“Folklore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stores fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.” – L. Frank Baum
There’s this thing that happens pretty much everytime I join some kind of internet writing challenge–I freeze up. Blog a day for a month? I get maybe a week in. Write 50,000 words in a month? I write about 100. Read and review 52 books in a year? I get to 15 and my neural wall descends and I’m done.
See, I attacked Cannonball with a certain strategy–I would only move on to the next new book after I had reviewed the one I had just read. That way I was motivated to actually write the review, because otherwise I’d just read and read and the review backlog would get so thick that I’d never write any of them. But, what I had failed to anticipate, though I totally should have, was that, at some point, I was going to block myself.
So there I was, at the beginning of May, with reviews not written and books sitting around, waiting to be read. And I need to read. I always need to read. I am a compulsive reader and if I don’t have something to read I don’t know what I’d do.
My solution was to go back and re-read books I hadn’t read since I was a tiny little child (or a middle-sized adolescent)–I started re-reading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum.
I’ve read and re-read these books so many times in my life. They were a staple of my childhood, I devoured every single copy available in the house–still with inscriptions in them from my great-aunt and uncle to my dad, gifts when he was a kid himself. Suffice it to say, my nostalgia runs deep. FYI: you’re probably going to get a couple-few childhood stories in this review. #sorrynotsorry
1) The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
So, funny story, true story, I think I only read this book once as a child because, you see, it’s very different than the eponymous (more or less) 1939 movie. When I was very little the movie was an Event in my house, it aired once a year on one of the network channels and my parents would pull out the couch-bed, pop some popcorn, and we’d all settle in to watch it. I still have memories of laying on the thin, bouncy couch-bed mattress, hands greasy with salt and butter, watching the story unfold on the old, late-70’s/early-80’s television set with a rabbit-ear antenna.
I loved that movie. I still love that movie. And, in my little kid, literal-minded logic, since the book wasn’t like the movie, it wasn’t the “real” Wizard of Oz story.
Since then, my brain has made more connections, matured, learned a few things, and I can now appreciate the same story being told in different ways for different audiences. Make no mistake, the book and movie are different, in some ways very different, but the core of the story remains: a little girl named Dorothy is blown by a tornado to a magical land where she journeys to find a way back home. Along the way she finds new friends, defeats a witch (or two) and eventually learns that the way home was with her the entire time.
The book contains more weirdness and wonderfulness, and while the movie is marvelous, it never quite captures the quintessential (and quixotic) Oz-ness of the books. In fact, the most “Oz” of all of the Oz movies was that Raimi flick, Oz the Great and Powerful; it’s not a great movie but Raimi sure delivered on the titular land itself.
This book is a classic, and for good reason. I was thoroughly charmed, even as an adult. Reading it again was a little bit like coming home.
2) The Marvelous Land of Oz
This book is innocent on the surface and absolutely strange when you dive in deep. When I was a kid I did not like it–I think it’s the only one in the series to earn my innocent ire. For one, Dorothy wasn’t in it, for two, it suffered from a slight case of sequel-itis, and for three, Tip.
I feel very differently now. No, Dorothy isn’t in it (and she’s still my favorite) and, yes, there is a dash or two of sequel-itis, but my opinion on Tip has completely changed.
Let’s talk about Tip. I’m actually surprised that people don’t talk about him that much. Spoiler alert, Tip starts the book as the mischievous and misbehaving boy in the care of the witch Mombi. By the end of the book he has become Ozma, the daughter of Oz’s former king and rightful ruler of the land. As a kid in the 80’s and one with parents who still to this day think that homosexuality is a sin, I had never before encountered a character who went from being a boy to being a girl. I didn’t even know that was possible.
Adult-me knows a whole lot more about gender and sexuality than child-me did. And while adult-me feels like the Tip-Ozma reveal was a little back-handed and out of the blue, adult-me really appreciates that it happened at all, that the beautiful, revered queen, Ozma of Oz, was once a scrappy little boy named Tip.
A few throwaways, the Scarecrow was a horrible ruler, both the Scarecrow and the Tin Man are a little too proud of their humbug organs (brain and heart respectively), General Jinjur was right even if Baum’s gender politics were a little, well, archaic, and the Woggle-bug is just the Wizard in Highly Magnified form.
Oh, and you should always listen to Glinda. She’s always right.
3) Ozma of Oz
This is one of my favorite books of all time. I have read this so many times I couldn’t even begin to count. Dorothy, on a journey with Uncle Henry to Australia, gets swept overboard in a storm and washes up in a chicken coop on the shores of the land of Ev.
Dorothy Gale was my childhood hero. She got to do so many wonderful things and have so many exciting adventures. I wanted to explore like she did, see so many strange and new things, meet different people and see different lands. I wanted to get swept up by the Yellow-Brick Road and be drawn all the way to the Emerald City’s gates.
This book had it all, a little danger, a little adventure, a little pomp, and so many new and old friends to meet along the way. It also introduces the Nome King, who would go on to be a recurring Oz antagonist.
It’s hard, actually, to actually review this book. It’s like trying to rate a childhood friend. Do I love it because it’s good or do I love it because it’s woven into my literary DNA? To me it’s the Empire Strikes Back of the Oz series, the sequel that’s better than the ones that came before it.
FYI: The 1985 move, Return to Oz, mushes the second and third books together, with a soupcon of the 1939 movie and a little (or a lot of) flavor of its own. It’s a lot darker than the books while still being true to their spirit, if that makes any sense. Aesthetically it’s like a lot of those dangerous fairy movies from the 80’s, such as Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and the Rats of NIMH, to name a few, which means that it messed me up (just a little) while still thrilling the heck out of me.
In sum: Baum’s Oz books are classics for a reason. They are good and entertaining, even 100 years later. Baum might have grown to hate it (like Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes) but we’re all very lucky that he wrote it.