Who wrote this book and when?
Frank Baum wrote this book in 1900. Yep, it’s that old.
Has there been a movie made of it?
Quite a few, actually. There’s the classic Judy Garland version of 1939, which wasn’t even the first. A musical version of the book was made in 1902, and Baum himself produced a film of the story in 1917. The famous comedian Oliver Hardy played the Tin Woodsman in the 1925 version, and who can forget the Michael Jackson/Diana Ross movie “The Wiz?” That was also first a play. The latest version to hit the stage is “Wicked,” which is actually based on a book by Gregory Maguire and is much more political in nature. The latest “film” version is the Muppet Wizard of Oz, produced and aired last year by a major television network.
Who are the main characters?
Dorothy Gale – a little girl (much littler than Judy Garland) from Kansas whose house is transported to the land of Oz during a tornado
Toto – her little dog, the only source of joy in Dorothy’s Kansas-bound life
The Wizard – The Great and Powerful Oz, who is actually an entertainer whose balloon was taken to Oz in a storm. He lives in the Emerald City and for the most part rules Oz shrouded in mystery.
Scarecrow – a man stuffed with straw who longs to have a brain, he travels with Dorothy after she rescues him from a cornfield
Tin-Woodsman – a man whose entire body has been replaced with tin after the Wicked Witch of the East put a curse on him, he travels with Dorothy after she restores his ability to move, in hopes of getting a heart from the Wizard
Cowardly Lion – a huge lion who is afraid of everything, he has managed to get through life by roaring at those who try and oppose them. He travels with Dorothy in hopes of getting some courage from the Wizard.
What is it about?
If you think you know the story of Oz just because you’ve watched Judy Garland prance around in her ruby slippers and can sing the “King of the Forest” song by heart, you’re wrong. Oz is a very different place between bookland and movieland. The story begins with Dorothy in Oz. She is about six to eight years old, much younger than the Dorothy Gale of Hollywood. She lives in a one room house with her Aunt Emily and Uncle Henry on the gray plains of Kansas. The only source of happiness in Dorothy’s life is her little dog, Toto.
One day, a tornado sweeps across the plains and Dorothy cannot reach the storm cellar fast enough. The house is picked up and rocked gently along for nearly an entire day and night with Dorothy and Toto trapped inside. The house, as you probably know, falls into Munchkin land on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. The first person Dorothy meets is the Good Witch of the North, an old woman who is the same size as most of the Munchkins. All of the Munchkins wear blue, with little pointed hats. The Good Witch of the North explains to Dorothy that her house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East and all the Munchkins are very grateful, seeing as the Wicked Witch of the East had enslaved them for many many years. Dorothy immediately asks if she can return to Kansas, knowing her Aunt and Uncle will be worried about her – but she is dismayed to hear the entire land of Oz is surrounded by a vast desert no one can ever hope to cross.
The Good Witch of the North asks her magic hat for help and it instructs them to send Dorothy to the Emerald City. Armed with the silver slippers of the Wicked Witch of the East and a kiss on her forehead from the Good Witch of the North that will protect her, Dorothy and Toto set off along the Yellow Brick Road towards the Emerald City in the heart of Oz. Along the way, they meet up with the old gang you know and love (the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion), as well as a few others you thought you knew (the flying monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West), and some you never get to meet in the movies (the China people, the Winkies, the Hammerheads and more…)
Why is this book a classic?
It’s known as one of the first modern American Fairy Tales – and possibly the quintessential American fairytale. It’s not too scary for young children and moves along fast enough to keep them entertained.
Why should I read this book?
So you’ll be familiarized with it to read it out loud to your children. And also so you can read it in its pure form – not think you know the story just because you’ve watched the movie.
Has this book won any awards?
No, it hasn’t.
“Hereafter you will be a great man, for I have given you a lot of bran-new brains.” – The Wizard
Mr. Baum wrote over 10 sequels to “The Wizard of Oz” due to their popularity (and his need for money).
The only thing that threw me in this book was Dorothy’s maturity for suppsedly only being about six. No Kindergarten or first grader I know would have been able to handle herself half as well in these situations. Of course – if she couldn’t – she wouldn’t be the heroine. I liked this book because it was so much more detailed than the movie versions I’ve seen. The story struck me as a great deal more didactic than the movie could ever hope to be. Plus, it kept my attention by moving the action along quickly. I guess that says something about my attention span…