Sunday, March 24, 2013

Oz, the Book and Movie Monster

I'm one of those oddballs who has read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and a couple of the sequels in the Oz series. Now, I know that in the world at large that hardly makes me unusual. Those books have been read by a lot of people. I'm not going to pretend that I have any idea just how many people that might be, but I know I'm in good company. However, among the people I spend my time with, I'm kind of alone in that capacity. Because of that, when I went to see Oz, the Great and Powerful with my wife and a friend, I was the only one who was quietly drawing comparisons between the book characters and the characters they'd developed for the movie. I knew being the guy that voiced all those comparisons to an unappreciative audience wasn't cool, so generally I tried to keep my thoughts on the matter to myself. In the case of this most recent movie adaptation, I was actually very happy not to bring it up. I was already aware that Oz, the Great and Powerful wasn't intended as an adaptation of one of the original books. If anything, I suspected this movie would do more to reignite interest in the books than draw comparisons to them. With that thought in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was a beautiful film with astounding visual effects and a heartbreaking love story carefully woven into the plot.

A new movie is hardly a revolutionary incarnation for the series though. Oz stories have been produced in nearly major medium in existence, dating all the way back to the days of L. Frank Baum who dabbled in plays, silent movies, and various other formats for his famous series. Not every attempt to present the series in a new way worked even then, at the peak of Oz's popularity, and Baum was dealt many failures during his lifetime. Luckily, setbacks didn't stop his writing. He wrote the first fourteen volumes in the Oz series. That's twice as many books as J.K. Rowling wrote for Harry Potter. Essentially, Oz is the series that keeps on giving. And I like that. I also like that the series didn't end at the time of Baum's death. As terrible as it is to lose the original creator of any series, the decision to keep the series going with Ruth Plumly Thompson assuming the author role meant that by the time I came along to read the books, I had an overabundance to choose from.

This is a wonderful series to pick up today. Despite its being more than a century old, Oz is still highly readable. The text hasn't become so dated that casual readers wouldn't understand what was happening, and the plots of the original books are right on par with the popular fantasy series of today. Better than that, if you are among the growing number of readers that read electronic books, most of the Oz series is available for free online. Be aware that not every book will revolve around Dorothy Gale, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion. While those characters do return to the series time and again, new characters become the focus in every volume. The Marvelous Land of Oz, the second book in the series, does not incorporate Dorothy at all. New characters have their own quests, ambitions, vices, and allegiances. Also, realize that the land of Oz won't always by the setting. Ozma of Oz, the third book, is set almost entirely in another magical land called Ev. Despite it being just across the desert from Oz, Ev is its own land with its own creatures and leadership. Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz starts in an underground fairy world populated by vegetable people called the Mangaboos. Their city is called the Glass City.

All in all, this is the sort of series that you should try. If you're like many of my peers, the Oz you'll find in the books is a land that can allow that moment of escape when you need it. Not unlike Dorothy, you could probably use an occasional escape from the otherwise gray monotony of your lives. I know I do sometimes.

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