Popcorn and a Book (17): The Wizard of Oz

The Book: 1900

Written by L. Frank Baum; originally illustrated by W.W. Denslow (originally published by George M. Hill Company as The Wonderful Wizard of Oz)

The Film: 1939

Directed by Victor Fleming (MGM)

We all know the story. A young girl from Kansas named Dorothy and her little dog Toto are swept up by a cyclone and transported to the magical land of Oz. There, Dorothy seeks out the Wonderful Wizard of Oz to find her way back home; along the way she meets a scarecrow without a brain, a tin woodsman without a heart and a cowardly lion.

This story is engrained within our pop culture. Even if you have never watched the film (although who hasn’t?) I’m sure you can quote it readily. I can’t remember the first time I watched the film but it is one I watch fairly regularly—at least once a year. When was the first time I read the book? This week, if you can believe that! It is no wonder that this story has captured the imagination of millions for decades, regardless of age. Both book and film are classics. And let’s face it, if Gone with the Wind hadn’t been released the same year, this film would have completely cleaned up at the Academy Awards.

Before I start comparing the book with its film, here a few fun facts about The Wizard of Oz:

  1. The line “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” is exclusive to the film; it does not appear in the book. What would we do when in an unusual place/situation without this phrase?!
  2. In the book Dorothy’s shoes are silver not ruby. They were changed to take advantage of the new Technicolor technology and are now considered one of the most valuable film accessories in history (according to Wikipedia).
  3. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is actually the first of what became a fourteen-book series about Oz.

I LOVE the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz! The idea of filming the parts in Kansas in black-and-white, and the parts in Oz in Technicolor is brilliant and so faithful to the book (which really surprised me when reading). In the book, Kansas is described as everything being grey as though the harsh conditions had drained all the colour from the land. Black-and-white is perfect to capture this! Plus, it really amps up the awe of Oz by comparison.

While many plot points from the book were altered or omitted for the film, the movie still remains fairly consistent to the book. In fact, I could easily imagine the characters from the film speaking as I read (whether seeing the movie first has affected my reading is hard to say, but it certainly didn’t harm it in any way). Even though they strapped down Judy Garland’s chest in the film to try to make her look younger, it is obvious that she is much older than the literary Dorothy Gale, who is described as a young child. Nevertheless, Judy’s charisma is undeniable and I can’t imagine the film without her.

I think the movie does a fantastic job of developing the story and the characters; watching the film, I never felt like something was missing (which is sadly sometimes the case when watching an adaptation). Of course, in order to do this successfully some things get cut. And that’s what I enjoyed about reading the book after having seen the film. I got backstory to characters I’ve loved for years—it was like meeting them all over again. For instance, did you know the Tin Man that he was engaged while he was human and wants a heart so that he can love again and win back his fiancée? So cute! I like that there is more than I thought to these lovable characters.

I’ve always found it interesting that Dorothy’s companions—the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion—desire things that they already have and just don’t realize it. Book or film, this self-actualization comes across really well and allows for some great moments of humour. While the Scarecrow’s story isn’t as exciting as the other two, the ol’ fool is my favourite of the misfit trio.

One thing the book really can’t compete with is the songs, of course. They are catchy, memorable, and just plain fantastic. Just thinking about the movie, I end up with “We’re off to see the wizard…” running through my head on a loop.

I have no doubts that The Wizard of Oz (book and film) will continue to entertain generations for years to come, just as it has for the last century—it really is a testament to just how wonderful The Wonderful Wizard of Oz truly is (even if the Wizard himself isn’t quite so wonderful). The book is endearing and something I will definitely be reading with my children somewhere down the yellow brick road. But the film is something I will continue to watch over and over again. Sure the effects are a bit cheesy in places but that’s all part of what makes it so great. And let’s not forget those effects were state-of-the-art when they first came out. Whether book or film, the magic of Oz will win your heart, and the best part is, you don’t need a strange cyclone to take you there—all you need is a DVD or some good reading light.

What are your thoughts on The Wizard of Oz book vs. film? Share our answers in comments.

“Popcorn and a Book” is a bi-weekly meme I host where I will compare one book with its adapted film, looking at the content, the way it has been visualized, the experience, etc. If you would like to participate in this meme, please visit the “Popcorn and a Book” main page for details.

3 thoughts on “Popcorn and a Book (17): The Wizard of Oz

  1. I’m an Oz fan from way back. My father read many of the Oz books and those 80 year old, decrepit books he read as a child may be falling apart but they are some of my treasures. Books of Wonder in New York City re-published facsimile first editions of all the Baum-written Oz books in the last 20 years. If you’re an Oz fan and have never seen these facsimile first editions, they’re beautifully done and harken back to a time when books were a work of art. And no, I don’t work for Books of Wonder! But I’m definitely a major fan of the Oz books, having followed in my father’s footsteps by reading the books when I was young.

    Although the film is now considered a classic, it was not popular when first released. A major reason for this is the ending in which it is suggested that Dorothy’s trip to Oz was all a dream. This was like a slap in the face to Oz fans of the time who all knew deep in their hearts that Oz was REAL, not a dream!

    Yes, there are lots of other differences but asserting that Oz was nothing but a dream world in the film was the BIG ONE and a serious mistake by the film-makers as it insulted the very fans the movie was trying to attract.

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