The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Title: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz24-book challenge
Author: L Frank Baum
Publication date: 1900
Genre: Children’s fiction; fantasy

What’s it about?The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Dorothy is a young girl living with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry in Kansas, until one day a cyclone lifts up their farmhouse and carries it off – with Dorothy inside.

The house comes to rest in a strange, far-off land, and, to Dorothy’s horror, crushes and kills a Wicked Witch in the process. A Good Witch encourages Dorothy to take the Witch’s silver shoes and set off to the Emerald City, to see the great Wizard of Oz and ask him to send her back home to Kansas.

On her journey, Dorothy meets three new friends: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Each decides to accompany her, to ask the Wizard to grant their dearest desires: the Scarecrow wants brains, the Woodman a heart, and the Lion courage.

After many adventures they arrive at the Emerald City, where the Wizard tells them he will only grant their wishes if they kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Shocked, they nevertheless set out on the quest, and after many trials, Dorothy manages to melt the Witch by throwing a bucket of water over her.

They head back to the Wizard, who is revealed to be nothing but a humbug, with no magical ability to grant wishes. Despite this, he is able to help the three companions – but Dorothy’s situation is beyond his power. So she sets off to visit another Good Witch, who tells her that the silver shoes hold the charm that will carry her home.

With just three clicks, Dorothy is back home in Kansas.

Read more information on Goodreads.

Where did I get hold of the book?

I’m now in 1900: the era of works that have (by and large) entered the public domain, so many of them are available for free, or for a very low price, on the internet. This was certainly the case with this one. And so, as I was yet again too disorganised to make it to the library, I downloaded it to my Kindle app for a cost of £0.00.

What did I learn from it?

As with Mary Poppins, I learned that the book version differs from the famous film version. For example:

  • The Witch of the East’s shoes are silver, not ruby;
  • We do not meet the Witch of the West until the companions arrive in her own territory;
  • The Witch of the North who accompanies the Munchkins is not Glinda: Glinda is the Witch of the South;
  • It is Dorothy alone who defeats the Witch of the West: the others are injured or captured during this time, unable to come to her aid.

There are also additional elements to the story that do not feature in the film:

  • The companions have a number of adventures prior to arriving at the Emerald City; in particular, the Lion is rescued from the poppy field by a troupe of field mice.
  • Visitors to the Emerald City are made to wear special glasses, supposedly to protect their eyes from its dazzling, totally green, brilliance. We find out later that this is another con of the Wizard’s: the city is not totally green, it is the glasses that make it appear so.
  • The companions make a trip to see Glinda at the end of the book, and meet many new strange creatures (the fighting trees, the china people and the Hammer-heads) on the way.
  • Not only does the Scarecrow return to rule over the Emerald City, but the Woodman goes to rule over the Winkies (the freed slaves of the Witch of the West) and the Lion becomes King of the Beasts in a lush forest.

Again, as with Mary Poppins, the book is only the first in a series: there are several more featuring the different adventures of Dorothy and other denizens of Oz.

How did it make me see the world differently?

All five ‘domains’ in the land of Oz (East, West, North, South, and the Emerald City) are reigned over by a sovereign Witch or Wizard; and what’s noticeable is the total subservience of each population to its ruler.

I guess there’s not much opportunity to fight against a Wicked Witch, as in the East and West; and if you have a Good Witch, as in the North and South, maybe you don’t have anything to complain about.

But in the Emerald City we have the Wizard: a terrible indictment of leaders who govern by lies, deceit, and lack of transparency. And yet he is described as being well loved by his subjects – presumably because they do not know what a humbug he is.

While I appreciate that his position is due to a misunderstanding, I’m disturbed at the depiction of a society that doesn’t question what is going on around it. Yes, the people are happy – but is that happiness real if it is based on a big con? Is ignorance bliss? Conversely, can we complain if someone plays along with a false assumption that we make through lack of questioning?

My own preference is for the truth, however brutal, over a pretty lie; and yes, I believe that if someone realises they have been misunderstood, then they should come clean, even if it is to their disadvantage. But perhaps others disagree. I will certainly be paying more attention to this in future: The Wizard of Oz has given me food for thought.

What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?

As the companions journey to the Emerald City, it becomes clear that the Scarecrow is the one who always comes up with the good ideas, the Woodman is the one who considers everyone’s feelings, and the Lion is the one who ‘feels the fear and does it anyway’ – in other words, they already possess the qualities they are so desperately seeking.

This made me wonder whether the thing we most desire, the thing we believe most to be missing from our lives, which we would dearly love to acquire but believe it to be impossible, might actually be the one thing that we already possess, which defines us. Maybe this is why it takes on such significance for us: it is everything to us, and no matter how good we may be at it, it will never be enough, so we keep on seeking it.

So I started to think about what quality or skill I really desired, and I remembered that for ages now I’ve wished I could draw. Now, I realise a talent like that isn’t quite the same as a personal characteristic such as courage – but I do believe that if something is constantly on our mind, we have it within us to express it in our own way, even if that isn’t by traditional means or even ‘good enough’ for others.

