Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The first of the books on the Great Read-Through list that I was really excited to read. The wonderful wizard of Oz (epub; “The

Just realized the cover is lying, we all know the shoes are silver. Weird.

Just realized the cover is lying, we all know the shoes are silver. Weird.

complete Oz” edition) was the basis for the 1939 movie that first really excited me about movies as a kid. It was visually amazing, funny, scary, exciting and heartwarming. I was really interested to see how much of that which had so drawn me in had come from the source material. Turns out, not much.

I cannot express enough how disappointed I was by this book start to finish. It was painful to read. I couldn’t tell if it was just extremely juvenile, poorly written or some hideous combination of the two. And the stakes are immaterial as they’re constantly erased. Here’s an example:

(Dorothy speaking to a china Princess)

“But you are so beautiful,” she continued, “that I am sure I could love you dearly. Won’t you let me carry you back to Kansas, and stand you on Aunt Em’s mantel? I could carry you in my basket.”

“That would make me very unhappy,” answered the china Princess. “You see, here in our country we live contentedly, and can talk and move around as we please. But whenever any of us are taken away our joints at once stiffen, and we can only stand straight and look pretty. Of course that is all that is expected of us when we are on mantels and cabinets and drawing-room tables, but our lives are much pleasanter here in our own country.”

“I would not make you unhappy for all the world!” exclaimed Dorothy. “So I’ll just say good-bye.”
“Good-bye,” replied the Princess

This is basically the entire book: Problem, solution, move on. But, unlike other stories, in which that also happens (duh, it’s how stories work), it happens here usually with in the same paragraph. It’s so frustrating as, even while things are happening, nothing is happening. Literally as soon as any problem is defined the solution is discovered, enacted and succeeded in the next few sentences. Or, as also occurs a few times, a problem is presented, a solution discussed and that solution is enacted and fails leaving them back at square one. Again, within 1 paragraph. Not to worry though, the proper solution will present itself moments later. It’s as if the author is trying to help your stress level by removing all stakes instantly.

The story is basically identical to the movie we’re all familiar with, there are things that we’re left out and compressed for time but nothing that fundamentally changes the story. In fact, I have to applaud the filmmakers for streamlining this meandering story into something so interesting. And visual. The book is pretty sparse on descriptions- with the exception of the Emerald City being described in incredible detail as…green. Like, literally everything is green. The things that are green are listed, and they are everything in the city. Oh wow is it a trial.

This book reads a lot like a parent reading a story to their child at bedtime. It’s awkward, stilted, rambling, and at times feels like it’s stalling for time. I can’t figure out how this book became as classic as it has become let alone how it has 13 sequels. The reviews when it came out in 1900 were positive and as a product of its time it’s lack of sophistication is understandable- I wasn’t expecting layered storytelling aimed at children at the turn of the century. I was however expecting far more than what I got. I honestly don’t think I’ll be reading the rest of the Oz books, and to be perfectly honest my feelings on the movie (as well as the deeply messed up 1985 “follow-up”) have become slightly soured.

I’m probably going to catch hell from this review. Cries of I didn’t “get it” or I need to think of “the context” or what have you. You may be right, but I did both get it and consider it. And despite touchy-feely nostalgic feelings it’s just not very good. I wanted to like it but I just couldn’t. And if it’s your favorite book of all time then good for you, but you won’t convince me that it’s anything other than a poorly realized idea that barely goes anywhere. D-

*NOTE* You might ask yourself, if I hated it so damn much why not just give it an F? Easy, the world Baum created has been the backdrop for some wonderful other stories. Besides, I’m assuming, the rest of his books Oz (which I have no desire to read but there’s 13 of them so there has to be something to them)  there’s also Gregory Maguire’s Wicked series and even 1978’s The Wiz. So I gave him half a point for the idea.

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