A long time ago, The Wizard of Oz existed only on paper. That time ago was short-lived, because L. Frank Baum quickly got it on stage, silent film, and other media, but the point is that Victor Fleming's movie wasn't the starting point of this ideal children's fantasy and fairy tale. As great as the movie is, it also doesn't do justice to Baum's brilliant work.
None of the characters are goofy, they don't sing, and as horrifying as the movie's flying monkeys are, they're nothing to the terrors of the book. Yet these nightmare visions aren't all that scary for most kids, since they're simply youthful fears made tangible and then brought into the light where they promptly become less scary.
Which isn't to say that The Wizard of Oz isn't dark or frightening. It is, but it's also hilarious, exciting, tender, and nuts-o, the perfect book for kids whose imaginations are just blossoming (or for adults, whose imaginations need reviving). Oz isn't just another mythic land with weird creatures and wicked villains—it's dreams come to life.
Fortunately, we have a very nice man for a guide. Baum doesn't let the bad guys get away with stuff, and even if he has to throw in a deus ex machina every now and then he's willing to do it to keep anything too chilling from taking place. Like the part where Dorothy and her pals are chased by Kalidahs (part bear, part tiger creatures) and the Tin Man deftly disposes of them.
The Tin Man is a pretty awesome dude, it turns out. In the movie he's kind of a wimp, but in the book he wields his axe like a pro, protects his friends from killer bees, and is generally the kind of guy you want around if you're tracking down a Wicked Witch with no scruples whatsoever.
You see, Oz is a crazy place because Baum realized that, having invented it, he could make it do or be anything he wanted, and the man had an over-active imagination to say the least. If you like everything just so, don't go there. But if you like to be taken unaware, surprised at every turn, and to have as much fun as possible, get yourself to Oz as soon as possible.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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