Ex Libris Online: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz


Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

“We’re off to see the wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
We hear he is a whiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was
If ever, oh ever a wiz there was, The Wizard of Oz is one because
Because, because, because, because, because
Because of the wonderful things he does
We’re off to see the wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz!”

–“We’re Off To See The Wizard” by Arlen Harold

ex Libris MC (2)

 My notions growing up of the mysterious Wizard of Oz were based 100% on the classic movie sporting Dorothy’s famous ruby red slippers. (In fact, I wonder which came first… did I fall in love with the movie because of the glittery red shoes, or do I now love red shoes because of my childhood obsession with the movie?) For today’s generation of children, their perceptions are likely shaped largely by the hit musical spin-off, Wicked. However, for most children in the first half of the 20th century, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a favorite children’s novel and series that spanned 14 books. While the movie is certainly a favorite classic and work of art in its own right, as is Wicked, it would be a great loss for children today not to experience the beloved novel where it all began.

1900 first edition cover, George M. Hill, Chicago, New York.
1900 first edition cover, George M. Hill, Chicago, New York.
Original back cover
Original back cover

Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with the idea of creating a modern fairy tale. He rejected the ideology of the Victorian era that children’s stories should contain didactic moral lessons (see Cautionary Tales and Other Verses by Hilaire Belloc) and wanted to retell such tales as are found in the collections of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. He believed that children should be allowed to be children and enjoy stories void of instruction and unnecessary violence. He also wanted to create a fairy tale that was purely American and thus amalgamated the conventions of classic fairy tales (such as the presence of wizards and witches) with the familiar in a typical American’s life (such as scarecrows, cornfields and marks of industrialization). He further chose to avoid stereotypical characters such as dwarfs or genies, making up his own odd and magical characters, such as munchkins.

Original interior title plate of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900
Original interior title plate of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 1900

In the introduction Baum writes, “It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.” This provides further encouragement that any children traumatized by the nightmarish flying monkeys in the MGM rendition should look to the book for a more comforting alternative. It makes one wonder what Baum would have thought of certain parts of the movie!

The novel is indeed very upbeat and happy as Dorothy meets various curious characters in her quest to find the Wizard and return home. Shocking to me as a child was the absence of ruby red slippers… Dorothy’s shoes are silver and ever tread on the yellow brick road, representative of Baum’s Populist desire that the gold standard be replaced by a bimetallic standard of both gold and silver. Apparently silver did not show a striking contrast on screen at the time of the movie’s making, so the switch was made to red.

L. Frank Baum, circa 1911.
L. Frank Baum, circa 1911.

Baum’s imaginative work was wonderfully captured by the original illustrations drawn by W. W. Denslow. Baum was of the mind that in addition to children’s literature being pleasant to read, it should also be full of pictures. The Bradford Press has recently released the entire 14-book series in exact, 1st edition reproductions. Even the occasional typo is maintained. These books are truly works of art and have illustrations on nearly every page.

Baum writes in the introduction to The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), “Some of my youthful readers are developing wonderful imaginations. This pleases me. Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams — day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.”

 Buy this book here.
The Wicked Witch melts, from the W. W. Denslow illustration of the first edition (1900).
The Wicked Witch melts, from the W. W. Denslow illustration of the first edition (1900).

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