I give one of the most beloved children's fantasy stories...three sets of silver shoes out of five!
Did you guys really see this coming? Okay, admit it. There's probably nobody out there that hasn't at least heard of the Wizard of Oz. A lot of people probably only know about it having seen the 1939 movie by MGM starring Judy Garland, and considering that's the absolute most famous movie adaptation of the story ever, that's no surprise. I've seen it a lot of times myself, whether on VHS and on TV when certain channels had it on reruns. But I haven't seen the movie in years (I might watch it again one of these days just to see what it's like), and I only just recently bought and read the book. To my surprise, I actually kind of like it. Love it, actually. Yeah, it's obviously a book aimed at children, what with its simple story, simple prose, and rather one-dimensional characters. But I still found it to be a very pleasant read and would definitely share it with any kid or reader looking for something nice to kill their time. With that, here's my review of the famous book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! Oh, just for clarification, the copy I bought looks like this:
Yeah, I'm not even joking. Haven't read Marvelous Land of Oz yet, but I will later on. Just want to get the first book out of the way first. And it has pretty manga illustrations. What's not to like about that?!
Anyway, the story's pretty simple. A young country girl named Dorothy Gale lives a nice, pleasant life on a farm in Kansas with her aunt and uncle. One day, a tornado storms its way through their farm, taking Dorothy and her dog Toto into a magical wonderland called Oz. But the people of Oz see Dorothy as a wonderful sorceress, as her house killed the Wicked Witch of the East, who enslaved the Munchkin people. As happy as Dorothy is about seeing this new world, she's worried about her family at home, and the Good Witch of the North advises her to go to the Emerald City to see the great Wizard of Oz, for he can help her get home. Along the way she meets a few friends, like a sentient Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and a cowardly Lion, all of whom accompany her to the Emerald City for their own reasons. But the journey to the Emerald City isn't without difficulty, and for all they know, the Wizard of Oz may not even be able to grand their wishes. But Dorothy and friends are determined to get there by any means necessary.
Seeing as this is a cute fantasy story aimed at kids, of course the writing and the prose is going to be very simple. Everything is bluntly but simply described, with only the most basic of descriptions describing everything, without any embellishments, parables, or anything deep or substantial. While some may dismiss L. Frank Baum's writing style as being a bit too juvenile, at the time of its creation, many books, even kids books, relied heavily on excessive purple prose that sought to describe anything and everything in excessive detail, even about things that weren't necessary. Many kids books during the Victorian era, such as Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, were overwrought with nauseating sentimentality and cheesy prose that made you want to puke. Thankfully, as far as I've read, Wizard of Oz doesn't do that, going right to the point without straying too far. Sometimes, less is more, and for what it's worth, I think L. Frank Baum's prose is just fine.
Unfortunately, the simple prose also leads to one of Wizard of Oz's flaws. The characters are pretty okay, and admittedly a little bit cookie-cutter and one-dimensional in that they barely react much to what's going on around them. Since the books rely a bit too heavily on telling rather than showing, the book is peppered with sentences such as "Dorothy cried bitterly" and "The Lion was scared" without really diving deep into their psyches and showing us how they feel in greater depth and detail. Sometimes it kind of feels like I'm reading a script rather than a book. As a result of Baum's prose, the characters suffer in the process, and wind up with very little depth. That's not to say the characters are bad, per say. But since this was a children's story, the characters are either stereotypically good (The good witches, Dorothy and friends) or stereotypically bad (The Wicked Witches) without much in-between, so the audience is expected to love or hate one or the other without having to think too much. Yeah, the Wicked Witches are bland villains who don't do much except be evil and hurt people. Dorothy and her friends and everyone else stays the same throughout the entire book and don't change at all, so by today's standards, they're extremely bland.
Another problem that Wizard of Oz has is that all of its conflicts end as quickly as they start, which also hurts the characters. The Wicked Witch of the West has kidnapped you? Just throw a bucket of water on her to make her melt! Wild animals are attacking you? Just let the Tin Woodman chop all their heads off! Want to get somewhere but don't have the means to do so? Just call upon the flying monkeys! They can take you wherever you like without any trouble at all! See what I mean? With the bland characters and the fact that all conflicts are resolved way too quickly, there's no room for any real suspense or danger. If you want an audience to care about and sympathize with the characters, there needs to be some kind of danger. Nobody wants to read a story about kids eating cake at a carnival. Characters need to face challenges, put their lives on the line, and deal with their flaws in ways that'll make people care about them, if done well. In case you couldn't tell, this is not exactly one of Wizard of Oz's strong points.
However! That's not to say Wizard of Oz is a bad book. Far from it. I would much rather read this than, say, Homer's Odyssey or Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. For what it's worth, Wizard of Oz definitely has a lot of great ideas going for it. I found the land of living china figurines to be one of the better chapters of the book, and the idea of sentient china dolls and a world made entirely of porcelain to be really neat. I'm surprised L. Frank Baum didn't write any stories just about the dainty china country. The Emerald City in and of itself is a very neat idea, a green metropolis where everyone wears green and green 3D-esque glasses controlled by a wizard who doesn't take one single form. That's something that could really be an interesting idea if expanded upon! The characters also have interesting backstories that today would be considered absolutely amazing if L. Frank Baum really took the time to expand on them in greater detail.
Another one of Wizard of Oz's strengths is that the book always takes time to show us the various places and countries that make up Oz and the people that inhabit them. While the book doesn't go into a whole lot of detail about them per say, especially not places like the Winkie country or the china country, enough time is given to those places and people to show what a fantastical land Oz is. One book I reviewed earlier, A Wrinkle In Time, didn't bother to really develop its settings, especially not the various planets the kids and their friends traveled to, making them little more than pit stops than anything else. Thankfully, Wizard of Oz manages to avoid doing this entirely. Seriously, A Wrinkle In Time, you can take a page out from Wizard of Oz and put some effort into developing your settings!...and having a proper conclusion! Speaking of, one thing about the book that really boggles me is that there's a lot of casual murder and animals getting decapitated. I mean, the Tin Woodman chops animals' heads off on a near regular basis, though admittedly in defense of a third party. Plus, the head chopping scenes are rather bluntly described and have zero gore to them. Still, I'm kinda surprised Baum's publishers even let that get past potential censors! Meh, I'm not complaining.
Do I think Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of the greatest books ever? No. But I definitely like it and respect the impact it's had on popular culture. There are parts I feel that could have been either done better or expanded upon, but I do like it for what it is. Hey, I like simple stories just as much as I do hard, complicated, and more riveting stories, as long as the former are done well. Just because you've read the same story or trope time and time again doesn't suddenly make it horrible and vomit-inducing. Why else do you think it's endured for all this time? People have analyzed the Oz books left and right. Some say it's a perfectly simple story for children, and others say it's a political satire, an economic parable, or a critique of traditional American values. But one thing can be said for certain: The Wizard of Oz has definitely earned its place as one of the most famous children's books of all time.
If you're a fan of nice, pleasant fantasy stories that take you to faraway lands, then the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is definitely a book you'll sure find to be a delight.