The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum ✦ Narrated by Anne Hathaway ✦ Audible, 2012 ✦ Originally published by George M. Hill Company, 1900

(Cover image is of the copy of the first edition held by the Library of Congress, borrowed from here)

Summary (by me):

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz tells the story of a young girl, Dorothy, who is uprooted from Kansas by a sudden tornado and dropped into the strange land of Oz. On her quest to find the Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz in order to return home, she makes a few friends and meets many of the odd and wondrous inhabitants of Oz.

I read this for the Wizard of Oz read-along being run by Louise over at Lone Star on a Lark!

Part of why I signed up for this challenge was that I remembered I had a freebie audio version of the book that Audible made with Anne Hathaway in 2012 (which it appears is no longer available!). I figured that would ease me in, since I’m trying to get back to a place where I am not only reading audiobooks, and the books themselves are pretty short. Plus, I’ve kind of wanted to read them for a long time and just had never gotten around to it!

I think a lot of people would have to come at this by comparing it to the film. I will put it out here right now, though: I have never loved the Wizard of Oz film, and I can’t actually remember the last time I saw even so much as a clip of it. My memory of it is not, therefore, real solid, and I’m not going to bother with comparisons as I don’t think it’s fair. I will state the one huge difference between the two, though: Dorothy is much younger in the book.

I’ve heard arguments that this book is meant to be a political allegory, which I think is probably a bunch of hogwash. I think you can, with a little effort, extrapolate political allegories out of just about anything, but this book really just reads as nothing more than a lighthearted story for children. There’s not a lot of tension in the book, in my opinion. Dorothy kind of stumbles along, relying a lot on her friends (who do owe her, to a degree… certainly the Scarecrow would still be stuck in a cornfield if she hadn’t come along, and the Tin Woodman would be rusting in the woods… although she didn’t really do much of anything for the Lion) and the kindness of strangers to make things happen for her. There’s a lot of emphasis on the land of Oz itself, especially the beauty of its scenery and the strangeness of its inhabitants. The inhabitants themselves seem like a cross between J.R.R. Tolkien and Dr Seuss. A lot of goofy anatomy and goofier personality traits.

In some ways, I felt like this book was kind of a non-story. Not very much actually happens in it. Dorothy’s companions’ personal quests are summed up very much in a “the true brains/heart/courage were the friends we made along the way.” It doesn’t end (spoiler alert for a 116 year old book) with a “it was all just a dream” explanation like the film does, although it also doesn’t leave much room for the many sequels that follow. Still, it’s a classic example of the portal fiction trope, which I have always been extremely fond of, and I can’t say I’m not looking forward to finding out what else does happen next in the Land of Oz.

It’s unfortunate that this audio version no longer seems to be available, because Anne Hathaway does a great job as an engaging, fun narrator. Some of the voices she gives the characters are a little on the grating side (I stopped listening for two days because I couldn’t make it through the Flying Monkey king’s story due to his voice being so awful, and I laughed my way through the Stork’s entire short appearance), but it’s clear she had children in mind when doing the narration, and I think a kid would enjoy listening to it.

Review Summary:

Story: 3/5, really nothing much happens, but I enjoyed it anyway
Narration: 5/5, fun and engaging

2 comments on “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”

    Oh, I totally forgot about the political/economic/religious interpretations of the story! I can see how people might think that, but without more evidence that such was Baum’s intention… well, like you said, it’s probably hogwash. However, while I was looking this up, I saw an interesting note that Baum apparently advocated for “total annihilation” of Native Americans. So, I guess Dorothy’s complete disregard for / disrespect most of the Oz cultures she encounters might have something to do with the author’s own attitude about that kind of thing?

      Any author’s beliefs will definitely color the story, but I think the most telling thing is no one seems to bother interpreting any of the rest of the books that way (at least not that I can find in my limited googling)? If Baum really crafted the first book as a really subtle allegory, did he just decide it wasn’t worth the effort for the rest of them? The illustrator of the original books was also a political cartoonist, so that adds fuel to the fire for those interpretations, but it’s not impossible that he put references of his own in. He apparently owned part of the copyright to the books. He also apparently bought an island in the Bermudas and declared himself king of it (http://bernews.com/2013/03/the-oz-artist-who-would-be-king-in-bermuda/)

      Baum seems like he was a pretty complicated guy, as people tend to be. I’m considering finding a biography of him at some point this year, perhaps!

Leave a Reply

Some HTML allowed, please do not include links to your site in comments