Staff Picks Book Review - The World of OZ in Popular Culture

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Few images from film and books are as easily recognizable as the yellow brick road or the Emerald City. Few characters resonate so universally as the wizard behind the curtain, the cowardly lion, or the witless scarecrow. It all goes back to the nearly unparalleled imagination of one man who wanted to create a gentler fairy story than the scary ones he had read. Lyman Frank Baum, known simply as “Frank” to his friends, was a sickly child. Born in New York state in 1856, Baum found comfort in books. The future writer did wish the fairy tales he came across were less scary. In response, he created a land with good witches and a happy ending. The OZ books by Frank Baum would number 14 in all, published over a 20-year span. Even before the 1939 Judy Garland classic, 3 Oz films had already been made. These early films would be eclipsed by the 1939 film which would make the OZ characters part of Americana and inspire the animated 1972 film Journey Back to OZ, 1978’s The Wiz, and the 1985 Return to OZ which cast a Dorothy much closer in age to the little girl in the book.

The story of the little girl and her dog would take a back seat in 1995 as Gregory Maguire penned Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Told from the perspective of the wicked witch, Maguire’s innovative work gave reader's the tragic back story of Elphaba. No longer the one-dimensional character we were all glad to see melted, the witch in Maguire's telling is a social activist fighting against the wizard to protect the most vulnerable in OZ. The hit Broadway musical Wicked of 2004 would continue Maguire’s emphasis on the witches and present Glinda and Elphaba as fellow students at Shiz University. The next evolution for the land over the rainbow comes with the 2024 release of Wicked Part I, the first of two installments of the theatrical version of the beloved musical. The story of the land of OZ has been going strong for more than a century. Like all good stories, it will find a new audience with each new telling. For those already acquainted with the OZ books, here are a few others that utilize those familiar characters or the same type of fantasy found in the OZ books.

Baum's American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum

Probably a lesser known collection than the author’s OZ books, this fairy tale collection with an American flavor features cowboys and department store mannequins among other characters.

Why should the old world of Europe be the only home to fairies and enchantments? In this collection of fairy tales -- mostly set in America - L. Frank Baum has created fifteen amusing captivating, and enchanting tales. From a cowboy who lassoes Father Time and brings all of creation to a halt to a department store dummy brought to life by a mischievous fairy to a New England couple who’s pump brings forth gold after the wife saves the life o a magical beetle, Baum spins an assortment of spell binding stories, one more beguiling than the next.

Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of The West: A Novel by Gregory Maguire

A fable for adults on the subject of destiny and free will by a writer of children's books. It tells the story of Elphaba before she became the Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz. The novel traces her career as nun, nurse, pro-democracy activist and animal rights defender.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman

Presents the timeless love story between a farm boy named Westley and the beautiful Princess Buttercup.

This tale of true love, high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts was unforgettably depicted in the 1987 film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Fred Savage, Robin Wright, and others. But, rich in character and satire, the novel boasts even more layers of ingenious storytelling. Set in 1941 and framed cleverly as an "abridged" retelling of a centuries-old tale set in the fabled country of Florin, home to "Beasts of all natures and descriptions. 

The Magicians: A Novel by Lev Grossman

A thrilling and original coming-of-age novel for adults about a young man practicing magic in the real world.




The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The first novel of the Discworld series. On a world supported on the back of a giant turtle, a wickedly eccentric expedition sets out. There's Rincewind, an avaricious but inept wizard, Twoflower, a naive tourist whose murderous luggage moves on hundreds of little legs, dragons who only exist if you believe in them, and of course, the Edge of the Discworld, and its circumference. . .

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman

A chilling fantasy retelling of the "Snow White" fairy tale. A not-so-evil queen is terrified of her monstrous stepdaughter and determined to repel this creature and save her kingdom from a world where happy endings aren't so happily ever after.

Tin Man by Justin Madson

In Justin Madson's debut graphic novel, "Tin Man," a girl and her brother befriend the titular Tin Man with unexpected results. Solar is in her last year of high school and is reeling from the recent death of her grandmother. She has abandoned her plans for the future and fallen in with a bad crowd. Her little brother, Fenn, doesn't understand why she's changed--she doesn't even want to help him build their rocket in the garage anymore. Campbell is a tin woodsman--a clunky metal man whose sole purpose in life is to chop down trees. He longs for more, however, and decides to seek out a heart, believing that, with one, he will be able to feel things he has never felt before and, therefore, change his life.

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