You’ve seen the movie, now read the book
April 22, 2004
Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.
So begins the story of the “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” not the version that aired once a year on television, but the version that came out in paperback in 1900.
If all you have seen is the movie, the organizers of Steamboat Reads think you will be amazed to learn that Oz has a history, 14 books long, with characters and kingdoms you will never meet on screen.
Rebecca Potter, Colorado Mountain College assistant professor of English and communications, recently read for the first time the first book in the Oz series.
She vividly remembers looking forward to the annual TV screening of “The Wizard of Oz.” She sat in her living room without guilt, knowing that every other child in the neighborhood was indoors watching the same red ruby slippers and yellow brick road.
“I thought I would be let down by the book,” Potter said. “But it was a discovery. The book is so rich in a way a movie just can’t be. It takes you to entirely different kingdoms that aren’t in the movie. It offers a look into Baum’s imagination.”
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“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was the first in a series of 14 books that chronicled the history and happenings of a place called Oz. In the book, Oz was a real place instead of the movie-version dream of Dorothy’s, Potter said.
“Reading it as an adult offers the story in a way you may not have appreciated when you were a child,” Potter said. “You will understand the lessons that Baum is trying to teach us.”
The scarecrow, you will realize, does have a brain because he’s thinking about it all the time. The tinman does have a heart, which you know because he cries all the time.
“You may not have realized those things as a child. It’s kind of fun to think back,” she said.
As a child, you may not have realized how controversial “The Wizard of Oz” had become in the adult world, either. The Oz series has been banned several times for religious and political reasons. Censors have cited witchcraft or criticized Baum’s simple style of writing. Many libraries removed the Oz books for being too “radical” during the 1950s when Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee saw communism as a subtext for the books.
Whether Baum intended any subtext at all has been the subtext of graduate theses for decades, but nothing is confirmed.
Baum was born in New York to wealthy parents, Potter said. He had a vivid imagination, and his parents had the money to let him pursue all his interests.
At points, he ran a dry goods store, worked as an actor, an editor and raised chickens.
He became a children’s writer upon the suggestion of his mother-in-law, who overheard him telling stories to his children. She told him to write those stories down.