Rereading: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum

Nearly everyone knows this story from the 1939 film, but have you read the original book first published in 1900? I loved the film for years before trying the book, and as a child I found it disappointing. Drama and spectacle from the film were not often here, I didn’t like the depiction of the main characters by artist W. W. Denslow, and I felt many of the additional incidents skipped by the film added nothing important to the story.

Rereading it now, I like it better, especially in this Dover paperback from 1960 that faithfully recreates all the wonderful two-color art by Denslow on nearly every page, as well as all the full color plates, which were often missing in later editions. I’m still not fond of Denslow’s depictions of the characters, I much prefer those of John R. Neill, who illustrated the rest of the Oz books by Baum, but I can now better appreciate Denslow’s skill as a designer and cartoonist.

The color plates are skillfully produced without any black ink, only magenta, cyan and yellow. Dorothy is, to my eye, too young, too short, and rather chubby. Dorothy’s three companions I now like better than when I first saw them, with the Cowardly Lion being the best in my opinion, while Toto is fine.

In the text of the book, nearly every page has beautifully designed two-color art like this, with excellent type design. Again I find the Wizard too young, short, and chubby, but that was Denslow’s style.

Reading this again, I can better appreciate the writing. Quite a few lines of dialogue reappear in the MGM film, and you can see where other elements of the movie came from, particularly Baum’s description of Dorothy’s home in Kansas as being very gray, while the land of Oz is full of color. I think the many script writers of the film added elements that improved Baum’s story, but his book is well worth reading too, and I’m glad I did. The first edition is rare and very expensive, costing many thousands of dollars today. If you can find the Dover paperback, I highly recommend it. The paper and printing of the 1960 edition are also excellent, and have held up beautifully. I suspect later editions may not have all the colorful art of this one. An Amazon search I can link to is not showing it, but if you do your own Google search you’ll find it.

One thought on “Rereading: THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum

  1. Eric Gimlin

    The Oz books remain one of my all time favorite series, I’ve got all 40 of the “official” series in vintage editions. One suggestion I have is track down one of the facsimile editions of Wizard that reprints the Denslow illustrations exactly as they first appeared, without resetting the type. Baum and Denslow worked incredibly closely to make the illustrations fit the story exactly, and they really do work better when properly placed as originally intended.

    Admittedly, I’m still not a huge fan of the Denslow versions of the characters, particularly compared to Neill. But seeing it done exactly as intended was still a revelation for me, and I like them a lot more than I used to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.