The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 100th Anniversary Edition by L. Frank Baum
(HarperCollins, 2000, 272 pages)
I’ve been reading this one to my daughter in the evenings before bed. She loved the story so much that by the last few nights she was asking is she could get ready for bed early so we could read. It was awfully fun to read, and I think we’ll continue reading through some more of the Oz series for a while.
In the original introduction, Baum notes that traditional fairy tales, like those from Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, often include terrifying and bloody incidents that were meant to teach a severe moral lesson. Baum disapproves of this approach, and he says that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz “aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.” The success of the books in his own day testifies to the fact that Baum succeeded in this aspiration, and over one hundred years later, the books still offer “wonderment and joy.”
I love the way that Baum combines traditional fairy tale elements – witches (good and bad), talking animals, magical talismans – with turn of the century American ingenuity. The Wizard isn’t really a wizard, of course, but a resourceful old circus performer from Omaha who finally leaves Oz by making his own hot air balloon. Though he isn’t actually a wizard, he is wise enough to know how to “grant” brains to the Scarecrow, a heart to the Tin Woodman, and courage to the Cowardly Lion. This is not a matter of magic, but of making each of the friends believe in the abilities he already possesses. In addition to simply being a fun story, this classic is a fascinating example of an American appropriation of the European storytelling tradition.