Posted in Books

The Oz Books #4: Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz

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I’ve owned about half of the original 14 Oz novels for most of my life. All of the copies I own, that I still have on my bookshelf, are copyrighted 1992, when I was eight years old, which sounds about right. The fun part of this trip back to Oz is that I’m discovering stories that are brand new to me. Even though I’ve owned Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz for decades (!), I’ve never actually read it. I probably read the original Wizard of Oz about ten times in my lifetime, and I’m positive I read Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz at least once before, I have yet to read any of the books beyond Book 3, which made this trip into the fourth Oz book a joy.

Does Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz stand up at all to the original, or the splendor of Ozma of Oz (easily the best sequel so far)? No. I would rate this one notch above Land of Oz, just because we get to spend time with Dorothy and the Wizard, who are just more interesting characters than Tip and the Sawhorse in Book 2. At a slim 222 pages, this fourth entry is certainly entertaining all the way through, but it doesn’t offer the same power of the third, mostly because Baum reintroduces us to Dorothy and the Wizard, and then just puts them through a somewhat routine adventure story as they find themselves at the core of the Earth and have to work their way out. Basically every other chapter they run into another bad guy, until they reach the top. There’s not much more backstory revealed about either Dorothy or the Wizard, and I personally would have preferred something a little bit more intimate between the two characters.

Around page 150, I was thinking this fourth entry would be the least of the series yet, until Dorothy, the Wizard, and the others, are whisked back to Oz, to see all their old friends again, like Ozma, Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. The last fifty pages are the most fun of all; once Baum does away with the fantastical but kind of cutesy “plot” of Book 4, the real fun begins, just in spending time with all the lovable characters. There’s not even a big crisis in the final pages (Dorothy’s cat is put on trial!), but I’ve found these books work best when Baum brings all of the characters together.

Listen to me, I’m sounding like all those kids who wrote to him, asking him questions like, “Could you write a book where Dorothy and Ozma meet up and have a pleasant time together?” It’s almost to the point where I’d rather Baum do away with a plot and just have Dorothy and Scarecrow go to lunch together, then have Ozma and the Cowardly Lion go to the movies after work.

One further element that troubles me about this book, and potentially all the sequels, is that Baum makes it extremely clear in the introduction of this book that if it weren’t for the rabid fans writing him on a daily basis, he would’ve stopped the Oz books and moved on to other things hew as interested in. In those early days of the 1900’s, he was so bombarded with fan mail, who not only didn’t care for his other works outside of Oz but suggested plots for more Oz books, that in the end he had to acquiesce to the public’s hunger for more.

So many writers and filmmakers are pigeonholed into one thing for years and years, and in some respects, it appears that Baum was almost forced into cranking out these sequels, versus him actually pursuing the stories themselves. As I read more of the Oz books, I hope they don’t feel too cookie-cutter, too thrown together to make an extra buck. Baum is such a talented writer, and I hope he continues to build on the world of Oz and give us more daring, complex stories, as opposed to him merely repeating the same thing over and over. As long as Dorothy and the Tin Man and the Wizard are all along for the ride, I and all those countless kids of the early twentieth century will be pleased.

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