FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
THE FITTINGLY WONDERFUL MODERN FAIRY TALE WITH BRAINS, HEART AND COURAGE THAT BECAME A TIMELESS CLASSIC
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz
(The Oz Series, Book 1)
L. Frank Baum
Genre: Children’s Classic, Juvenile Fantasy
Publisher: Hesperus Press
Format: Paperback, 448 Pages
Date: 1st April 2013 (First Published 1900)
In the introduction to his defining work, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, American children’s author, L. Frank Baum mentioned that his purpose in writing the story was to bring about a new kind of fairy tale for children to enjoy. He was of the view that the traditional fairy tales of old should essentially be confined to the dustbin of history; that it was no longer required for children’s stories to be cautionary tales with moral lessons to impart, as morality was now part of a modern education. His goal was to make his book a modernised fairy tale that retained the excitement and entertainment, but did away with all the moralising. Whether his opinion of traditional fairy tales has merit or not is for others to decide.
Originally published in 1900, Baum surely couldn’t have envisioned his novella would still be enchanting young readers, the world over, more than a century later. The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz remains just as popular to this day; its entrance into the public domain in 1956 in no way dampening the willingness of publishing houses to continue re-printing new editions. While there is no question that much of the the book’s enduring appeal can be attributed to the 1939 Hollywood musical adaptation, starring Judy Garland, nobody should be in any doubt as to the reality that Baum very much succeeded in writing an appropriately wonderful children’s tale.
Given the film’s place in popular culture it’s probably not necessary to dwell too long on the book’s plot. Even those people who have never read it will be fully aware that it tells the story of Dorothy (and her pet dog, Toto) being transported from Kansas to the magical land of Oz by a cyclone. Likewise, everyone should know that Dorothy’s quest to get back home sees her embarking upon a journey to the Emerald City in search of the wizard of Oz, picking up a motley trio of companions along the way.
It is noteworthy that Baum chose to make the protagonist of his story a young girl, which wasn’t really the norm at the time, particularly as Dorothy would have been deemed a rather unconventional heroine. At no point is she depicted as a damsel in distress in constant need of rescuing (the traditional role for a female characters in fairy tales), no matter what kind of perilous situations she finds herself in. This is all the more interesting in light of how reminiscent the plot of the book is with the kind of quest fantasy story that would have once been viewed as the sole preserve of male readers (of whom it would be assumed would prefer stories with a male protagonist.)
Though it is acknowledged that Baum’s primary influence was Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by British writer Lewis Carroll, it’s not possible to overlook the familial influences that surely contributed to both the characterisation in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, as well as its progressive (for the time) narrative. The character Dorothy was almost certainly created in honour of Dorothy Louise Gage, the niece of Baum’s wife, who died of a terminal condition in early infancy; and her non-stereotypical depiction can probably be attributed to Baum’s association to the women’s suffrage movement and his marriage to the suffragist, Maude Gage Baum. Certainly, if half the accounts about his marriage are accurate, it would seem highly unlikely that Baum would have been allowed to get away with a gender stereotyped heroine.
Whether Baum succeeded in his endeavour to bring about the advent of a new kind of fairy tale can be debated. What is not in doubt, however, is that he wrote an impeccable juvenile fantasy story. While flawless books are hard to come by, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz should be considered one such book. It’s by no means perfect, yet its limitations, rather than being detrimental to the story, actually enhance it. Baum did a fantastic job in coupling a simple, yet original idea, with a simple, yet compelling narrative, to produce a thoroughly engaging read. It is perhaps surprising that his writing style plays a big part in elevating the reading experience of the book. His prose is very economic, though highly effective; not a single world ever feels superfluous. It’s quite impressive how much occurs in the story given its brief length, which is quite an accomplishment.
Even more impressive is the pacing of the story, which is just perfect. From beginning to end the narrative is constantly moving forward, gaining momentum, and never losing it; the end result being an unputdownable, page turner. Anyone who picks up the book will not fail to read it in one sitting. It’s no exaggeration to say the Hollywood film doesn’t hold a candle to the book.
In a nutshell, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz is a timeless classic, devastatingly effective in its simplicity and good intentions; a story that conspires to be greater than the sum of its parts, and far more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.