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We've been reading L. Frank Baum's Oz books to the kids at bedtime this summer. So far we've read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz and are in the middle of Ozma of Oz. Despite the rather formal and occasionally antiquated narrative and dialogue, the kids seem quite taken with it, just as I was in my childhood. And as a grown-up writer now, I still bow in supreme admiration to Baum's wildly creative imagination. Further notes, adapted from some I posted on Facebook:

Jun. 29:
Started reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to the kids last night. They seem to like it. Differences from the movie I'm noting now (which I once knew but had forgotten):
There's a "Wonderful" in the title.
They're silver shoes, not ruby slippers.
No long lead-in with Dorothy running away and thinking of a place over the rainbow. It's more like, "Once upon a time, CYCLONE." Which works fine, actually. (Also, it isn't a "twister" or a "tornado;" it's apparently a "cyclone.")
The good witch they meet in Munchkinland isn't named and isn't Glinda; she's just the good Witch of the North. Unlike Glinda, she is a small, wrinkled, white-haired old woman.

Yes, I'm sure there are webpages detailing all the differences. It's fun to use my own brain, though. Once in a while.

Jul. 27:
Latest beloved-childhood-film-rewatching-with-kids: The Wizard of Oz, following up on our reading the book with them. It's still mostly awesome! The Lion is the weak point, with his corny 1930s comic relief stuff, but there is still plenty of good acting and gorgeous filming to make up for that. I especially liked the Scarecrow's physicality, adroitly flopping and tumbling about as if actually made of straw. The kids really liked the movie too. (Toto was their favorite.)

And it's been long noted by Oz fans, but L. Frank Baum's books, and this film accordingly, pass the Bechdel Test, and not just barely, but soaring over the requirements. Heck, women, good and evil, pretty much rule the land of Oz. Well, the Wizard rules too, but he's a humbug. Now that I look up Baum on Wikipedia, having realized I know almost nothing about him or his life, I learn his wife was from a family of women's suffrage activists, so indeed, he was well up in the progressive stuff.

On the music side, I never noticed before that they use Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" in the score for a short time, during the fight in the Witch's castle. Cool.

Aug. 1:
The 5-year-old: I want to be the Wicked Witch of the West for Halloween.
Steve: Cool. Maybe your brother can be your Winged Monkey.
Me: And I can finally realize my childhood dream and be Dorothy. Dad can be Toto.
Steve: Or the Scarecrow.
Me: Ooh! Yes! We can have a Dorothy/Scarecrow thing going on.
Steve covers his face.
Me: I've traumatized Daddy.
Steve: I'm broken.
Kids, meanwhile, are doing a rather excellent job cackling like Margaret Hamilton.

Aug. 18:
We finished reading The Marvelous Land of Oz (book 2) to the kids last night, and ha! I had forgotten that the boy Tip turns out to be, unbeknownst to himself, the princess Ozma under a magical disguise, and he gets changed back into his true feminine form and takes the throne. Yes. Ozma is a trans woman. Kind of.

Considering that chapter came with this Glinda/Ozma illustration as the header, we can at least safely say Baum is a treasure trove for LGBTQ/progressive-thinking type fans, even if he didn't anticipate all the ways in which he might be interpreted:


(I mean, sure, this is likely a "magical kiss of life" kind of thing, but the kiss wasn't actually in the text, so, up to interpretation...)


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 24th, 2014 12:23 am (UTC)
They're silver shoes, not ruby slippers

i heard they changed it for the movie because silver didn't come out right on the color film they had at the time.
Aug. 25th, 2014 01:50 am (UTC)
That's how I hear it, yep. Those ruby slippers do glitter beautifully on screen!
Aug. 24th, 2014 10:07 pm (UTC)
While I love his books and they were progressive in terms of women's roles, I would not call Baum very progressive, over all. He was a horrendous racist of the worst sort. http://www.timesofisrael.com/lions-and-tigers-and-genocide-oh-yes/
Aug. 25th, 2014 01:55 am (UTC)
Ah. Well...crap.
That was touched upon briefly in the Wikipedia entry, and it was suggested he meant such things ironically, but if that article's true, then...yeah, crap. H.G. Wells had similar statements, if I recall...
Aug. 30th, 2014 05:02 am (UTC)
Like a lot of the protofeminists - suffragists - of his time, he was progressive even in 21st century terms on gender and gender identity issues, but antediluvian on race issues. (Consider how many suffragists wanted votes for white women, not all women.) On trans-gender Ozma &c., I'm sure he was completely aware of what he was doing... Matilda Gage was his mother-in-law, and Susan B. Anthony was a guest in his house. Most of the discussion of his racism focuses on the two kill-the-Indians editorials he wrote in South Dakota, which may actually have been an attempt to troll the racists that fell victim to Poe's Law. But then there's The Wogglebug Book, whose humor consists of broad racial stereotypes (with Swedish immigrants, oddly, coming in for the worst of it, showing how the targets of racism have changed over the years while the racism itself remains the same.)

His Mary Louise mysteries (which pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and are out of print but available on Kindle) would need some editing for a modern audience because of a secondary character, Uncle Eben. Uncle Eben speaks in stereotypical turn-of-the-century African-American dialect; take away the misspellings, though, and you see that he has strong opinions often at odds with those of his employer and usually correct, and is not a Magical Negro character.

Ah, well, we're none of us perfect.

/Ashes to ashes, cobs to cobble,
We know Shaggy Man's a Wobbly...
Aug. 31st, 2014 06:58 pm (UTC)
I do feel better reading this perspective. Over-writing of dialect was a widespread habit in past decades and centuries. I love the Brontes (well, some of the novels, anyway), but for goodness' sake, ladies, tone down the broad Yorkshire. I haven't seen the Wogglebug Book or the Mary Louise books, but, ha--Swedish immigrants? Well, around here we make fun of Seattle's Ballard neighborhood for having Scandinavian roots/influences, but I think we fall short of racism...I hope...

Now I'm wondering what we're writing this day and age that will someday look painfully unenlightened. Likely something to do with all our whining about First World Problems while the environment is falling to pieces around us. Just a guess.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )