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!

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