The 1939 film is one of my favorites! Maybe it is for this reason that I had higher hopes for the book. I would recommend it to anyone like myself who enjoys reading those books that are considered to be ‘classics,’ but the movie really is much better.
However, the story line and characters in L. Frank Baum’s book are original. Keeping with the tradition of giving moral lessons, this fairy tale has many great things to teach.
These are my observations:
Dorothy wanted to be somewhere else (home) so badly she was completely oblivious to the wonderful experiences she was having.
The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodsman revealed that it is important to have both brains and a heart.
“All the same, ” said the Scarecrow, “I shall ask for brains instead of a heart; for a fool would not know what to do with a heart if he had one.”
“I shall take the heart,” returned the Tin Woodsman; “for brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”
The Cowardly Lion teaches the importance of self-confidence.
The Wizard of Oz is viewed as a god-like figure who is both terrifying and good. He does a few magic tricks and the people are obliged to bow down to him. We often hold people in such high esteem that they become gods. The Wizard is the proof that everyone, even those we put on a pedal stool, are human and make mistakes. Once you get to know them they really aren’t so different from anyone else, perhaps just more manipulative?
The movie, however, represented the Wicked Witch of the West as a much more terrifying character than in the book. The winged monkeys are also much different. They are controlled by a magic gold cap which enables the owner to make three requests (wishes) of which the monkeys must obey. Dorothy and Glinda, the good witch of the South, also used the winged monkeys for their purposes after the Wicked Witch is killed.
Comparing the book and the movie, I don’t think there are too many differences that drastically change the story. I honestly preferred the movie much more than the book. The one adventure in the book that adds an important lesson that was not included in the movie is the passage through the china country. Dorothy and her gang cross through a country entirely made of porcelain. People, animals, buildings, etc. Everything is fragile and subject to breaking very easily. The lesson learned here is that although you may complain about your life (having no brains, or heart, or courage, etc), there is always someone less well off. It is important to be thankful for what you do have and not what you think you don’t. (This can actually get more philosophically confusing since the Scarecrow thought he did not have brains, but he actually did.)
“And I am thankful I am made of straw and cannot be easily damaged. There are worse things in the world than being a Scarecrow.”
What confuses me the most about this story is that L. Frank Baum wanted this to be a modern (in 1900) fairy tale that did not include heartbreak and horror like many fairy tales do. However the chopping of limbs and death was a popular occurrence in the book.
- The Tin Woodsman did have his heart broken and was once a man of flesh but was chopped to pieces and rebuilt of tin.
- The Woodsman’s axe was continually used to behead potential attackers.
- Animals are thrown to their death and are “dashed to pieces” when they fall on sharp rocks.
I don’t see how this story has any less “horror” than some other popular fairy tales. Especially when these events happen over and over again on each adventure.
Brief Side Note: In the book Dorothy has silver slippers. Her slippers were ruby red in the movie due to the bright color contrast.