A year or two ago, while playing Pictionary, I became aware that I was having a lot of success conveying concepts in a pictorial form, even if that form was just ‘stick men’. The technical quality of the drawing was nothing to write home about, but I was clearly managing to identify key themes and connect with others’ perspectives.

This made me realise that ‘drawing’ is perhaps something I can do after all – just not in a way I had originally envisaged – and so I am going to make more effort to pursue my drawing practice and see where it leads me.

Over to you…

Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?

If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?

Please share in the comments below!

Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins

Title: Mary Poppins24-book challenge
Author: PL Travers
Publication date: 1934
Genre: Children’s fiction; fantasy

Mary PoppinsWhat’s it about?

Mr and Mrs Banks are looking for a new nanny for their children, when Mary Poppins flies into their world (literally, on the East Wind) and takes the position. The children Jane and Michael soon realise that Mary Poppins is not their normal kind of nanny.

Over the course of the book, Mary Poppins takes Jane and Michael on many adventures, and shows them a world of magical possibilities that they had never dreamed of. Each chapter features a new exploit and introduces a new set of strange and eccentric characters.

She is not sweet and saccharine, however; she seems to have almost a disregard for their happiness if not their welfare. It is impossible to guess what she is truly thinking at any time, and at the end of the book she flies away on the West Wind, just as she promised.

The book is the first in a series of eight, so we have not seen the last of Mary Poppins.

Read more information on Goodreads.

Where did I get hold of the book?

I searched my local library catalogues but couldn’t see any copies in a library near me, so I downloaded this one to my Kindle app. It cost me 99p.

What did I learn from it?

The main thing I learned from this book was how different it is to the film/musical version. I was prepared for this, as I’d seen the movie Saving Mr Banks, which looks at the back story of PL Travers dealing with Walt Disney in his attempts to produce the film, and I’d become aware that the character of Mary Poppins in the book is very different to how it is depicted in the film. But it was quite an eye-opener to read the book in its entirety and realise that this isn’t the only difference.

For a start, and perhaps not unexpectedly, there are changes to the Banks household. There are four Banks children (baby twins in addition to Jane and Michael); Mrs Banks is not a suffragette; and there is a third member of staff, essentially a gardener, to accompany Ellen and the cook.

There are also many more stories in the book’s 12 chapters than are featured in the film; in fact, with the exception of the first and last chapters, dealing with Mary Poppins’ arrival and departure, only three chapters tell stories that are familiar from the film version:

  • the trip into the cartoon world with Bert (which, in the book, Mary Poppins enjoys on her own; the children do not accompany them);
  • the visit to the uncle who levitates when he laughs;
  • the observation of the Bird Woman.

It’s also worth noting that the latter contains no mention of a run on the bank.

The book feels much more like a collection of miniature tales, bookended by Mary Poppins’ arrival and departure, whereas the film – again, not surprisingly – offers a more holistic narrative with plot and character development. However, given that the book is only the first in a series, this is perhaps an unfair comparison to make. I guess I need to read the others to see how it all pans out… Maybe the Banks family will have their epiphany after all.

How did it make me see the world differently?

As with any fantasy book, it reminded me that there is something magical to be found in every aspect of our daily existence. In this particular book, I found that the wealth of ‘what ifs’ in the different adventures could be used as lead-ins for pondering questions about the nature of the world around us.

For instance…

  • Do the stars really come from gold paper that a strange woman steals from our closet and pastes up in the sky? If not, where do they come from?
  • What happens in a zoo at night? Do the animals communicate with each other in a way they can’t do when the humans are there?
  • Do dogs have a class system? A pecking order? Is there anything to prevent one type of dog befriending another dog?

The book works as both a joyous series of escapades, undertaken for the pure fun of it, and as a treasure trove of imaginings for sparking further ideas. In this latter sense it is, perhaps, the perfect embodiment of the spirit of this book challenge, where the quest is to find inspiration in the unexpected and even the ordinary; to encourage further thought, questioning, and – hopefully – action.

What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?

The biggest change for me was inspired not by the book itself so much as the difference in interpretation between the book and the film version. This is the story told in Saving Mr Banks, where Travers tries to ensure that the character she created is portrayed in a way that is true to her original intentions. The film deals with the give-and-take that accompanies any adaptation of a story from one medium to another.

This rang many bells with me, as at the time of reading Mary Poppins, I had just emerged from a read through of our Pride and Prejudice stage adaptation, where I’d received feedback on my half (Act II) from my co-author and the Artistic Director. They felt that Elizabeth spoke too often in monologue, which she hadn’t been in the habit of doing in Act I, and they suggested I cut down on this in order to make the character more consistent.

While I do generally bow to their greater experience in this area, I felt quite strongly that there were reasons why Elizabeth needed to ‘talk to herself’ in Act II, which hadn’t applied in Act I; not least the fact that she now has more secrets to keep and does not feel she can confide in people quite so freely as she did before. And so I kept faith in my understanding of this character: although I did eventually cut a few lines, I left many of the others in place – and explained to my colleagues exactly why I had done so.

