Most of us are familiar with the realm of Oz through our childhood association with the 1939 classic film, The Wizard of Oz. Many no doubt also know that the film was based upon an original novel of the same name. What may not be known, however, is that this book, The Wizard of Oz, also published under the title The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was actually the first book in a series written by Frank L. Baum. Initially conceived as bedtime stories for his children, Frank. L. Baum wrote the stories down and got them published to great acclaim. This first book appeared in print in 1900 and remains in print in over 47 languages around the world today.
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Baum looked to Alice in Wonderland's popularity, deducing it was the character of Alice that gave it its lasting appeal, and used this idea to create Dorothy Gale, the child protagonist. Wishing it to be more of a fairy tale, he considered Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, and integrated their flights of fancy to more modern tastes , or as he put it, "without the horror". This is not to say he sugar coated his stories. There are moments of tenseness, and even fear, but is a child's Halloween type fear. The witch is bad, very bad, and she is mean, but we just know Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and Toto will get through it.
Yes, this book's plot is well known. But don't let that put you off. It is richer and more detailed than the screen adaptation could allow, and different in places too. One such example is a minor one; Dorothy wore silver slippers, not ruby. MGM changed the slippers to ruby because of the limits in getting a good shot in Technicolor.The basic story is the same however. Seven year old Dorothy Gale lives on a farm in Kansas with her aunt and uncle, and gets swept away by a tornado to the land of Oz. There she has many adventures, meeting fantastical beings along the way from a town of china people, animals and houses, a living scarecrow, a rusted immobile tin woodsman, a cowardly lion, Winkies, Munchkins, flying monkeys, and a rich assortment of other characters. Accompanied by her little dog Toto, the now well oiled Tin Woodsman, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, Dorothy goes on a quest to obtain their hearts' desires. She to get back home, the Woodsman to get a heart, the Scarecrow to get brains, and the Lion to find courage.
Like most fairy tales, this work of fantasy has a strong element of morality about it. Dorothy learns a valuable lesson about family and caring, the lion about what courage is, and so on. The lessons are not overt, but taught parable style through the various incidents in the book. One of the criticisms adult readers have often had about this book is that the writing is simple. Being aimed at the average reading level of a seven year old, this is not surprising. The words are easy to read, the typeface typically larger than in adult books, and the chapters short. Illustrations feature throughout the book frequently as well, making this an excellent choice for boys and girls to sample good literature in a beginning chapters type book and an ideal read a chapter before bedtime type read. Children aged 6-12 who enjoy fantasy will find this a treat, and no doubt will wish to continue their reading adventures in Oz. Luckily the books are all in print still, thanks to the enduring popularity of the series. This title is easy to find, being the bast known thanks to the film, but the other titles less so. Sadly, though easily available, it is not usually on prominent display in most high street shops, who may have a only a basic and less well thought cut print edition in the adults classics section. Looking online and in bargain bookstores and other places, you will often find a good reprint however that is designed for the children the book is aimed at.
Our own copy came from Aldi as part of the classic children's books offers. Amazon also have several different editions, so have a good look around and choose one that appeals. I myself prefer the "pure" reprints, that have not been partially rewritten and abridged as is often the case, as the title is now in the public domain. There is no need for rewrites, as despite being written in 1900, there is nothing objectionable in the story at all or incomprehensible to a modern child. My own children adore it, and I am sure yours will too.