I must admit it, I never read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a child, though I saw the film many times. I zipped through this free version on iBooks before reading this sequel. So I’ll make some mention of the original, but just for full disclosure, I have not read any of the other Oz books, so that’s my prism going in.
Dorothy of Oz, By Roger S. Baum. Originally published in 1989.
Dorothy of Oz, Summertime Entertainment. Release Date, Aug. 3
3-8. There are situations where the heroes are in peril, but not in any way that feels overly scary. It is a simple story of well-mannered heroes and villains. The language is actually a little more complex than Frank Baum’s original, so I would say it’s a “read to” book until around 5, where it can start to evolve into a “read with.” As I’ll note a bit more later, after a 4th grade reading level, the very simple storytelling style might bore somewhat older readers.
Good for Grown-Ups?
Not independently. It’s a fairly well told children’s book, but lacks the nuance and allegory that the best of the children’s books have. And if you are expecting some of the wry wit from the original Wizard of Oz film, that’s really not present here, either.
Available on iBooks for $2.99. Widely available in print.
Quickie Plot Synopsis
Some years later after returning from her adventures in Oz, Glinda the Good Witch of the North speaks to Dorothy (back in Kansas) through a giant rainbow. Seems trouble’s a brewin’ once again back in Oz, and her friends the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and the Lion formerly known as Cowardly are in big trouble. Toto brings Dorothy back the long-lost magic silver slippers, and, woosh, back to Oz they go.
After helping the Giant Royal Marshmallow of Candy County solve his problems through a form of bizarre cannibalism, Dorothy and Toto make their way to the fabled castle of Gayelette and Quelala. There a Jester possessed by the evil of the Wicked Witch of the West’s magic wand turns Toto into a porcelain doll, and reveals he has done the same to many in Oz, including her trio of old friends.
Dorothy narrowly escapes a similar fate, but convinces the Jester to release Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Lion so they might go and entice Glenda back to the castle to add to his collection. He agrees, and the four set out on a new adventure, joined by new friends the porcelain princess and the talking boat Tug, to reach Glenda and figure out how to overcome the Jester.
The gang meet a number of old friends and new dangers as they finally gets to Glenda, but she informs them that her magic would only make the Witch’s want that much more powerful. Together, they put together a plan to hoodwink the Jester and break the wand’s spell. Do they succeed? Well, that would be telling. But there are a number of sequels, so safe to say it’s a happily ever after.
L. Frank Baum set out to create a new generation of fairy tales akin to Grimm that, while fantastic, were stripped of the violence and scary parts that made the more ancient tales frightening to children. It is interesting to note that while he did so to a greater extent, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz still contains a number of surprisingly violent scenes, with The Tin Woodsman chopping up some nefarious creatures, and he himself being dismembered as part of his origin story. Yet, in that book, despite the more graphic violence, what is really stripped is any sense of real danger for the main characters. In the attempt to make the story feel safe, I think Baum actually went overboard and made the story feel a bit too staid.
While his grandson Roger Baum makes his book feel like a direct sequel to the original story, inclusive of the vintage “Once upon a time…” linguistic feel, I do think he succeeds in actually reducing the violence while pumping up the suspense. In scenes with the Jester, a later encounter with Dragons, and a quest to repair the Yellow Brick Road, the characters do seem in far more peril and the story moves along a bit more quickly in this version.
That said, this is a simple story, simply told. None of the characters are anything except for earnest in their good or evil intent, except the Jester in the very beginning. The descriptions are quite basic, there is really no texture to the language painting clear and evocative pictures of the settings. It feels very “get in, say what happens, get out” in its telling.
I would say that if you and/or your kids enjoyed the original book (again, I cannot speak for the others in the original Oz series), I would expect you would enjoy this one. Note that this does stay consistent with the book, so if you only go into this having seen the original movie, there will be a number of things that don’t quite add up. I’d suggest starting with the original before reading this one.
Overall Read Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Opportunities for Discussion
To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a story is just a story. That’s how I feel about Dorothy of Oz. But while not particularly deep or allegorical, there are a few really salient and interesting points that come out of the book you could talk about with your kids.
“I blame society!”: Our antagonist in this book, The Jester, is quickly shown not to be himself evil, but under the spell of the Wicked Witch’s wand. This goes back to my post about how fantasy can use magic to teach a valuable lesson about the impermanence of evil, and that you shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover.
I found that it was actually a very interesting juxtaposition to the “Careers” in the Hunger Games, where I had a chat with Gus about how the book painted the killer kids from District 1 with a “bad guy” brush, not even thinking about how the society might have influenced them to be the way they are. In Dorothy, The Jester gets the opposite treatment, as he is seen as not culpable at all for his actions—it’s all the wand’s fault.
This can set up a very interesting discussion between outside influence and responsibility for your actions. For kids, this can be quite analogous to the peer pressure they may feel to do things that aren’t right. Sure, the Jester is under the magic spell, but what was he doing with the wand in the first place? Is he entirely blameless? Understanding how to resolve a conflict involves seeing the faults not only in others, but in yourself, too. Playing the blame game, either way, is rarely a good way out.
Appeal to the higher angels: [SPOILERS] When the trick on The Jester ends up failing, Dorothy looks like she’s done for sure. But unlike in the original book, she does not melt or scorch or in any other way attempt to destroy her enemy. Instead, she decides to talk to him. To make him remember the good person he was, and how the things he is doing are not really him. Instead of looking to defeat him, she instead looks to the good in him, and brings him back from the Witch’s evil spell.
I think this is a lovely life lesson that shows how seeing the good in people, and looking to find a common path rather than simply trying to defeat them is a path where problems can be solved and everyone wins. It does not shy away from the notion that there is evil in the world, as the spirit of the Witch lives on to trouble everyone, but even where the great Glinda’s complicated plan to defeat the Jester failed, Dorothy’s attempt to bring the Jester back was successful. That’s a very nice life lesson to impart, especially as juxtaposed to the violent death of the Wicked Witch in the original. [END SPOILERS]
Friendship, Manners, and Loyalty: As with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, this book is filled with friends always looking to help each other. Dorothy uses impeccable manners throughout the book, something that I really strive to teach my kids. Dorothy is a great role model (though at times a somewhat saccharine one) of a person who keeps her word, looks toward the best in people, and places faith in her friends. Her friends, both new and old, are unflinching in their support. While I find it a bit two dimensional, it certainly drives those points home.
Overall Family Discussion Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
What to Expect from the Movie
Dorthy of Oz will be a CGI animated tale, and it’s not being done by one of the major studios like Fox or Pixar. That’s a bit of a question mark for movies like these as I’ve found most of the second tier CGI films such as Igor, Everyone’s Hero, and Space Chimps to be a very mixed bag.
They have gotten themselves some excellent voice talent with Leah Michelle from Glee fame to play Dorothy, and others such as Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, Kelsey Grammer, and Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart. With Michelle in the lead, I’m assuming we’re getting a musical here. I’ll be curious to see how much they tweak this story to be more of a direct sequel to the original film version of The Wizard of Oz—something that would make sense given many more people will have seen that movie than have read the book.
I’m actually pretty optimistic in this movie in a number of respects, as I think the animation can make up for the fairly thin descriptive language of the book, and the presence of so many comic actors makes me suspect that they’ll try and go in a more comedic direction just like the original film did. If the writers and animators do their job, we just may have a worthy (though I cannot imagine equal) successor to the 1939 classic.
Next in this series: The name is Claus, Santa Claus.