From the story of PL Travers and Mary Poppins I have learned to hold true to my notions of artistic integrity, and to believe in myself. I will still listen to input from others – but I will not necessarily let that hold sway over what my own gut is telling me.

Over to you…

Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?

If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?

Please share in the comments below!

A Carnival of Words


I feel I’ve stepped into new territory this past week. My home town, Wrexham, hosted its very own literary festival, the Carnival of Words, and I signed up to as many events as it was humanly possible for me to attend.

As an introvert I should stress that this wasn’t very many! I’ve come to realise, through trial and error, that going out too much severely depletes my resources, even when the events are enjoyable and inspiring – perhaps because they’re enjoyable and inspiring. I put myself out there, talk to lots of people, engage with the topic, and generally throw myself into the moment.

And then I get home and collapse on the sofa.

This was certainly the case last week. On Tuesday I attended a Poems and Pints night at our local Welsh pub, Saith Seren. The evening was ostensibly to celebrate 150 years of Wrexham Football Club, but the poems weren’t limited to the football theme. A range of poets with very different styles, writing in both Welsh and English, gave readings of their work, and I happily sat back and took it all in.

I don’t write much poetry myself, but I love going to the open mic nights in my town, as it’s a great way of meeting up with fellow creators. If you’re a struggling writer, sitting at home wondering why no-one understands you, then you could do worse than hunt down any such events taking place near you. It’s wonderfully refreshing to go out and talk to others in the same situation; it certainly makes me feel part of a community rather than feeling I’m trying to do everything in a vacuum.

This was, essentially, the best thing about the week for me: meeting up with other writers, not just to appreciate and learn about their work, but to join that community and be reminded that writing is a valid life choice. It’s a difficult, often lonely, pursuit, but knowing that others ‘get it’ makes a huge difference.

Thursday saw me attend some writers’ workshops at our public library. Sadly, the one on graphic novels I’d been looking forward to was cancelled. I don’t draw, but the idea of teaming up with an illustrator to create a graphic novel is one that really excites me. I love the concept of words and pictures working together to form a whole – so much potential, so many different options to play with…

So I was very pleased that the workshop on writing for children went ahead as planned! As with graphic novels, what appeals to me about writing a children’s book is the idea of mixing words and pictures to form something greater than either can do on their own. I have the grain of an idea for a book; and, rather wonderfully, while I was sitting in the workshop I started imagining how I could grow it further. I’m in my happy place when I’m just beginning to develop an idea, so this workshop was time very well spent for me.

I also attended a playwriting session, which was interesting as I’ve just co-written a stage version of Pride and Prejudice. Clearly, writing an adaptation is very different to writing an original script, but I came away with lots of ideas for new work – my only problem will be finding the time to fit them in around my other ongoing projects! Maybe a new play will have to wait a while…

The day was rounded off by an author networking event, and this was one of the highlights of the week for me. As I mentioned earlier, I got to meet up with other local writers and chat about their experiences of anything from finding collaborators to self publishing. We also discussed the possibility of seting up local writers’ groups in different genres, and organising another general writers’ event later in the year. I’m in touch with the organisers so I’ll be kept posted of any plans, and I’m looking forward to this very much.

On to the last day of the Carnival, and I attended not one but two events: ‘Whovian Happenings‘ on Saturday morning, and ‘Romans to Redcoats‘ in the afternoon. The former featured two writers of Doctor Who spin-off novels, and fired my imagination so much that I wanted to go away and start writing my own fan fiction there and then! I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, and have more ideas than I know what to do with – actually transforming any of them into a workable story will be the biggest challenge, but one I probably do need to set myself at some point…

The afternoon’s event was a 3½-hour historical fiction fest. Now, historical fiction isn’t something I’ve read a great deal of, but every time I hear about a book in this genre I want to pick it up and get stuck right in: the issue, as always, is one of time. However, as you’ll know if you read my book challenge, making time for reading is something I’m actively trying to get a grip on, so I treated myself to a few books from the Waterstones stall in the foyer, and will be scheduling in time for them in the near future!

And it was this last session that made perhaps the biggest difference to me as a writer. It was a fairly small-scale event, so I got to chat to some of the writers about their work, which meant that I got to know them as people rather than just ‘names’. And so, afterwards, when I was reviewing Facebook comments about the event, I saw that some of the authors were ‘friends’ with a mutual friend… and I took the brave step of sending them friend requests myself. And they accepted!

This may not seem like much, but it means that in my newsfeed I now see updates, not from people who are merely thinking about writing, or (like me) talking about the difficulties of making time for it, but from people who are actually getting on and doing it. And that is incredibly inspiring. To follow people who are talking about things that enthuse me, and to be able to interact with them on a normal human level… it makes everything seem possible, if only I work hard enough and dedicate myself to my projects and my dreams.

And that is what the Carnival of Words has done for me. It has changed my attitude from that of ‘aspiring writer’ to that of ‘writer’.

It all begins here…!