Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L Frank Baum (1856-1919)

Let me start this post by saying that I love kids' books. Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, all great reads. You want to know what's not a great read? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The characters are shallow, the action is frequent but glossed over, the lessons are nowhere to be found. This is the rare occasion when the film is better than the book, and not just because of the effects or the music. The story itself is superior in every way. There is little setup in the book before the tornado lifts Dorothy and Toto out of drab Kansas (this part of the story is accurate, Kansas is incredibly boring) and deposits them in Oz. Uncle Henry is kind of a dick and Aunt Em is a broken woman. There are no smiling farm helpers who become the trio of fellow travelers in Oz.
Next Munchkin Land is crappy compared to the '39 film version. The wicked witch of the west doesn't present herself until 100 pages in. Baum's hope that readers will suspend their belief on the lifelike characteristics given to the scarecrow (he could see once his eyes were painted on) didn't work with me. The tinman and his enchanted ax which kept chopping off his legs just made me think that he was really dumb in human form. The lion was actually the only thing cooler in the book version. He roars and is actually a lion.
Let me take that back, the flying monkeys are also pretty rad. They had to obey the golden cap because of some really lame story dealing with a princess and dropping a guy in a river. But they fly around and pretty much kick whoever's ass needs kicking. But when you have a lame story that feel patched together and then you supplement that with lame side stories, something is wrong.
Once the wizard is defrocked it turns out he's just some clown from Omaha and he has no real powers, he'd fit right in living in 2009 Omaha. After many travails and more miles of walking it turns out Dorothy could have just tapped her silver slippers any time to be sent home. Pretty weak that the first good witch decided to keep that fact to herself. Dorothy is sent back to her Kansas home, a house rebuilt, and a happy Auntie Em. Oz was not the result of a concussion, it was a real place.
As for the theory that the book is a metaphor for the silver coining crisis of the late 1800s, if it is so it's very shabbily done. Maybe every character has a parallel in the political fray, but what lesson do we learn?

Rating 1/10: This book should be immediately stricken from the classics.