Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

This is part of what I hope will be an ongoing series that will cover the Famous Forty and other Oz stories by those authors. Given that I do not own or have read all of those books, there may be some gaps in between entries. I will attempt to do the Famous Forty in order, at least. Sam has said he may contribute to this, but has made no promises.

Really, what can be said about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that hasn't already been said? Even saying that it is Baum's most examined piece of work is an understatement. It's been picked apart, torn, shredded, examined under microscopes, and re-assembled. So, honestly, there's not much to say about it, even though I finished re-reading it recently after a long time with no Oz. (Yes, it was scary.)

Baum says in his introduction that he believed it was time for a revolution in the children's library, as existing stories felt out-of-date considering the atmosphere in which children grew up. Thus, he states, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written to please contemporary children. Little did he know that adults and children over 100 years later would still be reading it.

While I do appreciate how Baum wrote his Oz books, and appreciate examining them, as I do myself, I tend to keep in mind that Oz was originally intended to be enjoyed. If you start getting so defensive of this literature that you can't enjoy it anymore, you've missed out. Reading it too critically can spoil your fun, and comparing it with a certain movie as you read can also be spoiling.

Almost two years ago, I wrote about how the story fit the basis of myths and epics very well. Although I would have written some things differently today, I still stand by this analysis of the story, so if you want my take on the story structure, please refer to that blog.

I noted on my latest re-read how grim the story can get. After meeting the Tin Woodman, Dorothy notes that she will run out of food soon and fears starvation. Although this is mentioned rather grimly, noting Dorothy "could not live unless she was fed," Baum manages to turn this grim situation into a bit of character development for the Scarecrow. After meeting the Cowardly Lion, and before they can cross the river that will soon lead them into the Deadly Poppy Field, he manages to find food for her, first in the form of nuts, and then in fruit. This thoughtfulness on his part shows that he can think, though he, and sometimes the readers themselves, may not realize it.

The Tin Woodman, I felt, should be the one out of Dorothy's friends, who could sympathize the most with her, since, unlike the Lion or Scarecrow, he had been human at some point, and had people he loved who were taken from him. However, oddly, Baum didn't seem to play with this. In fact, although he claims he will go back to the Munchkin girl he loved (revealed to be named Nimmee Aimee in The Tin Woodman of Oz), by the end of the story, he seems to have forgotten about her. Baum would resolve this in a much later story (his third to last Oz book), but here, the story is left cold and unresolved.

The Cowardly Lion, I have found, is almost one of the most accurately portrayed lions in literature. Male lions tend not to hunt, leaving female lions to do so. As Baum's Lion has no mate, he hunts on his own (he offers to kill a deer for Dorothy's dinner), and like a real lion, will only attack to defend his territory, or his pride, if needed. (If you want to read Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, and Tin Woodman as his "pride," that is.)

Dorothy herself is almost your fairytale leading lady, though very different from the impudent Goldilocks or the all too-trusting Red Riding Hood. Fairy tale characters she mirrors are the kind Snow-White and her sister Rose-Red who take pity for even grotesque creatures, and the persevering sister who saves her enchanted siblings in the fairy tales of "Brother and Sister," "The Six Swans," "The Seven Ravens," and "The Twelve Brothers." Updating on these characters, Dorothy is very feminine. She has learned to be self-reliant when needed, she takes charge of the situation, and her first visit serves to be the catalyst for changing Oz into a better country, causing the demise of the Wicked Witches of the East and West, and dethroning the Wizard, which would ultimately lead to the restoration of the true heir, a story Baum would pick up on later.

I say The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has rightfully earned its place as an American classic and a fantasy story. May it have many more years of pleasing children and adults.


Sam A M said...

I like how you mention "her first visit serves to changing Oz into a better country", a description of which comes from my footage for "the Wonders of the Land of Oz" video.

Nathan said...

The disconnect between the introduction and the actual story are kind of amusing when you think about it. "No blood-curdling incidents! Except a whole bunch of beheading and dismemberment!"

Vincent said...

Excellent blog. Sam once commented on my Dorothy Book "Looking for a Rainbow." If you're interested...and have the time, you might want to check out my Oz blog:

Will be following your blog as a regular.