The Wizard of Oz is a fanciful tale that is somehow more than the sum of its parts. The writing is rather artless and even formulaic at times, the plot is fairly scattered, and the emotional impact all but non-existent after the opening scenes. And yet the tale is such a flight of imagination that it somehow transcends the normal constraints for what makes a great story.
This tale is clearly aimed at children. Once that is realized, the simple prose and highly structured nature of the story make sense. One kingdom is blue, another yellow, another red, etc. The companions often repeat their desires in orderly fashion whenever the need arises. Dorothy wants to go home, the Scarecrow wants brains, the Tin Woodman wants a heart, the Lion wants courage. It’s all very straightforward. But it is nonetheless an enjoyable read, even for older readers.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
There are a few twists with the Wicked Witch and the Wizard of Oz which might provide a bit of a surprise to readers unfamiliar with the story, but the chief surprise is the tale itself. It almost feels like the story blew in to us on a Midwestern twister. It’s so haphazard and odd and yet playful and very confident of itself. It’s told as if Oz were a given and we’re being let in on its secrets. By the end, which comes rather abruptly, we’re convinced that Oz must exist somewhere and that it’s a good thing that it does. Dorothy may never return there, but we can and should whenever our imaginations take hold or our daydreams take flight.
For those interested in how it compares to the movie there are several significant changes. The story is longer in the book, with an entire section simply dropped by the film. The movie is a better, more cohesive story, with a tighter plot and some nice additions with Dorothy having dreamt the farmhands into her tale. But it fails to make Kansas the gray dust bowl that the book does, which is a loss. Because therein lies the chief point of Baum’s story, and it is this: that however dull and dreary the place where we may reside, and however bright and beautiful may be the places we find in our journeys, and however wonderful the friends we find there, we should always prefer to be with those we love and those who love us best, namely our family. As Dorothy plainly puts it, “There’s no place like home.”