Sunday, February 24, 2013

Reading the Wizard

OK, now my life is getting a little surreal.


A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a colleague at the bank where I work 20 hours a week when the discussion drifted, as it sometimes does, to our reading preferences. Somewhere in all of this she mentioned that as a child one of her alltime favorite books (and still is to this day, I presume) was L. Frank Baum's classic American fairy tale "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."

"Ah, yes, of course," I replied, trying to be serious while mentally snickering at her. The Wizard of Oz. No wonder. The original chick book. Chick heroine. Four chick witches. Everywhere a chick chick. The male figures, meanwhile, are heartless (Tin Woodman), cowardly (The Lion), foolish (The Scarecrow) and humbugs (The Wizard himself). The chicks are in control.

I mean, geez, I'd seen the movie about a bazillion times (The flying monkeys really disturbed me). Fat chance I'd ever read the book, or ever feel compelled to do so.

Then surreality took over. Kim and I went to the library the other day and started looking for the Wonderful Wizard. We went to the fiction section and looked under "B" for Baum, but it wasn't there. Kim then wisely went to the library computer and discovered that the book is actually shelved in the Juvenile department.


I quickly turned myself invisible, Oz-like, and went to the kids' room, where I found the book, took it to the desk and had it time stamped. I'm 62 years old and I'm checking books out from the Juvenile section.

But I took the book home and promptly read it all nonstop. Just as I was with "To Kill a Mockingbird," I was dutifully amazed. Sure, the book is geared to a children's audience, but there's adult value to be found, too. Read this bit by the Tin Woodman, who was once flesh and blood, and in love, but became a man of tin through misdeeds contrived by the malevolent Wicked Witch of the East:

"... I had time to think that the greatest loss I had known was the loss of my heart. While I was in love I was the happiest man on earth; but no one can love who has not a heart, and so I am resolved to ask Oz to give me one. If he does, I will go back to my Munchkin maiden and marry her."

That's pretty heady stuff, I think, for a child's bedtime story. Or maybe not. The whole time I was reading this book I tried to keep in mind that it was copyrighted in 1899 and what were American society's sensibilities back then? Not too different than now, I suspect.

I was a little surprised, too, that the 1939 movie with Judy Garland was relatively faithful to the book, although there were some obvious differences (44 differences by a Wikipedia count): Dorothy's slippers are silver in the book, not ruby; the flying monkeys, under a three-wish obligation to the owner of the Golden Cap, eventually help Dorothy; and entire adventures with people made of china (not Chinese) and the armless Hammer-Heads do not make the film.

But like Atticus Finch could only be acted by Gregory Peck, Dorothy can only be portrayed by Judy Garland. That, too, is part of our American DNA.

Baum was able to turn the success of Oz into a franchise of 14 full-length books. The one I read, incidentally, was beautifully illustrated by William Wallace Denslow, who apparently illustrated many children's books at the turn into the last century.

I'm glad I was able to check this off my reading bucket list. Now I can get to the more advanced stuff — I also checked out Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

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