The film version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz has been cited as an influence by authors as prolific as Salman Rushdie and continues to be celebrated the world over as a cinematic classic. I haven’t watched the film since I was Toto-sized, but its brightness and vivacity have stayed with me over the years. The original children’s book, I was pleased to discover, is equally as colourful as its film counterpart.
Baum’s novel was a bestseller following its release in 1900 and its popularity has never faded. One potential reason for its enduring success is the balance Baum strikes between traditional fairy tale moralism and mad, modern, multicoloured magic. On the one hand, The Wizard of Oz has the tightly cyclical structure of a traditional children’s story: characters are continually faced with tests and through courage, ingenuity and teamwork, their assailants are overpowered. The moral presented through the adventures of Dorothy and her companions is a moving one: only you have the power to change yourself; anyone who claims to be able to wave a magic wand and fix your problems is an instant is a fraud. This moral isn’t force-fed to the reader, and perhaps wields greater power for that very reason. The traditional structure of the story is disguised by Baum’s astounding creativity; images like the stocking-clad feet of the squashed witch and the army of flying monkeys are products of a truly childlike imagination.