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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum

It has taken me some time to get around to reading this book – close to 40 years, if I remember that far back clearly (which mostly I do). I remember seeing the great film classic version when I was young, many times; to be honest, it didn’t really grip me, although the switch into Technicolor was just as much of a wow for me as it must have been to those early audiences, and “Over the Rainbow” was also a key moment. But the Munchkins, flying monkeys, wicked witches didn’t insert themselves into my dreams as much as they did to most Americans. I tried to read it a few years later, when at boarding school – one of the benefits of an old library – but I found the turn of century American voice of the author much harder to deal with than the equivalent Victorians who I had come to enjoy.

What moved me to restart reading after so long was a growing appreciation that it really was a classic; and Baum wrote so many sequels, there must have been something to it; and watching a wicked witch/flying monkeys gag on Two and a Half Men, which was my trigger.

The plot is remarkably close to that of the film; common now in an era of slavish adaptations, where the most successful movie adaptations are those closest to the book, but exceedingly rare before Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter. There was the slight conceit of having the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow played by Dorothy’s friends from Kansas, which wasn’t taken from the book. Then a lot of repeated, very similar events where each of the companions does basically the same thing in different parts of Oz.

My overall take on the book is very good; it’s a fun children’s story written some time ago, with some very vivid characters. But every moment I expect some sort of missionary to leap out from behind a rock; that comes partly from the chapbook moralising on loan from Pilgrim’s Progress, but I also catch a whiff of the Kellogg about Baum. That’s not a problem to enjoying the story, just something that I can appreciate now that I know a little more about the background of that era.

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