Mine is a bit late, but I'd belted out a draft of this post last week (and then promptly forgot about it, missing the deadline). No matter, here it is anyway. I enjoyed writing it.
f you’re lucky, you’ll have had the Wizard of Oz play varied roles in your lifetime. Of course, my first exposure to it was through the movie, which as a kid I’d wait for every year to be broadcast on TV. Soon enough, I became aware of the pervasive and wide-spread fear of the evil flying monkeys, which hadn’t scared me until I was aware that they were supposed to.
As a teenager, the myth around the supposed kid who hanged himself and could be seen swinging from a tree in one of the scenes reinvigorated my attention the film. Thankfully, this turned out to be false, but the legend was just scary enough to encourage me to buy the film on VHS and have a look. I should have known then that the film was more than just a good story.
Around the same time, I was working in a bookstore and discovered the actual book, which, I discovered with some amazement, turned out to be so much richer than the movie—and the fact that there were sequel novels was like discovering an antique Harry Potter. The Oz series had wonderful other characters, like the Patchwork Girl (who later got her own book, the lucky duck).
In my early twenties, music was important. When I heard that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album eerily lined up with the film with creepy precision, I ran out and bought the video and my boyfriend and I lined it up with the album (you start the album as soon as the MGM lion roars, if you’re interested) and then we watched, fascinated, as indeed the songs matched the movie. No, we were not inebriated. I tried to convince my mother to watch and listen, but she declined. She was missing out, I thought.
At this point I was in my early twenties and the Wizard of Oz certainly held little attraction for me. I read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, which I felt was one of the best and most innovative books I’d ever read, plunging me into a much richer Oz than I had ever experienced. Maguire’s Oz was fully-formed and the characters all had a past. Delicious stuff. I thought a lot about Elphalba, even her nameless version in Baum’s book, and the actress in the film. Poor woman—she must have been ruined after that movie. I know I’d certainly run from her on the street if I saw her, whether in green face makeup or as Mrs. Gulch.
Now we have You Tube--just in time for showing clips of things to my whippersnapper. My young son was introduced to the Munchkins and the Scarecrow via clips on You Tube, and he was fascinated. Great, says I. We’ll get the DVD. When we got it, a 70thanniversary edition no less, in sparkling silver reflective glory, my son couldn’t sit still from excitement. We popped it in and he watched, enthralled, as the munchkins giggled and the Tin Man squealed for need of oil. He loved it. He didn’t flinch when the witch came on…and then we got to the Emerald City. He just couldn’t grasp this green place or the Horse of a Different color. I remembered disliking this portion of the film as a kid, too, because it seemed too grown-up, too normal. And as an adult, all I could think about was whether or not the horse keeled over from cancer from being spray painted. But my son wasn’t thinking any of that. He was thinking about the witch, and when she might return onscreen. He turned to me with eyes full of tears and said he wanted to go to bed, an unheard of request in our household. We realized that the Wizard of Oz's darker elements still had a strong hold on the fears of children.
The most recent exposure to the Wizard of Oz came from a reference on a web site I found that spoke of plot in general. It plotting, it said, a dream sequence is never acceptable and always cheats the reader. Yet, Frank L Baum pulled it off with panache and with such imagination that we don’t mind. In fact, Oz is hailed as the exception to the rule.
I’ve just picked up Maguire’s A Lion Among Men, and I look forward to experiencing a new facet of this rich story. No doubt I’ll read it with a different eye now. I can't help but wonder how many other facets of this amazing story will appear throughout my life.