The Wizard of Oz …

June 24, 2007

Last year at Context, and this year at Millenicon, there were panels about the Oz books that kayleigh and I found very entertaining and interesting. Neither of us had ever read the Oz books, although my younger brother read many of them and tried to discuss them at length with me several times. Obviously, having never read them, I didn’t have much to discuss. But after Millenicon I borrowed several of my brother’s books, and, wanting a short quick read this weekend, just finished reading The Wizard of Oz.

Don’t think of this as the old Judy Garland movie. It’s not. And what a refreshing hoot! While the movie was a great adaption, it left out and changed so many things from the original book. For example, we learn how the Scarecrow is created and how he came to be able to hear, see, and speak, the farmer who made him drew on his ears, eyes, and mouth.

We also learn how the Tin Woodman came about, not exactly the nicest thing: one of the Wicked Witches cursed a human woodcutter so that his ax periodically fell out of his hands while chopping wood, and cut off one of his limbs, later replaced with tin. Eventually the woodcutter found himself with arms and legs made of tin Finally, even his head was accidently cut off, and it too was replaced by a tin head!

This book is not only inventive, but witty. As everyone knows, the Scarecrow wants “brains,” something eventually granted by the Wizard of Oz.

So the Wizard unfastened (the Scarecrow’s) head and emptied out the straw. Then he entered the back room, and took up a measure of bran, which he mixed up with a great many pins and needles. Having shaken them together thoroughly, he filled the top of the Scarecrow’s head with the mixture and stuffed the rest of the space with straw, to hold it in place.

When he fastened the Scarecrow’s head on his body again he said to him, “Hereafter you will be a great man, for I have given you a lot of bran-new brains.”

The Scarecrow was both pleased and proud at the fulfillment of his greatest wish, and having thanked Oz warmly he went back to his friends.

Dorothy looked at him curiously. His head quite bulged out at the top with brains.

“How do you feel?” she asked.

“I feel wise indeed,” he said earnestly. “When I get used to my brains I shall know everything.”

“Why are those pins and needles sticking out of your head?” asked the Tin Woodman.

“That is proof that he is sharp,” remarked the Lion.

There are 40 odd books in the “canon” of Oz, the first thirteen written by L. Frank Baum and then the majority of the remaining books by Ruth Plumly Thompson. If you’ve never read the Oz books, give a few of them a shot. They’re not just kids books — attested by my brother — although they started out that way. Baum himself received fan letters from all ages.

If you’re interested, an excellent website that was mentioned on the panels can be found at The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  It’s got copies of the original book covers, history, trivia, all kinds of neat stuff.


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