Classics of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: L(yman) Frank Baum (1856-1919)
Genre: Fantasy--high fantasy
Type of Work: Novel
Time of Plot: About 1900
Location: Kansas and the Land of Oz
First Published: 1900
The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is known to countless millions worldwide because of the motion picture version of the story, The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland. Although Garland was considerably older than the Dorothy in the book and her adventures are dismissed as a dream, the film is otherwise reasonably faithful to L. Frank Baum's novel.
A cyclone carries Dorothy and her dog Toto from bleak Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz, then drops their house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins, who regard Dorothy as a witch herself, are so grateful to her for killing the witch who tormented and enslaved them that they offer Dorothy all the help they can. They advise her to put on the dead witch's silver slippers, which have magical properties. Dorothy's chief motivation throughout the story is to get back to her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in Kansas. She is told to follow a road of yellow brick that will take her to the Emerald City, home of the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard, Dorothy is told, should know how to get her home.
Along the road of yellow brick, Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Each asks to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City. The Scarecrow wants to ask the Wizard for a brain, the Tin Woodman wants to ask for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants to ask for courage. After some misadventures, they reach the Emerald City. The Wizard tells Dorothy that he will use his magic powers to send her back to Kansas only if she kills the Wicked Witch of the West, and he informs her three companions that he will grant their requests only if they help Dorothy fulfill her mission.
The Wicked Witch of the West sends wolves, wild crows, and finally winged monkeys to attack the adventurers. Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion are captured, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman are left for dead. At the Wicked Witch's castle, Dorothy is made a household slave. The witch steals one of Dorothy's silver slippers, but when she tries to pull the other slipper off the little girl's foot, Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her. The Wicked Witch of the West is vulnerable only to water. She melts, and Dorothy retrieves her silver slipper, still unaware of how to use the magic powers of the slippers.
When the adventurers return to the Emerald City, they discover that the Wizard is a fraud, possessing no magic powers at all. The fake Wizard manages to satisfy the requests of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion by assuring them that they already possess and have actually displayed the attributes they believed they were lacking. The Wizard, however, is unable to satisfy Dorothy's wish to return to Kansas, although he himself is wafted away in a hot-air balloon.
Dorothy is advised to visit Glinda, the Witch of the South, who is good and kind. Accompanied by her three friends, Dorothy makes her way through new perils to the Country of the Quadlings and the Castle of Glinda. The beautiful Glinda tells her that the silver slippers have the power to transport their wearer to anyplace in the world. Dorothy kisses her three friends good-bye and asks the slippers to carry her back to Kansas. She is carried off in a whirlwind and finds herself in front of the new home that Uncle Henry built to replace the old one. Dorothy has lost the silver slippers in her flight, but she is overjoyed to be home again.
Baum was obviously indebted to the eccentric English genius Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871). In Victorian times it was generally believed that books for children should lean heavily on moral instruction. The authors of juvenile literature often intruded into their own stories to point out the moral lessons the stories supposedly illustrated. Carroll believed that children were given too much moral indoctrination and were not allowed to be children. His books about Alice parodied sententious, sanctimonious adults, and he proclaimed that good books should be full of pictures and should be fun to read.
Baum offered a further innovation by combining the traditional elements of fairy tales, such as witches and wizards, with familiar things such as scarecrows and cornfields. He is credited with teaching children to find magic in the ordinary things surrounding them in their daily lives. Although Baum may not have offered much in the way of moral instruction in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or its sequels, he accomplished something more important: He taught millions of children to love reading during their crucial formative years.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was such a phenomenal success that Baum was called upon to produce numerous sequels. After his death in 1919, his publishers commissioned Ruth Plumly Thompson to continue writing sequels. Baum's original Oz book, his thirteen sequels, and the twenty-one sequels written by Thompson comprise the history of an enchanted land that children continue to discover with the feeling that they have gained possession of something as marvelous as Aladdin's lamp.
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