FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD
The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz
(The Oz Series, Book 1)
L. Frank Baum
Genre: Children’s Classic, Juvenile Fantasy
Publisher: Hesperus Press
Format: Paperback, 144 Pages
Date: 25th January 2013 (First Published 1900)
A young girl and her pet dog find themselves inexplicably transported to the magical land of Oz by a cyclone. But there’s no place like home, and if Dorothy is to return to Kansas with Toto she must undertake a journey to the Emerald City in search of the only person with the power to send them back. Numerous perils lie in wait, and along the way she will make new friends with their own reasons for wanting to make the journey. Success is not guaranteed, however, for an implacable enemy hopes to thwart Dorothy and exact a terrible revenge.
In the introduction to his defining work, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, American children’s author, L. Frank Baum mentioned that his purpose in writing the story was to bring about a new kind of fairy tale for children to enjoy. He was of the view that the traditional fairy tales of old should essentially be confined to the dustbin of history; that it was no longer required for children’s stories to be cautionary tales with moral lessons to impart, as morality was now part of a modern education. His goal was to make his book a modernised fairy tale that retained the excitement and entertainment, but did away with all the moralising. Whether his opinion of traditional fairy tales has merit or not is for others to debate.
Originally published in 1900, Baum surely could never have envisioned that his novella would still be enchanting young readers all over the world more than a century later. Bearing testament to the continued popularity of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz to this very day is that its entrance into the public domain in 1956 has in no way diminished the willingness of publishing houses to continue re-printing new editions. While there is no question that much of the book’s enduring appeal can be attributed to the 1939 Hollywood musical adaptation, starring Judy Garland, nobody should be in any doubt as to the reality that Baum very much succeeded in writing an appropriately wonderful children’s tale.
Given the film’s place in popular culture it’s probably not necessary to dwell too long on the book’s plot. Even those who have never read it will be fully aware that it tells the story of Dorothy Gale (and her pet dog, Toto) being transported from Kansas to the magical land of Oz by a cyclone. Likewise, everyone should know that Dorothy’s quest to get back home sees her embarking upon a journey along a yellow brick road to the Emerald City in search of the wizard of Oz, picking up a motley trio of companions along the way.
It is noteworthy that Baum, as a male author, chose to make the protagonist of his story a young girl, which wasn’t really the norm at the time, particularly as Dorothy would have been deemed a rather unconventional heroine. At no point is she depicted as a damsel in distress in constant need of rescuing (the traditional role of most female characters in fairy tales), no matter what kind of perilous situations she finds herself in. This is all the more interesting in light of how reminiscent the plot of the book is with the kind of quest fantasy story that would have once been viewed as the sole preserve of male readers—of whom it is unfairly assumed would prefer to read stories with a male protagonist.
Though it is acknowledged that Baum’s primary influence was Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by British writer Lewis Carroll, it’s not possible to overlook the familial influences that surely contributed to both the characterisation in The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, as well as its progressive (for the time) narrative. The character Dorothy was created in honour of Dorothy Louise Gage, the niece of Baum’s wife, who died of a terminal condition in early infancy, and her non-stereotypical depiction can probably be attributed to Baum’s association with the women’s suffrage movement by way of his marriage to the suffragist, Maude Gage Baum. Certainly, if half the accounts about his marriage are accurate, it would seem highly unlikely that Baum would have been allowed to get away with writing a “gender” stereotyped heroine.
Whether Baum succeeded in his endeavour to bring about the advent of a new kind of fairy tale can be debated. What is not in doubt, however, is that he wrote an impeccable juvenile fantasy story. While flawless books are hard to come by, an argument can easily be made that The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz should be considered such a book. It maybe lacking in complexity, yet its limitations, rather than being detrimental to the story, actually enhance it. Baum did a masterful job in coupling a simple idea with a simple narrative, to produce a thoroughly engaging and compelling read, while his writing style plays a big part in elevating the reading experience of the book. His prose is economical but effective; not a single world ever feels superfluous. It’s impressive how much occurs in the story given its brief length, which is quite an accomplishment.
Pacing is another attribute of the book that works in its favour. It’s perfect, in fact. From beginning to end the narrative is constantly moving forward, always gaining momentum, and never losing it; the end result being an “unputdownable” page turner. Anyone who picks up the book will not fail to read it in one sitting, and not just because of its modest word count. It’s a truly special work of fiction, making it hard to argue against those who contend that the Hollywood film doesn’t hold a candle to the book.
In a nutshell, The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz is a fittingly wonderful modern fairy tale with brains, and heart, and courage. A timeless classic, devastatingly effective in its simplicity and good intentions, that succeeds in being far greater than the sum of all its parts, and far more enjoyable than it has any right to be.