My $3 Puffin Classics edition of the Wizard of Oz (the WoZ) includes an introduction by the improbably named Cornelia Funke. Apparently I am already to know who Cornelia Funke is because the book offers no explanation.
Ms. Funke tells us that as a child in Germany, one did not read the WoZ; one watched the movie with the “adult woman dressed up as a girl” (Judy Garland was 16 when she played Dorothy) and “lots of singing and very evil witches.”
Instead, Ms. Funke read Pippi Longstocking and Tom Sawyer, and it wasn’t until adulthood that she read L. Frank Baum’s words in print.
In an elegant couple pages, Funke describes the physical appearance of her two copies — a modern edition in German and a first edition in English. She says no matter what our version looks like, we are about to read a great story, and truly great stories evolve with the audience: A child today would envision a different Dorothy than a child in 1900, but each could have an equally profound experience.
It is the nature of things that not everyone will like the same stories. “If you don’t like it, it is often not the story that is to blame, just the fact that it was not the right one for you,” Funke says, and the “better a story is, the more readers will find themselves in it.”
And then Ms. Funke leaves us with a lovely little diving board off which to begin our adventure:
So, open the book and start traveling through the pages. It will be quite a journey, and you won’t come back the way you started, which is true for all journeys, especially written ones. Accept the invitation of the printed letters and step into the strange land of Oz. And if you are luckier than me, you’ll go there while you are still a child.
Like Cornelia Funke, I grew up with the movie, but have just read the book for the first time as an adult. I was struck by how much sadder Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are in the book, and how much more realistic.
Life on the Kansas prairie at the turn of the 20th century would have been incredibly hard, a fact that Baum could not have romanticized to his contemporaries who were living it.
Baum described the “great grey prairie” stretching on for miles in all directions, and the greyness of body and spirit displayed by Uncle Henry who “never laughed … worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was.”
Aunt Em, who came to the prairie a young vibrant woman, now was so startled by Dorothy’s youthful laughter that she would “scream and press her hand upon her heart” looking at the girl with “wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.”
Unlike the typical head-bonk explanation given by the movie (maybe it was all a dream!), the book approaches Dorothy’s travel to Oz from a more practical standpoint.
Uncle Henry had gone out to secure the animals and Aunt Em had descended beneath the house to the “cyclone cellar” when the eye of the storm picked up the entire house and floated it, virtually unaffected, on a pocket of stable air all the way to Oz. While harrowing, this experience was not too upsetting to Dorothy, which hints at her character:
It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her, but Dorothy found she was riding along quite easily. After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle.
Toto did not like it. He ran about the room, now here, now there, barking loudly; but Dorothy sat quite still on the floor and waited to see what would happen.
And as hours and hours of this passed, Dorothy went through stages of fear, worry and panic, until finally she came to a sort of acceptance.
At first she wondered if she would be dashed to pieces when the house fell again; but as the hours passed and nothing terrible happened, she stopped worrying and resolved to wait calmly and see what the future would bring.
According the to book’s notes, the word cyclone was interchangeable with tornado at the time. Only in later climatology did a cyclone come to be associated with tropical storms over water, differentiating it from the landbound tornado that sweeps Dorothy and Toto away inside their one-room shack and lands them squat on top of the Wicked Witch of the East.
The book is more gruesome than the movie, with heads being lopped off at every turn and mass slaughter of enemies including mythical creatures as well as wolves, crows, swarms of black bees and the dreaded winged monkeys, who turn out to be not so bad after all in Baum’s version.
There are many more small battles and victories in the book, and many more times when each of the main characters proves beyond doubt that he or she already possesses the exact thing that he or she is wishing for.
The Scarecrow proves wily and full of good ideas; the Tin Man can barely hurt a flea due to the enormous compassion of his heart; and the “Cowardly” Lion fights and defends them all with tremendous courage, despite being afraid himself.
It is not clear why Dorothy’s biggest wish is to return home to the dreary grey prairie with her miserable relatives. Why wouldn’t she want to stay in the magical, beautiful, pampered land of Oz? The book doesn’t offer much explanation for this. All we know is that, when Dorothy does make it home, Aunt Em is watering the cabbages outside their newly rebuilt farmhouse. Dorothy comes running, and Aunt Em takes her up in her arms and covers her in kisses: “My darling child!” she says, “where in the world did you come from?”
Maybe we are to interpret that Dorothy knew all along that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry really needed her, or maybe being away helped Dorothy to see that she had a home — and helped Aunt Em see that she had a beloved child.
Either way, Cornelia Funke was right that it’s a very personal story. No matter which character you connect with the most — whether you wish you were smarter, more loving, more courageous or if you wish you could find a place where you feel safe and cared for, the answer is that you already have it. Whatever “it” is. You just need to know how to see it.