Book-to-Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Book-to-Movie: The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz, first published in 1900 by L. Frank Baum under the title “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, is a children’s fantasy book following the adventures of a young farm girl, Dorothy, as she is inexplicably transported into a magical world in the midst of a tornado that strikes her Kansas farmhouse. The novel has since had several film adaptations/spin-offs, as well as plays and books, with one of the most notable being arguably the hit musical “Wicked,” which is reportedly in the midst of a film adaptation. I just finished reading that book (Wicked), but did not have the chance to see the play, so if you want a book review let me know in the comments! But enough about Wicked, let’s get back to the Wonderful Wizard of Oz!
The 1939 film has a perfect 100 on Metascore, and was nominated for 6 Oscars, winning two of them. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, and if you haven’t you should. Clocking in at 1 hour and 42 minutes, the film honestly seems like it could have been a bit longer in order to incorporate more scenes from the book, which sits at just 187 pages (at least the version I have does.)
Despite being a short book, a lot happens in those 187 pages, much of which was left out of the big-screen adaptation. I think it is important to note that the film aims for a sense of realism, in that Dorothy’s adventures are all made out to be figments of her imagination in the end as she wakes up from a coma after she is injured during the tornado. To that end, the film spends a good amount of time on its opening, introducing Dorothy and her life in Kansas, and setting up some foreshadowing elements. The book, however, is clearly meant to be literal, as at the end Dorothy is running up to her Aunt Em at the farmhouse, and Aunt Em says “My darling child, where in the world did you come from?” In addition, there are several books that follow the first one that detail the further adventures of the Tin Man and Scarecrow, as well as Dorothy returning to Oz, and even her bringing her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to live there.
Besides the opening in Kansas, which in the book simply consists of the tornado hitting the farmhouse, the movie changes something significant right off the bat. Glinda greets Dorothy after her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East and sends her on her journey to the Emerald City. This raises questions (and there have been numerable theories by fans attempting to explain it) as to why Glinda doesn’t just send her home in the first place, instead of sending her on a perilous journey. The movie answer is, of course, because the plot has to happen; and since it is all in her imagination, it doesn’t really matter anyway. However a simple fix could have been to take the book’s route, which is to have the good Witch of the North greet Dorothy and send her on her way, because that Witch either did not know how to or did not have the power to send Dorothy home, and thus gave her the only advice she could, which was to see the great wizard of Oz. In addition to her advice, the Witch of the North also gives Dorothy her blessing, effectively protecting her from anybody and anything which would seek to do her harm, including the Wicked Witch of the East.
The way in which Dorothy meets her companions (the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion) is virtually the same in the film as it is in the book, but the similarities as far as specifics go pretty much end there. In the book there are numerous trials that Dorothy and her friends go through before they reach Oz, while the movie shortens it to just two, an encounter with the Wicked Witch (who, in the book, doesn’t make an appearance until they reach her castle), and the poppy field. The movie almost feels like it cheats here, having Glinda cause it to snow and thus snap them all out of their stupor. In the book, they are helped by field mice (who, like the Lion, can talk). Now that sounds silly, but the book is for children and is therefore allowed to be silly. The movie, being almost entirely in Dorothy’s head, could have included it for a fun extra scene without really needing to justify it, and in my opinion it still would have fit better than Glinda merely popping up to save the day. (Ryan has a theory that Glinda is evil and manipulating Dorothy to kill the Wicked Witch…)
Regardless, after they escape the poppy field, they at last end up at Oz. Here the Gatekeeper greets them and lets them in, and eventually they are allowed to have an audience with the wizard. In the book, they all have separate audiences wherein the wizard appears to them all differently (which is an element that The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz chose to include!) In the movie, they all see him at once and he only takes one form. He promises to grant their wishes in exchange for their killing the Wicked Witch of the East, and, seeing no other option, they agree.
The movie once again jumps over some things and fast-forwards the book to the part where the flying monkeys come in and fly Dorothy to the castle, leaving her companions to sneak their way in by impersonating guards. The book takes its time, and once again includes some scenes I would have liked to see on the big screen. The witch sends first wolves, then crows, then bees, the Winkies (the race she has enslaved), and only when all that fails does she send in the flying monkeys, for a good reason. We find out the monkeys are bound to a Golden Cap, and whoever owns the cap can command the flying monkeys to do their bidding but three times, which forces the witch to use it the last time to have Dorothy and the Lion brought there, while the Scarecrow has the straw removed from him and placed in a tree, and the Tin Man thrown in a ditch.
