Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum
Finished October 20, 2009

"Oz never did give nothin' to the Tin Man that he didn't, didn't already have."

If I had read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz before ever seeing the movie, I may not have liked the movie. But after seeing MGM's The Wizard of Oz around at least 5o times, my perspective is a little backwards. I cannot picture Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, Oz and the various witches and small people without seeing it all through a Technicolor lens. I did like the book, however. And, I am amazed at what good job the movie makers did in adapting Baum's novel for the screen. Of course, there are some events missing from the movie (and vice versa). Some of the descriptions are different and the book goes on much longer after the Wizard flies away in his balloon.

It's the nuances that the movie makers kept from book to screen that are impressive. Dorothy's slippers are silver, not ruby. However, rubies are important to the plot of the book and I believe that this is one of the reasons for the ruby slippers. It was mainly a cinematic choice, to be sure, (weren't those ruby slipppers glorious in Technicolor?) but I'm impressed that the magical element of the red stones were carried over.

The lands that Dorothy and friend travel through are filled with color. The Wizard's city is, of course, an emerald city. "The fences and house and bridges [in the land of the Quadlings] were all painted bright red, just as they had been painted yellow in the country of the Winkies and blue in the country of the Munchkins." All of this, in my opinion, is expressed in the glorious color of the movie, if not in the movie's plot.

While Kansas is not portrayed as literally gray, Baum does describe the dullness of the landscape and life:

"When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else."

Again, it was certainly a cinematic choice to dramatically contrast the black and white scenes of Kansas with the Technicolor scenes of Munchkinland and Oz, but it is also faithful to the spirit of the spirit of the book.

I find it interesting that such a color-filled story would then be illustrated in this edition by Barry Moser's black and white woodcuts. Ok... it is Moser's own publishing company produced the book, so I suppose he can do whatever he likes. But I did not like any of the illustrations. That is to say, they were more distracting than illuminating. They were also, at times, inaccurate.

"So the Scarecrow followed him and was admitted into the great Throne Room, where he saw, sitting in the emerald throne, a most lovely lady. She was dressed in green silk guaze and wore upon her flowing green locks a crown of jewels. Growing from her shoulders were wings, gorgeous in color and so light that they fluttered if the slightest breath of air reached them."

This description is followed by an illustration of a very manly looking woman with a crooked mouth and squinting eyes. Of course, in hindsight I know we have being deceived and the picture reveals this. But I found the illustration to be very distracting.

As in the movie, the four friends go to Oz to obtain things that are already in their possession. The book makes this more obvious from the very beginning. The Scarecrow has many great ideas and plans. The Lion is quick to jump in and defend his friends from danger. The Tin Man is so tender hearted that he cannot stand to even step on a bug. And Dorothy has the power to go home any time she wants. Her way home is right under her feet.

I enjoyed this book. The writing style is a little "biblical" and I had to laugh because as I realized that, I came upon a scene in which the Wicked Witch of the West sends "plague" after "plague" to keep the four friends from reaching her castle.

I'd like to read more Oz books, but I don't think I'll enjoy them as much as this one. The pleasure of this book was comparing the movie and book.

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