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Tag Archives: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Where are the fathers in fiction?

Anna Perera; Guantanamo Boy

Anna Perera; Guantanamo Boy

The Sunday just gone was Fathers’ Day. Prompted by this, a friend of mine tweeted a question that I thought I’d be able to answer:

I had a half-hearted stab at naming a couple of father figures who seemed like generally good eggs – Dumbledore, obviously, and The Fat Controller from Rev. Awdrey’s Thomas series. In desperation I added the father from Piggybook, who starts out not very pleasant but grows into a good father. Other friends mentioned Arthur Weasley – Ron’s dad in the Harry Potter series, Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie and  Gilbert Blythe from the later Anne of Green Gables books (from Anne’s House of Dreams onwards).

Contrast this with the number of (kid)literary orphans one can name without taking more than a second to think about it: Harry Potter; Oliver Twist; Giant Peach inhabitant James; Mary Lennox; Heidi; Anne of Green Gables; Dorothy (of Oz), Mowgli; Pauline, Petrova and Posie of Ballet Shoes; Katniss Everdeen; the Sager children of Children on the Oregon Trail or the Chant siblings of Diana Wynne Jones Charmed Life, to name but a few. Read the rest of this entry

[Review] Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz-The-Great-And-Powerful-New-Years-Movie-TrailersThere have been countless attempts to adapt or supplement the stories of L. Frank Baum and is magical land of Oz. What is canon and what is not is the subject of contentious debate, with only fourteen of the original forty novels written by Baum, and various sequels, prequels, companions and re-imaginings considered both canon and apocrypha depending on who you ask.

Oz the Great and Powerful is billed as a prequel to the series that begins with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1901) . More honestly it is an origin story of the type generally found in the pages of D.C. or Marvel. But the Wizard  – designated in this film Oscar Diggs and played by James Franco – is not a comic book hero. He is a man, and a deeply flawed  one at that. Lacking in any abilties other than those of  a carnival conjourer (and not a very good one at that), the wizard is, in his own words ‘just a common man’; a  con man and charlatan who is carried away in his balloon and ends up in Oz quite by accident.

Canonically, when he arrives in Oz the Emeral City does not exist:

“…I found myself in the midst of a strange people, who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought I was a great Wizard. Of course I let them think so, because they were afraid of me, and promised to do anything I wished them to.

“Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this city, and my Palace; and they did it willingly and well.

In this revision, directed by Sam Raimi and written by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire, the Emerald City is already the centre of Oz (though it is the Emerald City of the 1939 MGM film, not the books) and is the home to witches Theodora and Evanora, played by Mila Kunis and Rachael Weisz respectively. So far, so not-very-Baum.

Let’s briefly run through the plot.

When Diggs arrives in Oz he meets Theodora, who is remarkably pleased to see him. Diggs’ arrival in Oz has, it turns out, been prophesied. A great wizard, it is said, will arrive to  overthrow the evil witch that killed the king. Obviously that is Diggs, for whomelse would fall out of the sky?

Theodora and Diggs travel to the Emerald City, adding to their number a winged monkey named Finlay (Zach Braff) who is saved from a (perfectly reasonably) cowardly lion en route. Inevitably, Theodora falls in love with Diggs.
Read the rest of this entry

Exploring the Classics: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

page1-771px-Baum_-_The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz.djvu

1900 cover of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank  Baum’s first published work for children, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz contains, in its introduction, the supposition that fairy tales were written to impart ‘fearsome’ morals to children and argues that since children are now, generally, being formally educated they no longer require their literature to be edifying. Because of this, says Baum,

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written solely to please the children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.

The suggestion that children do not require didacticism in every text they encounter (which they don’t) and that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz doesn’t contain any (which it does) may provide exoneration under the charge that the novel imparts a confused set of messages which I’ll return to later. Baum has certainly produced in his first book a ‘modernized fairytale’ which, while sharing topoi with the stories of Grimm et al., feels fresher and simpler in the reading. Baum is no great writer – his prose is clumsy and artless – but his plot is expedient and thoroughly enjoyable, and for this the novel deserves its place in the American literary landscape.

Scarecrow gives the Tin Woodman a hand in Denlow's original illustration

Scarecrow gives the Tin Woodman a hand in WW Denslow’s original illustration

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is the subject of a famous bit of dodgy scholarship dating to 1964. Written by a man with patchy economic and historical knowledge named Littlefield, the work claims that WWoO (as it is much more fun to refer to the book) is a ‘subtle parable’ concerning American fin-de-ciecle monetary policy. To readers unfamiliar with the minutae of 1890s midwestern political debate, which, let’s be honest, is pretty much all of us, the allegory can be broken down into a series of lazy symbols which I will try my very best to outline concisely: Read the rest of this entry

Free books!

The Internet Archive has great swathes of kid lit available, much of it irresistably vintage. Be you curious (like me) or just cheap (like me), head over there for a 1st edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or a charming 1787 translation of Aesop’s fables (‘more literal than any yet extant, designed for the readier instruction of beginners in the Latin tounge’). If they’re not to your taste, there are   2,796 other titles available.

Most of the books are available in the following formats:

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