Friday, January 31, 2014

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

Almost everyone I know is familiar with the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland, while far fewer are the people who’ve also read the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I read Ozma of Oz in 2003, thus familiarizing myself in the weird and wonderful ways that Oz exists. Ozma is book three in a series that began with Wonderful Wizard and continued on for thirteen more books. They are in the public domain and are frequently republished as classics and revisited as seen in the SyFy miniseries Tin Man or the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire. I will provide a summary of the book for those who are unfamiliar with it. You can skip to the next paragraph if you’ve heard this before: there is a little girl, named Dorothy, who lives with her Aunt and Uncle in a very grey and flat part of Kansas, a state in the United States. A terrible twister comes upon their farm and before Dorothy can get into the storm cellar, she is knocked to the floor of her house and carried away, with the entire house, by the Twister. After a long time traveling in the quiet eye of the storm the house lands, and upon stepping outside in a bright and strange world she is heralded a heroine. Apparently her house landed on a wicked witch who had been terrorizing the inhabitants of Munchkinland. After taking the silver slippers from the witches feet and asking how she can get back to Kansas, she is directed to the Emerald City in which The Wonderful Wizard of Oz resides. If the Wizard cannot help her, no one can. Along the way she comes across a man made out of tin, a talking scarecrow and a lion who is the most cowardly beast in the forest. Together they make it to the Emerald City where nothing is exactly as it seems and they are sent on another quest, to kill the last wicked witch of Oz. That isn’t even the end of the story — and it’s not a very long book! The book and this particular audiobook, narrated by Anne Hathaway in Audible.com’s a-list series, where well-known actors and actresses read their favorite novels, really seems intended for children. Frank L. Baum reputedly wrote these books as modern fairy tales when he began in 1901. Anne Hathaway reportedly thought of her nieces when she recorded the audiobook. I wish I had gotten to these books a little earlier in my life. Anne Hathaway does a wonderful job bringing all the characters and creatures along Dorothy’s journey to life. Her accents and flamboyance are colorful and right in line with the overall tenor of the book: variety is the spice. Particularly memorable are her raspy scarecrow and valley-girl flamingo. Unfortunately this audio version is only available from Audible as a download — no possibility to borrow from the library. Considering how easy it is to get your hands on these books — here, links to the series on Gutenberg — I’m going to read the rest soon. Unlike other old children’s books, I find they hold up really well. A recent question about holding onto our childhood favorites for the wrong reasons, engraining in the young stories where girls are often passive, made me rethink my determination to read more of the older ‘classical’ books I’ve heard lauded for years. Here’s the quote: 
Female characters in books that are for "everyone" are often marginalized, stereotyped or one-dimensional. Especially in traditional favorites that are commonly highlighted in schools and libraries. For example, Peter Pan's Wendy is a stick-in-the-mud mother figure and Tiger Lily is a jealous exotic. Or, take Kanga, from Winnie the Pooh. There is nothing wrong with these books per se; they are wonderful stories, and they reflect a reality of their times, but continuing to give them preference -- out of habit, tradition, nostalgia -- in light of newer, more relevant and equitable stories is really not doing anyone any favors.
Here’s the source: What Does it Mean that Most Children's Books Are Still About White Boys? I see The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a break from that generalization. It may not compare to Winnie the Pooh, but it certainly is a classic worth revisiting.

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