Things almost immediately escalate in the film, with the Witch setting the Scarecrow on fire, and Dorothy throwing a bucket of water on him to put the fire out, inadvertently splashing some on the Witch and causing her to melt. The book, meanwhile, takes its time. The witch enslaves Dorothy (being unable to harm her due to the good witch’s blessing) until she can figure out a way to get her sister’s shoes back (which is her primary motivation in the book). After a while, she comes up with a plan and trips Dorothy, causing one shoe to come off. After refusing to give it back, Dorothy becomes angry and splashes a nearby bucket of water on her, oblivious to the fact that it would cause her to melt.
The movie once again takes a big leap here, as the next time we see Dorothy and her friends is back at the Emerald City, where they gain another audience with the Wizard, and he is revealed to be a fraud. The book takes time enough for Dorothy to free the Lion and realize she can use the cap to find/fix up the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. Then they are all flown back to the Emerald City where Oz is revealed. In both versions, the Wizard does his best to keep his promises, even offering Dorothy a ride back with him in his hot air balloon, but inadvertently takes off without her when she jumps out to retrieve her dog, Toto (which raises more questions as to how it’s all in her head.) In any case, she is left behind and still without a way home. Meanwhile, the wizard declares the Tin Man the new ruler of the Emerald City, with the Lion and Scarecrow as his aids. This is fairly similar to their endings in the book, with the Tin Man taking over for the wizard, with the exception that the Lion becomes the king of the beasts and goes to live in the jungle, and the Scarecrow takes over the Winkie kingdom, the previously enslaved people of the Wicked Witch.
This is where the film decides it has gone on long enough, as Glinda just appears as the Wizard is departing, informing Dorothy that the ruby slippers can get her home and instructing her how. Dorothy then wakes up in her bedroom, and, realizing the similarities between the farmhands and her friends the Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow, and at their insistence, dismisses the whole thing as a dream. The book includes several chapters more detailing the further adventures of Dorothy and her friends as they leave the Emerald City in search of Glinda’s castle. On the way, the Lion kills a giant spider for the forest creatures (thus earning the “king of the beasts” title and becoming their ruler later), and they pass through a country of little China People (which, if you’ve seen 2013’s Oz The Great and Powerful, they make an appearance via the China Girl, which for me was a really nice connection to the original story!) They also run into a country of “Hammer-Heads” and, being unable to traverse the terrain peacefully, Dorothy utilizes her last use of the Cap to summon the flying monkeys, who take them straight to Glinda’s castle.
Here is where the book wraps up. Glinda, like in the movie, instructs Dorothy on the use of the slippers, thus sending her home. She also uses the Golden Cap to send the Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow to their respective kingdoms before returning it to the flying monkeys and thereby setting them free. Dorothy returns home, and they all live happily ever after (at least until the sequel I guess).
Despite its inconsistencies and differentiation from the novel, I think the movie is a very solid adaptation. The things it changes usually give it more leeway to tell the story in a way that we as the audience can relate to, more, so than if they had simply copied and pasted everything from the book, given the childish nature of it (which is in no way a complaint, because it is a children’s book), the themes may not have been as strong as they could have been. The musical numbers and the nature of the whole adventure being a dream give it a whimsical nature, perfectly capturing and portraying the heart of the book, which is in my opinion what every adaptation should strive for. Despite die-hard book fans who may argue otherwise, I don’t think you need to copy and include everything from a book, as long as you capture the essence of the story, something that The Wizard of Oz does incredibly well.
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading! Seeing as how this is much longer than I anticipated already, I’m just going to quickly wrap up. If you haven’t seen the 1939 film, it’s definitely worth a watch! For all its changes, I can’t really blame it much, as it is still nearly a perfect movie. If you haven’t read the book, that’s okay, but it is an easy read and does shed some light on the movie (and its sequel/prequel Oz the Great and Powerful). Overall I thoroughly enjoyed both and had a fun time comparing them, so if you enjoyed this please leave a like and a comment below! And if you’d like to see more book-to-movie adaptations, I am currently working on one for Inkheart, so stay tuned for that! And let me know if you have any book-to-movie adaptations you’d like us to review!
So, The Wizard of Oz? Did you see it? What did you think? What is your favorite Oz adaptation? Would you like to see us review Oz The Great and Powerful? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to let us know below!
-review by Rachel Grosselin