There are few households that haven’t heard of the Wizard of OZ, and the franchise has gone in a multitude of directions, most recently the major Hollywood film: Oz the great and powerful. There has also been the highly successful spin off book series, Wicked by Gregory Maguire which has also been reworked into the highly acclaimed west-end musical. We’ve had two films, The Wizard of Oz and Return to Oz and the mini series aired on the Syfy channel Tin Man. All of these have bred a treasure trove of topes and imagery that can all be traced back to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Each of these have contributed to the large Ozian cannon that we have been exposed to, but in truth, they are but the tip of an iceberg of Ozian literature that can be found right across our entertainment spheres. It was this that first inspired me to go back to the source and question how has one story, transmigrated into so many different forms? What is it about the novel that gives us the need, or rather the inspiration to transform it into something new?
Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is a novel that is at its best interesting and at its worst, dull. The story is reasonable at first glance; a simple quest from a lost girl to get home. But read between the lines of Baum’s overly simplistic prose and you find a wealth of story and imagination that seems to have never got onto the page. The truth is, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is ultimately about friendship and supporting each other in gaining their goals,(something modern man seems to have forgot, it seems.) but the problem with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is that Baum has made his prose so simplistic it borders on the imbecilic. The jewels of imagination and creativity are given a complete whitewash of mundane and aside from the pretty and rather colourful descriptions, we are left with a lot of good ideas that require effort to be seen. The story itself is very linear, and is utterly told. There is nothing for the reader to work at, nothing to grasp, no sense of wonder, all a mere plod in the park, and a slow one at that. It is almost inconceivable that the story has become the sensational hit that it is. But then, the story itself is not at fault, merely the rendering. One thing that is abundantly clear is that the subsequent film versions stuck relatively close to the concepts offered by the novel. It would seem that despite Baum’s absolute atrocious writing style, the novel still manages to encapsulate a sense of worth, accorded, one could say, by the depth of his creativity.
The Wizard of Oz, strangely has become a success, not because of the novel, but rather because in 1939, that novel was turned into a film. Of course it can be argued that without the book, the film would not exist, but when many of the recognisable tropes of the cannon are derived directly from the 1939 film; for instance, Dorothy’s mystical Ruby slippers are a central trope of the cannon, and yet, in the novel they were silver. The concept of “over the rainbow” comes entirely from Gloria Gaynor’s song, which in later years has given rise to the colloquial phrase, “Are you a friend of Dorothy?” a subtle way for the LGB&T community to ask “are you gay” when persecution was rife amongst society. Perhaps it is also the origin of the rainbow LGB&T flag that controversially seems to hound the lives of religious heterosexuals? Indeed, it is not hard to see that The Wizard of Oz is successful not because of the book, but rather, the film and that is but merely, scraping the tip of a very large, very flamboyant, pink iceberg.
Essentially, reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been a deflating and sad experience, one that I do not wish to repeat ever, but it is also heartening to find, at least, one novel that wasn’t destroyed by the ravenous gaze of the film industry.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Wicked can be purchased from Waterstones by clicking below.
To see where Wicked the Musical is currently showing, click the image below.