B is for (Scary) Frank L. Baum

I feel positively un-American writing this but I don't really care for The Wizard of Oz.

I am NOT arguing that the book is bad or that the movie isn't a classic (it is). I'm talking about "taste" here, not literary judgment.

For this post, I reread The Wizard of Oz (last time, I was much younger) and . . . I still don't care for it. I was able to appreciate its cleverness, its tight prose, its constant action, its internal logic. I was also able to appreciate why Baum, preceding C.S. Lewis and Tolkien's admittance to American culture by several decades, would be heralded as the creator of the first fully realized fantasy world (Lewis and Tolkien were preceded by many but the arrival of their books on American soil jump-started the fantasy/sci-fi-for-adults resurgence that still influences readers today).

I can even see myself taking a few more Oz books out of the library. But I won't be starting a collection--or buying them for youngsters.

I'm not so much scared of the flying monkeys.

It's the creepy things that Dorothy and her companions encounter beforehand. Shoot, it's the ultra-creepy Tin Man's story (not included in the movie, I believe) about how he became a Tin Man because he kept chopping off parts of his body--that's what sends an unpleasant shiver up my spine.

Not to forget, animals in the book are constantly being throttled, decapitated, and mashed up--the massacres would remind me of Grimm (real Grimm) stories except the violence in Grimm has some kind of horror movie logic behind it and Grimm tales were told to adults as much as to children (they were the original slasher films). But Baum was writing to kids and he's so . . . cheerful about all this destruction!

To clarify, again, I am speaking entirely personally. I don't propose banning The Wizard of Oz. The truth is, a lot of kids love decapitations. And poop jokes. And poop jokes WITH decapitations.

I was just never one of them.


Having said all the above, The Wizard of Oz movie is a GREAT introduction to the classic image/concept of the witch. Margaret Hamilton takes the part by storm (ha ha) and more than deserves the accolades poured on her since. In fact, the casting choices collectively were inspired (see above).

3 comments:

  1. Welcome to the club.

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  2. The plot of the book is essentially about a conman sending a seven year old girl to commit a political assassination. No really, the Wizard sends Dorothy to kill the Wicked Witch in return for taking her home. Now, I'm sure that the Wicked Witch, as we Texans say, "needed killing" but you don't send to a little girl to do your dirty work!

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  3. Which explains the success of Maguire's Wicked! By the time I got to the Wicked Witch of the West part of The Wizard of Oz, I was rooting for the Witch through sheer irritation. It's not like anyone ever gives Dorothy a good reason to dispose of her!

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