MAY / JUNE 2013: BY CARISSA HORTON
One of my first introductions to fantasy was a little girl and her three friends skipping down a yellow brick road in a strange, colorful land called Oz. That little girl was played by Judy Garland, and my only image of Oz stemmed from the colorful spectacle of the 1939 film extravaganza that is now so beloved by numerous generations.
It was only recently that I read the book for the first time. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a triumph of L. Frank Baum’s imaginative design. The film itself is amazing and is a staple in many families, introduced to their children at a young age, the same as it was with me. But the books… well, they’re a horse of a different color.
For one thing, Glinda is not the elegant woman draped in pink tulle and chiffon, tall and regal. She’s tiny, almost the size of a munchkin, and garbed in silver. She rules the land of the Quadlings in the South Country, not being the Witch of the North as the film portrays her. Dorothy’s shoes are silver instead of ruby, a change made by the film-makers because they wanted color. The Emerald City is possibly not emerald at all, but only green in appearance because of green spectacles all of the inhabitants and visitors (who must wear them before entering the city). To say nothing of the Tin Woodman, who is made of tin because he lost his appendages in freak accidents and had a tinsmith craft him new limbs.
In other words, nothing is as it seems. In order to command the flying monkeys, the Witch of the West must put on a golden cap and say a spell, and she may only command them three times before the magic is used up and the cap must pass to someone else. Dorothy’s escape from her is not nearly as dramatic as the film’s portrayal. In fact, sweet Dorothy reacts angrily when the Witch steals one of her silver shoes and dashes a bucket of water on her, never realizing it’s the Witch’s only weakness as she begins to melt. Oz isn’t a traveling salesman (or con-man, depending on your point of view); he’s a humble balloonist for the circus and there is no evil school teacher who wants to take Toto away from Dorothy in Kansas.
At first, it felt like a little bubble had burst. I had no idea the film-makers had altered the story so extremely, making it palatable for audiences of the 1930s. There is something special about the film, and I didn’t want that adoration to be stolen from me because Baum’s stories were so different.
Yet, it’s the differences that ultimately make both book and film so precious. The novel, written in 1900, touched the lives and hearts of children so deeply that they pleaded with Baum to write another book, which he finally did in 1904, The Marvelous Land of Oz, which then began a magnificent journey that spanned the rest of his life until his death in 1919. The books are different, but they’re beloved by readers everywhere. It doesn’t make the film any less dynamic or valued by audiences, but the books are Baum’s work while the film is the work of the screenwriters and directors.
Once that dawned on me, I delved heart-first into the world Baum created. Fantasy stories are my life’s blood, particularly ones of vast imagination. A creature fashioned of sofas, palm-tree leaves, and the enormous stuffed head of a Gump is sprinkled with powder and comes alive? An entire land and its inhabitants are made of the finest porcelain, and if someone breaks they merely glue him/her together again? How about a tree that grows lunch-pails? Then there’s the color-coded country itself whose grass turns blue in the land of the Munchkins! If anything were to be described as mind-boggling, this would fit the bill.
Baum’s world is gaining popularity again, not that it ever really lost it, but it saddens me just a little to realize that people don’t completely understand the real Land of Oz. In some ways, Baum’s world is more extreme, more frightening and brutal than the white-washed display of the cinema but is that so wrong? I love Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I own a pair, bow and all, and when I put them on I can’t help clicking my heels three times. Yet the sweet little girl in Baum’s story merely begs as she claps the heels of her shoes together, “Take me home to Aunt Em.” Such innocent pleading, and she carries out her wish with no help from Glinda who doesn’t need to wave her magic wand to give Dorothy an assist home. After everything Dorothy experienced, her one desire was to return, not just home, but specifically into the arms of her beloved Aunt Em.
No matter how many adventures I may take in life, I understand a desire to go home. Whenever I travel or go several days without seeing my family I don’t picture the house in which I live, but rather the family that makes it a home. It is the same with Dorothy, so I empathize with her plight, being such a little lost girl so very, very far from home with only a little dog named Toto to remind her of Kansas. I always want to feel that desire to return to the love and warmth of my family, and that feeling is what makes me cheer when Dorothy finally runs into Aunt Em’s arms. In Baum’s story, the Land of Oz is real and not a dream, so when she wakes, Dorothy is on the prairie and must run home. There’s no doubt that Dorothy’s tale is the truth.
These books are fun and terrifying and just a little crazy which is what makes them some of the best children’s fantasy ever written. ♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carissa Horton sews, knits, and writes. She works for Compassion International, which finds sponsors for third world children, and dreams of being an agent at a publishing house. She blogs about life, faith, relationships, and fandom in her free time.