Book Review of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

What My Kids Read Reviews The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum I was a voracious reader as a child, but I never read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to reading it. I enjoyed the movie, I mean, who doesn’t love “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or the idea that “There’s no place like home,” right? Still, I read this book for the first time last year, and enjoyed it so much, I read it out loud to my kids right away. It is a great read-aloud! It’s not much like the movie, although the overall story is the same. In fact, those famous ruby slippers are actually silver shoes, and the flying monkeys are really nice once you get to know them. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reads like a fairy tale. The words are simple and the morals are clear. There are several aspects to the story that could be allegories to deeper spiritual truths, and I was genuinely touched by those.

Baum wrote lots of books about Oz, after the success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I think there are a total  of 11 more books about the land of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum. After Baum’s death, the publishing company hired writers to continue writing about Oz. There are 26 of those books. I have only read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

My Mom-Meter gives this particular book an overall safety-rating of 1 (safe) for ages 6 and up.

Wikipedia has a good plot summary here (just scroll down to “Plot”).

Here are potential moral issues in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that parents might want to talk to their kids about:

Anthropomorphism/Talking Animals:

  • Although Toto does not talk, all the other animals talk in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There is also a talking Scarecrow and a talking Tin Woodman.

Alcohol/Drugs:

  • Dorothy does fall asleep in a field of poppies, and I have heard some associate that scene with opium, but it is not mentioned that way in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • The Wizard of Oz gives the Lion a potion that is supposed to turn into courage inside of him.

Language:

  • There are a few old words that you might want to define for your kids.
  1. “Queer” and “queerest” are each used once, meaning strange or strangest.
  2. “Fool” is used a few times, not as an insult, but as someone who does not have brains.
  3. “Gay” is used once, meaning happy.
  4. A “brownie” is a fairy tale creature. I’ve always thought they were a type of elf, but Wikipedia says “In folklore, a brownie resembles the hob, similar to a hobgoblin.” (If you’re interested, you can read more here.)
  5. “Counterpane” means a bedspread.
  6. “Vain” means to be concerned with one’s appearance.
  7. “Humbug” means someone who is a fake.
  • A beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress, could not find a husband, “since all the men were much too stupid and ugly.”
  • “Good gracious!” is said once.

Magic:

  • Being a fairy tale, there are mentions of fairies, genie, dwarves, witches and, obviously, a wizard.
  • The Munchkins call Dorothy “Sorceress” because she killed the witch, but also because only sorceresses and witches wear white (Dorothy is wearing a blue and white dress).
  • The Silver Shoes that Dorothy gets after the Wicked Witch of the East dies “bear a powerful charm.”
  • There are two good witches, and two wicked witches. Dorothy says “I thought all witches are wicked.” The good Witch of the North says, “Oh no, that is a great mistake.”
  • The Witch of the North says, “In civilized countries, I believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians.”
  • The Witch of the North uses a magic late to find out what Dorothy should do.
  • The Witch of the North says that she will use “all the magic arts I know of to keep you from harm.” She gives Dorothy a kiss because “No one will dare injure a person who has been kissed by the Witch of the North.”
  • Before he was made of tine, the Wicked Witch of the West enchanted the Tin Woodman’s axe, and he chopped off his leg. He had a tinsmith replace it with tin, and kept working. The Tin Woodman kept working, and the Witch caused the axe to chop off his other leg. He had that leg replaced with tin as well. This continued, until at last, the axe chopped his chest in half, and he had that made of tin, but he then had no heart.
  • The Wizard of Oz can look like many things: a bird, an elephant, a cat, a fairy, a brownie – no one knows what he really is. When he meets with Dorothy and her friends, he appears as an enormous head, a beautiful woman with wings, a monster or a terrible beast (big as an elephant, head like a rhinoceros, 5 eyes, 5 long arms, 5 long slim legs, covered in “thick wooly hair”), a ball of fire, and an invisible voice.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West has only 1 eye, but it is as powerful as a telescope.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West had the Golden Cap, which “had a charm.” If you have the cap, you can call on the Winged Monkeys 3 times, and they have to do what you ask. The Witch cast a spell to summon the Winged Monkeys, and it spells out the actions and words she had to say to summon them. Dorothy also performs the same spell to summon the Monkeys.
  • The Monkeys (and the Witch) cannot harm Dorothy because “she is protected by the Power of Good and that is greater than the Power of Evil.”
  •  “The Witch did not bleed where she was bitten, for she was so wicked that the blood in her had dried up many years before.”
  • Dorothy clicks the Silver Shoes together 3 times, and says “Take me home to Aunt Em!” The Shoes take three steps, and she is back home again.

Romance/Sex:

  • The Tin Woodman made up his mind to get married, so that he would not be lonely. He falls in love with a beautiful Munchkin girl, and she promised to marry him. She lived with an old woman hired the Wicked Witch of the West to prevent the marriage. The Witch enchants his axe, causing him to chop himself up. When he was put back together, made entirely of tin, he had no heart, and did not love any more.
  • A beautiful princess, who was also a powerful sorceress, could not find a husband “to mate with,” since no man was good enough for her. She finds a handsome boy, uses all her magic powers to make him a perfect husband when he grows up, and marries him.

