Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1) by L. Frank Baum, narrated by Anne Hathaway

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'd thought I'd aged out of the Oz books, having never read them when I was younger. But who could I resist a version read aloud by Anne Hathaway? Certainly not me.

The story is much the same as the Judy Garland movie: a girl is carried off in her Kansas farmhouse by a cyclone, and is dropped into the magical land of Oz. Her house crushes the Wicked Witch of the East, who's enslaved the Munchkins. Dorothy inherits the woman's silver shoes, and is sent off by the Good Witch of the North to the City of Emeralds, where the great wizard Oz resides. Along the way, she meets a scarecrow, a tin woodman, and a cowardly lion. Oz refuses their requests (sending Dorothy home, a brain for the scarecrow, a heart for the tin man, and courage for the lion) unless they can kill the Wicked Witch of the West. They set off to try, and the witch is stymied in trying to stop them coming for her until she sends the winged monkeys under her command after them. She enslaves Dorothy, who's protected from harm by the Witch of the North's kiss, and refuses to feed the lion until he'll let himself be harnessed like a donkey. But Dorothy sneaks him food. She works for the witch until the witch steals, through trickery, one of the charmed silver shoes. Then, in a rage, she throws water on her, and the witch melts.

But, upon returning to Oz, they learn he's no wizard, and has everyone convinced he is through trickery. He gives the scarecrow, tin man, and lion things that make them think he gave them what they wanted, though all he really gives them is belief in themselves. He hatches a plan to return Dorothy to Kansas in a hot-air balloon, but the balloon leaves without her, because her beloved little dog is barking at a kitten. She and her friends journey to the Good Witch of the South, Glinda, who explains how the silver shoes work, and Dorothy goes home.

The story in the movie is much condensed, and the Wicked Witch of the West plays a greater role in stopping Dorothy from getting to the Emerald City. In this, she doesn't even know they exist until they step onto her lands. The journey to the Emerald City takes longer, and gives the side characters more chances to show that they already have the traits they so wish for.

One major hole in the movie version is that the scarecrow rules over the City of Emeralds after Oz leaves, and each of the other side characters gain their own leadership positions. The lion becomes King of the Beasts by slaying a giant spider, and the tin woodsman goes to lead over the country formerly enslaved by the Wicked Witch of the West. There's a back story for the winged monkeys, who can only be summoned three times by an enchanted cap and are relieved to serve Dorothy, who isn't evil. The world is better fleshed out in the book, with a lot more of the countryside described and populated. And Dorothy, herself, is much younger than in the movie. After reading the book, it becomes much clearer how there were so many sequels.

I hadn't realized before how much
  The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

was derived from this book. A lot of the whimsical elements Valente employs or reacts to are present in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the tone is remarkably similar. It was a strong influence, clearly. And, while Dorothy tends to stumble into solutions and lean on her friends, she's also brave, capable, and determined. It's her kindness that makes people so willing to serve as her allies. Valente's September owes a lot of her characterization to Dorothy.

Baum writes in his introduction that he intended this story as pure entertainment, and not to impart a moral lesson, as previous children's books do. I don't know if that was supposed to be ironic; the book contains a lot of moral lessons. Within this book are lessons about kindness, the burden of lies, believing in oneself, differences as a benefit, friendship, and family.

Anne Hathaway narrated the version I listened to on audio, and she's a delightful narrator. Her reading was warm, full of humor and good cheer. Though this is a children's book, she didn't read it like she was reading to a child. She had a great range of accents for characters that differentiated them all. It was a quick, pleasant listen, in all.

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