Victorian Summer Reads, 1978: The Wizard of Oz
  Book Reviews    July 11, 2016     Eric Larkin


“Victorian… 1978?”, you mystifiedly puzzle? You can find a full explanation here.

Or here’s the short version: If you will remember, McDonald’s Happy Meals used to include Moby Illustrated Classics. These adorable little adaptations – most of mine were from Victorian era authors – made a huge impact on my recently Star Wars’d self. I’m recreating those glorious childhood summers by rereading the originals.


(The Wizard of Oz is American and from 1900, so it’s only kinda Victorian, but I read it and it was great, so whatever.)


Here’s a book whose movie has overshadowed it. Truth be told, I was never that into either. I do have a vague childhood recollection of the book, but since I also had a vague disinterest in the movie, I whiffed it and moved on. This now strikes me as odd because this book, though so plainly written that any child could rip right through it, has some really great & deep ideas that can and should be placed in a kid’s brain – though they might not fully click until they’re older. My now-self is embarrassed my then-self didn’t seem to catch on; I’ll blame the movie.


First and famously, each of Dorothy’s 3 friends are seeking something they believe they lack. From very early on in their quests, however, it becomes obvious that they all have precisely the thing they believe they lack, and in spades. Scarecrow is typically the one who has all the cleverest solutions to their various quandaries, though he believes he lacks a brain. The Tin Woodsman cries when he accidentally crushes a beetle, though he is seeking a heart. The Lion believes himself a coward, though he repeatedly steps up to defend or rescue the others. This is deep idea number one, and it can be framed in at least two ways. 1) Whatever you think you need, you probably already have it and/or 2) Virtues aren’t things you have they are things you do. This is most obvious with something like courage, which only shows up when you are actually afraid but do the thing despite your fear.


The Lion made the front cover of the original, because it’s a lion in glasses with a ribbon in its hair


The next big idea is that appearances can be deceiving. As one enters Emerald City, one is forced to wear special shades/glasses/goggles to protect one’s eyes from the city’s dazzling sparkliness. But it’s a lie; the city is not really dangerously sparkly. The goggles, it turns out, are green-tinted, and that’s what gives the city its famous green hue. Besides the outer walls and entryway, there is nothing particularly green about the Emerald City. The idea here is that just because you see things a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the way they are. You could be buying a bogus ticket for the reality train. No big surprise there for an adult, but definitely a thing a kid should start learning early. (Of course, many adults never learn it, or end up forgetting it – especially in an election year).



Sorry, you guys are on the back, because no one knows who the heck you are yet

And last of my 3 take-aways is that each of the characters ends up finding their own unique, unlooked for niche. Dorothy, a tough, smart and gentle heroine, does indeed find her way home, not thanks to the magic of the wizard of Oz, but through a little guidance from Glinda. Besides Dorothy, Scarecrow becomes the ruler of Oz, Lion becomes the King of the Beasts and the Tin Woodsman becomes the ruler of the Winkies. Also, during the whole adventure, they all make unique contributions with their disparate skills and personalities. This is to say, you are not like everyone else and you are not heading in the same direction as everyone else. “Oh – well, surely that’s an obvious lesson”, you say. Hmm. Felt any social media jealousy lately? Any twinges of envy over so-and-so’s job/house/relationship/vacation? Liar. Well, never mind then – but do your kid a favor and make sure they understand how idiotic it is to compare themselves to other people. The Lion, the Tin Man, the Midwestern Girl and the Scarecrow all make contributions on the Journey they share, and each have their own distinct Destinations – kinda like the way we should live.


The great thing about these thinking points is that L. Frank Baum does not clumsily point them out, the way I just did; they’re just in the story, waiting to blossom in young minds. There is so much else in this book that is worth putting into a kid’s head – and an adult’s (mine, anyway) – and all in the simplest, clearest prose. The Puffin Classics version does have a few activities in the back, if you want to turn it into a whole thing with your kids: make a map of Oz, build a scarecrow, etc.. Fun for summer. Just in reading it, though – you might keep looking over at your wee one, like – did you catch that? Please tell me you caught that.


1978 Wizard


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