Violence:

  • A cyclone picks up Dorothy’s house. Dorothy “wondered if she would be dashed to pieces when the house fell again.”
  • Toto falls through the trap door while the house is in the cyclone, but the air pressure keeps him from falling, and Dorothy pulls him to safety.
  • Dorothy’s house lands on top of the wicked Witch of the East, and kills her.
  • Before he was made of tine, the Wicked Witch of the West enchanted the Tin Woodman’s axe, and he chopped off his leg. He had a tinsmith replace it with tin, and kept working. The Tin Woodman kept working, and the Witch caused the axe to chop off his other leg. He had that leg replaced with tin as well. This continued, until at last, the axe chopped his chest in half, and he had that made of tin, but he then had no heart.
  • There is a “deep growl” from some wild animal. It turns out to be the Lion, who sends the Scarecrow “spinning,” “struck” the Tin Woodman, and opened his mouth to bite Toto when Dorothy slapped him, and he stopped.
  • The Lion says that Kalidahs are “monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers…and with claws so long and sharp they could tear me in two.”
  • Kalidahs attack and chase the friends across a tree that is bridged over a “gulf.” The Tin Woodman chops the tree, and the Kalidahs fall and are “dashed to pieces.”
  • The Woodman chops off the head of a wildcat that as chasing a mouse.
  • The Guardian of the Gates of Oz says “The Great Wizard might be angry and destroy you all in an instant.”
  • The Wizard tells the four friends that they must kill the Wicked Witch of the West before he will grant their requests.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West calls a pack of 40 wolves with “fierce eyes and sharp teeth” to kill Dorothy and her friends. She tells the wolves, “you may tear them into small pieces.” The Tin Woodman chops off the heads of all forty of the wolves and says it was a “good fight.”
  • The Wicked Witch of the West send 40 wild crows to “peck out their eyes and tear them to pieces,” but the Scarecrow twists their necks and kills all 40 crows.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West sends a swarm of Black Bees to “sting them to death.” They all attack the Tin Woodman and break their stingers on his tin, and they all die.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West sends the Winkies with sharp spears to “destroy” Dorothy and her friends. When the Winkies fail, the Witch beats them with a strap.
  • The Winged Monkeys drop the Tin Woodman over sharp rocks, and he is “battered and dented so he can’t move or groan.”
  • The Winged Monkeys pull out the Scarecrow’s straw.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West threatened to beat Dorothy with an old umbrella.
  • Toto bites the witch.
  • In anger, Dorothy throws water on the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Witch melts away.
  • Tree use their branches to grab the Scarecrow and throw him. The Tin Woodman chops a branch off the tree to distract it, and the friends escape the trees.
  • The animals of the forest has been threatened by a huge spider “with a body as big as an elephant, legs as long as a tree trunk… crawls through the forest, seizes an animal with a leg and drags it to his mouth and eats…” It is covered in “coarse black hair,” has “a great mouth full of sharp teeth a foot long.”
  • The Lion knocks the spider’s head from its body while it sleeps.
  • Hammer Heads are men without arms. They have necks that stretch really far, and they hit the Scarecrow and the Lion with their heads and knock them down.

Potential Discussion Points in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

  • Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are dreary and gray. They never smile or laugh. When Dorothy laughs, Aunt Em screams and covers her ears, but in the colorful land of Oz, Dorothy says “No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we… would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.” Potential Discussion Point: What do you think about what Dorothy said?
  • A crow tells the Scarecrow “Brains are the only things worth having in this world.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you think the crow is right? Is being smart the most important thing?
  • The Lion says “As long as I know myself to be a coward I shall be unhappy.” Potential Discussion Point: It is hard to be happy when you know that you are not what you want to be. What do you think about what the Lion said? 
  • “The Tin Woodman knew very well he had no heart, and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that the Tin Woodman really lacked love and kindness?
  • The Lion offers to kill a deer for Dorothy to eat, but the Tin Woodman says it will make him cry (and then rust), so the Lion doesn’t. Dorothy eats nuts, but she is hungry. Potential Discussion Point: Is it right to eat animals? Was the Tin Woodman just being sensitive (since he clearly didn’t have trouble killing the wolves)?
  • Dorothy says “I’ve never killed anything willingly…” The Wizard of Oz says “Remember that the Witch is Wicked – tremendously Wicked – and ought to be killed.” Potential Discussion Point: Is it right to kill someone because they are wicked?
  • The Monkeys (and the Witch) cannot harm Dorothy because “she is protected by the Power of Good and that is greater than the Power of Evil.” Dorothy doesn’t know that the Witch cannot harm her, so she stays a prisoner and works for the Witch when she could be free. Later in the story, Dorothy and her friends walk a long way, unaware that the Golden Cap has any special power. Finally, they find out that they could use it to go straight to Oz. At the end of the book, Dorothy finds out that she could have used the Silver Shoes at any time to go home. Potential Discussion Point: You could talk about the ways we stay a “prisoner” to fears, habits, ways of thinking, when we could be living in freedom. We often think we “have to” do certain things, when we really don’t. Freedom is right in front of us the whole time.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West stole a shoe from Dorothy, and it made Dorothy so mad that she threw a bucket of water on the Witch. Potential Discussion Point: Dorothy didn’t know the water would kill the Witch, but it did. Was she right to kill in anger like that?
  • Dorothy says to the Wizard “I think you are a very bad man.” The Wizard says “Oh no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard.” Potential Discussion Point: Do you think that the Wizard is a good man? He sent a little girl and her three friends to kill a witch that he was too afraid to face. He made all of his decisions out of fear.
  • The Wizard gives Dorothy’s friends what they asked for. Potential Discussion Point: Don’t you think that Dorothy’s friends had those qualities all along? The Scarecrow was always the one to come up with a good plan. The Tin Woodman even cared about not stepping on a beetle. The Lion had to be brave to help Dorothy along the way. Once they get what they asked for from the Wizard, the Scarecrow seems a little too proud, the Tin Woodman is a little selfish, and the Lion wants to show off his power.
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