And a few of the reasons I wish I’d spent my time reading something else
Book Review 6: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Series: Technically a standalone; there are other Oz books, but mostly written by another author (Does that make them fanfiction?)
(Correction: apparently I was misinformed and Baum did write some of the others. Sorry!)
Genre: Children’s Fantasy/Classics
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Essentially none. No foul language or graphic violence. Some characters are referred to as good or bad witches; Dorothy drops a house on one and accidentally kills another (both were the bad kind, in case that makes a difference to you)
BookmarkedOne Rating: 5/10
I have never liked The Wizard of Oz. Never.
I guess it started with my general pigheadedness. The book and movie are cult classics (is that the proper term? I don’t know anymore.). And I’d heard as a little girl they were weird and full of witches and flying monkeys that scared my mother when she watched the movie it as a girl. So I said no, thank you. No Oz for me.
Then comes the point that often comes with me, the moment when as a writer I realize something is so popular I actually should read it so I don’t feel I’m being categorized as “uncultured swine.” And because I want to know why it has so much popularity. What’s so good about it that everyone stands in awe?
As far as The Wizard of Oz, I’m still wondering.
I still didn’t want to see the movie.
So I did what all true nerds do.
I read the book instead, certain it would be better.
It is…slightly better. I won’t argue if someone wants to debate me on it. Because honestly, I found very little to love in either.
So here, in what I must apologize for being more rant than strict book review, are the top 5 reasons I didn’t like The Wizard of Oz.
- A word from L. Frank Baum. There’s a quote from L. Frank Baum, tucked in the introduction of the edition I read. Maybe you know it. He said (strongly paraphrasing here), that as a child he tired of moralistic tales designed to frighten children into being good. I won’t argue that lots of my favorite Grimm’s do fall into that category. But I will probably fight to my dying breath the idea that you can build a story utterly without a moral. Intentionally or unintentionally! Even as a tweenage girl reading the book for the first time, I was put out. If you don’t have morals, some reason, some rule for why you should do one thing and not another, what is the point? Do you roll dice to figure it out? I don’t ask for stories to shove a moral down my throat. I resent those as much as anyone else. But stories without a moral, even implied? Are you sane? Needless to say, my tweenage eyes were somewhat jaded as I read the book from page one.
- The characters are very flat. And I know that’s common in fairytales, but usually there’s something else to redeem the story. Dorothy is static, and there’s not a whole lot of character to relate to in her. She doesn’t easily frighten or laugh. Now, seriously, if at seven years old, I’d been dropped into the middle of the yellow brick road in a pair of silver shoes with a bunch of cheerful Munchkins with funny manners, I’d be enjoying myself. And if attacked by wild beasts, I doubt I’d handle things quite so calmly. It feels more like it’s being written by an adult than lived by a child. Like in the Victorian fairytales, sometimes you could almost feel the writers smiling benevolently and winking at other parents as they read the stories to their children. No. No, thank you.
- The plot is very simple. Get on the path, stay on the path, your hero’s journey will not fail. This is a minor grumble, but still.
- We’re in Oz, and everything is described as if it’s perfectly ordinary. I want to smell the flowers! I want to get off the clearly marked path and see what is there! At least in Wonderland, Carroll let Alice get lost for a little while so she could wonder at all the strange things. But Dorothy only seems to see them as obstacles.
- It’s more thickly spread allegory than anything else. Moralistic or not, the “China people” and “cowardly lion” and “humbug wizard” seem more like arrows pointing at the morals Baum was avoiding more than anything else. Don’t be too careful or pretentious of your beauty, you’ll grow brittle and break. Don’t be a tyrant, someone will be stronger than you later. Don’t be a humbug…even though it’s clearly glorious fun and you can get people to build a city in your honor and treat you like Miguel and Tulio from The Road to El Dorado because someone will discover you eventually and you won’t be a clever enough liar to sneak your way out of it without help. Personally, I’d rather have pure invention. We aren’t told why Snarks exist in Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem. But I’m awfully glad they do! Their mysterious, unexplained nature is one of the reasons I’m fully prepared to join the Bellman and the Baker in hunting for one if ever they call at my door.
I did eventually see the movie some years down the road. I intentionally avoided it for ages, just so I could shock people who had. Unfortunately, I sort of got tricked into it. I had to take a literature class in my freshman college year, and guess what? One of the books on the list was The Wizard of Oz. And in class, the teacher decided to have us all watch it.
Thanks, college education.
To be fair, it was a pretty good class. I just wasn’t eager to have it spoil my fun.
And I may be especially ruthless in reviewing this book because of a difference in perspective with Baum. I can’t remember any objectionable language or any of the other content that creeps into perfectly good kid’s books today.
But long story short, I’d much rather read something with relatable characters and excitement than spending the afternoon with a little girl from Kansas who is as staunch and serious as a forty-year-old woman. Like Peter Pan or The Hunting of the Snark or The Fog Diver or Story Thieves.
Classics aren’t always deserving of their immortal status.
You wouldn’t believe how many little-known books are.
Sorry for the ranting review! I’ll try to pick a book I like next time so we’ll all feel refreshed. Thanks for reading, and if you love The Wizard of Oz…please don’t hate me.