesque in appearance, and made me feel uneasy. There are some pages where the illustrations come right up over the text, making it difficult to decipher. The illustrations do break up the text nicely but otherwise, I probably could have done without them.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is probably easy enough to be read independently by a third or fourth grader, and I suspect, particularly if they haven't seen the movie yet that this audience will enjoy it more than I did. Still, compared with quest stories like The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this book just feels shallow and somehow incomplete. This is one of the few situations where I would say to see the movie, and skip the book.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say I am a huge Oz fan. The movie is ok, but I don't think of it in relationship to the book. I listen to the audiobooks frequently and my favorite is Ozma of Oz. Dinner bucket trees! I do think a certain type of person enjoys this book though and, judging by what you normally read, I don't think you're an Oz person (-:)