There is a thought out there that says if you pay close enough attention, you will encounter a reference to The Wizard of Oz every single day. Most people think of this masterpiece only in the Judy Garland movie format, but there’s so much more to it.
As some of you know, L. Frank Baum wrote the original novel upon which the movie was based in 1900. If you’ve always loved the movie and never read the book, you should do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. If you have an electronic reading device such as a Kindle, you can get it for free! It’s such a charming story, but you might be surprised by just how much of the book is different from the movie!
One of the biggest changes was that the book had silver shoes on Dorothy’s feet, not ruby slippers. The change was made for the movie purely for how they would look onscreen, especially when seen on the Yellow Brick Road. The shoes have all the same powers, but that color scheme is one thing people remember most from the movie.
We’re all familiar with the idea that, at the end of the movie, Dorothy wakes up as if it all had been a dream. However, in the novel, the Land of Oz is a real place. In fact, Baum wrote many more books before his death, fourteen in all! The final one, Glinda of Oz, was published posthumously. Many other Oz books have been written over the years, and a number of these were approved by the Baum estate and are considered official canon for anything Oz-related.
I started to regain an interest in this series of books, which I had previously read when I was about middle school-aged, when I read the Dorothy Must Die series of books by Danielle Paige. This is a very different look at a Dorothy Gale who returns to Oz after her initial incursion, only to be changed in strange and horrifying ways, due to the magic of Oz. This series incorporated many elements that I could remember in vague ways from some of the other books in the original series, so I wanted to go back and find their original forms. Characters like Mombi, Ozma, Jellia, and Pollychrome made important appearances in Baum’s works and also are crucial in Paige’s books.
And Paige is certainly not the only creator to use Baum’s unique creations in new works. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West are such great archtypes as characters that numerous others have found ways to recreate them. Just think about the musical Wicked. So many people have raved about that reimagining of the Wicked Witch’s character, but even that was lifted from the novel of the same name by Gregory Maguire. It was actually the first of a four-book series, but the first is clearly the best.
And there have been so many other adaptations. Recently, NBC tried airing Emerald City, but it fell flat. Some of you might remember the 1970s version, The Wiz, with Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. Many, many television series have done episodes that nod to Baum’s masterpiece.
Many of us remember growing up and watching The Wizard of Oz on television once a year. It was a big occasion in the days before VCRs, DVDs, and streaming movies. I can recall hiding behind the couch when the Wicked Witch threw her fireball at the Scarecrow. It didn’t matter that I knew he’d be okay; she was a very scary woman!
And the music from the movie! There aren’t many movies which have such a score that so many people know. But here’s the thing: those famous songs have no references in the original book. Dorothy never sings about somewhere over the rainbow; in fact, there’s no sign of a rainbow in the book at all. The characters never start chanting about being off to see the Wizard. The Munchkins tell Dorothy to follow the road of yellow brick, which doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same. The Lullaby League and the Lollipop Guild are movie creations only. When the Wicked Witch is defeated, there’s no ding-donging going on either. But these songs are what have lasted for so many of us in our great memories of Oz.
Baum’s books certainly have a darker bent to them too. The original book has the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow violently killing the servants of the witch when attacked. Other books involve slavery and other strange killing habits, even though it’s clear that most people in the Land of Oz live forever if they can avoid a violent death.
So start listening and paying attention. Do you hear a Wizard of Oz reference daily? If not, maybe you can keep the idea alive by finding a way to make one yourself. That is, if you have enough courage!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is birminghamize, which means to render artificial, as in, “The movie producers had to birminghamize the traditions of the Munchkins to make them more movie-friendly and not like the book.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!