This novel is a product of its time and in some ways shouldn't be judged based on modern standards, but this review is not about how children in 1900 will perceive the 'modern fairytale', but how children and parents in the 21st century will, and I have to say up front that the book is long, tedious in parts and worst of all, decidedly gory. It's also - unsurprisingly - clueless when held up against our modern sensibilities. I did not like it and I cannot recommend it.
This is a print book that I got on close-out at a book store. It's a classic, heavy, solid tome, with glossy pages and illustrations, so it's a nicely put-together book overall, but the illustrations are bizarre; they make all the characters look like zombies on drugs! Austin-based artist Michael Sieben illustrated this book, but I have to say how disappointed I was with the colored drawings. They were ugly and unappealing. There were also pages where a quote from the text was strewn across the double-page, writ-large like it had been hand-printed in block caps. Who did these and what the point was I have no idea, but they contributed nothing positive to the overall appearance of this edition.
Prior to this reading, the only knowledge I had of this story was from the movie, which in its own time really wasn't a huge success (it took a decade to break even!) and which had multiple problems in filming and abundant continuity issues in the finished product. The movie only really took off once it began to be shown on TV, and while the two (book and movie) are the same in broad general terms, some of the details are quite different in the book as compared with the 1939 movie. I read somewhere that there are some forty differences which I guess isn't so surprising given Hollywood.
What jumped out at me is that there is no interaction between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West in the early part of the book. That was all added to the movie to create dramatic tension. Nor did Dorothy meet Glinda until the end of the novel. She met merely the Good Witch of the North at the beginning (Glinda was actually the good witch of the south), who gave her a mark on her forehead by means of a kiss, that protected her rather like the Mark of Cain!
In fact, the movie makes no sense in having Glinda appear and outright lie to Dorothy that she has to see the Wizard in order to get home! You may recall that Glinda tells her later that she's always had the power by clicking her heels Nazi style. Why would a good witch lie to keep her from going home? The book doesn't have this problem.
There's very little interaction with the munchkins either (and no singing!). Dorothy is off along the yellow brick road pretty briskly. One thing I did note is that during their journey, the scarecrow, the Lion and the Tin Woodman really step-up, thereby disproving their supposed brainless, cowardly, and heartless traits by the things they do to help get their party to Emerald City.
A better writer than Lyman Frank Baum would have gathered these threads together at the end of the story and had the wizard point this out instead of having him hand out worthless baubles. The wizard claims to be a good man (and a bad wizard) but he's actually a deceitful con-artist who does nothing for his adopted people and gets away with it.
I was really surprised by how gory the book is. I know this was penned in an era of wild and crazy fairytales and he was writing a modern version of those (so he claimed), but I think it's far too much for young kids even in this era of overly violent video games, TV, and movies. Sensibilities were different over a hundred years ago in a time when fairy stories were having witches eat children, but Baum did not need to go that route, but he made the deliberate choice to do so
The Tin Woodman, for example is described as being that way because he was once a flesh and blood person, but the evil witch, by means of enchanting his axe, cut off in turn, his arms, his legs, his head, and finally cleaved his body in twain. Each time he lost a body part, the local tinsmith replaced the missing part, but not his heart. I can see why they wouldn't want to go into any detail about all that in the movie!
In turn, the Tin Woodman shows no qualms about cutting off the head of a wildcat chasing mice (thereby proving he does have a heart). He defends Dorothy from the wicked witch in defeating forty wolves by means of simply cutting off their heads one by one. Dorothy, waking up to a pile of headless wolves, shows no reaction whatsoever. No wonder wolves are scarce in California! Yes! Unsurprisingly, Oz is southern California. Dorothy crossed a desert from Kansas to get there - where else would it be?!
That sam,e night, the scarecrow defends her from evil crows also dispatched by the witch only to be dispatched themselves by means of his wrenching their necks one by one. The cowardly lion proves he isn't cowardly by scaring off the witch's henchmen. The scarecrow proves he isn't brainless by devising several means to help them on their journey. Contrarily, his movie-self proves he is brainless by screwing up his lines and getting the Pythagorean theorem wrong!
One amusing thing to me was that tin doesn't rust like iron does. It oxidizes of course, as most metals do, but it's quite resistant to this, so the tin man, were he were truly made from tin, likely wouldn't rust and seize-up as he's depicted as doing in the story. This isn't really important in the grand scheme of the story though, which moves along at a brisk pace when it isn't sitting in the doldrums inexplicably. It drags on at the end though when it ought to wind up smartly.
The real problem is that it's not very inventive, nor is it very interesting, except for me in noting the differences between it and the movie version! The writing is a bit leaden in tone, and too grown up. It's very politically incorrect being a product of the nineteenth century, so parents might want to consider whether they want their kids reading something so violent, so unappreciative of nature, and with little to redeem it.
Dorothy is hardly the modern girl. She's like a character from your typical modern YA story: helpless, weepy, and needy, and really never takes charge. She's very selfish and ungrateful, and hardly a strong female character, nor is she a resourceful one. She defeats both evil witches, yes, but not through smarts and bravery (or even by good looks!), but by pure accident in each case. In the first instance, her house falls on the witch and kills her, and in the second, she simply throws a convenient bucket of water at the witch and melts her!
Why a witch susceptible to water damage would keep buckets of water lying around her establishment is an unresolved mystery, Clearly Baum didn't think his wiring through at all, but that's a common problem with writers. Hopefully it's all clear now why I cannot recommend this. There were too many issues with it, and there are far better stories about intelligent and self-possesed young women to be had. I'd recommend looking for those in place of this one. The Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen have told a few.