Thursday, March 14, 2013

Prequel Sheds a Little Light on Original 1900 Text

When I read "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" recently--admittedly for the first time--I was strangely bothered when it strayed from my version of the story, the one I knew from countless watchings of the 1939 over-the-rainbow version. I soon discovered that the MGM film omits whole chapters and characters. Indeed, one of the many reasons I was excited about the new movie "OZ, the Great and Powerful," was that it included aspects of L. Frank Baum's original 1900 text that did not make it onto my TV screen each spring.
This is important because the "Wee Faerie Village in the Land of Oz" is going to be based on the original 24 chapters, and thusly, many visitors who only know the story from the movie will be a bit lost when these seemingly new ideas show up in faerie-land. However, if visitors see the "new" movie, some of the "new" ideas won't seem too "new" come October.
One is China Girl, who in my humble opinion, stole the show. She is discovered by the Wizard and his flying monkey friend Finley in China Town. Yes, a whole town made out of china and porcelain, including the  inhabitants. Sadly, the flying monkeys were sent by the witch to rough up the town and they did a considerable amount of damage. China Girl is the only survivor.
In the book, L. Frank Baum gives us the odd Chapter 20, "The Dainty China Country." It is into this fragile world that Dorothy and her friends find themselves after climbing a wall via a ladder fashioned by the Tin Man. At the bottom of the ladder they discover that they've entered a strange new land.
Baum writes: "Before them was a great stretch of country having a floor as smooth and shining and white as the bottom of a big platter. Scattered around were many houses made entirely of china and painted in the brightest colors. These houses were quite small, the biggest of them reaching only as high as Dorothy's waist. There were also pretty little barns, with china fences around them; and many cows and sheep and horses and pigs and chickens, all made of china, were standing about in groups."
Disney does a nice job of using the forms of real china, coffee pots and tea cups, to fashion a fantastical city. And in the same way that the Scarecrow is scared of fire, for obvious reasons, the inhabitants of this porcelain province are terrified of being knocked into or worst, knocked over.
Another shifting of the Ozian paradigm involves the poppy field. In the MGM film, as soon as our travelers see the Emerald City for the first time in the distance, they begin to run with wild abandon through a field of poppies to get there. The Wicked Witch of the West, angered by their progress, casts a spell using her mortar and pestle (why does magic smoke not rise from mine when I crush my dried spices?), that, in her words, “And now, my beauties, something with poison in it, I think. With poison in it, but attractive to the eye, and soothing to the smell. Poppies... Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleeeeep. Now they'll sleeeeep!” The spell only works on Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion, and one by one they fall asleep amongst the beautiful blooms. The Tin Man begins to cry and the Scarecrow figures out (brainless though he is) that this is trick and they should call for help. Glinda to the rescue and a few waves of the wand bring on the spell-breaking snowflakes. 
In Baum's text, Chapter 8 is titled "The Deadly Poppy Field." According to Baum, "...and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odor is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever." 
The new movie uses the deadly scent of the flowers in a very clever way, and to the advantage of good, but in the spirit of not wanting to have to shout, "spoiler alert," I will leave it at that. 
There are still a few more aspects of the book that are not in the popular films.  The best way to discover them for yourself is to pick up a copy of the book or download it from Kindle or similar sites. Or, stop by The Shop at the Museum, where we have both the 100th Anniversary Edition with all the original artwork, or a new publication with stunning images by Michael Sieben. 

David D.J. Rau
Director of Education and Outreach

David D.J. Rau coordinates as well as participates in the Museum’s October creative endeavors. You can contact him at

Upcoming Blog Entries:
  • Illustrating the Museum's October Events
  • Meet the Museum’s New Fantasy Illustrator Aaron Miller
  • Just C’Oz: Other Creative Endeavors Inspired by Oz

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