On the Yellow Brick Road
Adventure is a Few Steps Away
( A Book Review of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz )
Growing up, I was never the kind of kid who is fond of reading books. It was only later in my elementary life and well in my freshman year in high school that the love for reading blossomed to its full promise. Different preoccupations and interests during the time — besides the absence of a reliable person to serve as my guide in the literary world, which was foreign territory to me then — made miss out on a lot of must-reads in the genre of Children’s Literature. Such is the case with L. Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wizard of Oz.
I admit it’s quite ironic that when all the children of the world, by the time when they have learned their letters, have already read The Wizard of Oz, while others have a fair idea what it is about through the celebrated 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film starring Judy Garland (which I haven’t seen yet), and when interest for the book was again rekindled via recent spin offs, most notable of which is Gregory Maguire’s Wicked and it’s Broadway musical adaptation, I was still clueless what the plot of the story is — well, aside from name of some its characters.
As they said, good things come in its appointed time, and though it took me quite a while to finally find a suitable copy, one of my awesome book finds during October, I never missed a beat when the opportunity presented itself and instantly bump it up my reading list. To my surprise, what I perceive as a drawback being in the dark for what is the book is about proves an advantage when I accompanied Dorothy and her friends on their journey along the yellow brick road.
Dorothy is a lonely orphaned girl living a rough life on the great, gray plains of Kansas with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, farmers barely scraping by. One day a cyclone approaches and Dorothy, too late to reach the safety of the cellar after chasing her frightened dog, Toto, is carried up by the ferocious wind into the sky along with the house. Through the terrifying but smooth ride in the eye of the tornado she falls asleep, and wakes up when the house lands on solid ground. Soon, she realizes that this place, despite its bright sunshine, colourful plants, and odd looking yet cheerful folks is anything but Kansas or is anywhere located in the United States!
From an enchanted creature that turns out to be one of the good witches of the land, Dorothy learns that she must travel the length and breadth of the Land of Oz following the yellow brick road to Emerald City where dwells a great and powerful wizard who’s the only one that can help her get back to Kansas. Along the way Dorothy meets companions with the same intention as her to see the mighty sorcerer who can only give them what they ask for: the Scarecrow who wishes to have a brain, the Tin Woodsman who seeks for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion who pursues to gain braveness. As with any fairy tale, the path is “sometimes pleasant and sometime dark and terrible”, the quest is long, filled with adventures and enjoyable throughout.
Beguilingly simple and laden with amusing turns, I never knew that I will relish reading Baum’s The Wizard of Oz as much for the first time, chiefly for a book designated for readers aged six to eight. Given its juvenile classification, I initially thought the book will take the wind out of my sails, yet Baum’s charming tale and characters, with the aid of W.W. Denslow’s magnificent illustrations, are enough spell to disarm and cast my doubts away. From the eye of a child, Dorothy is a protagonist that everyone will certainly root for; she has the right amount of sense to do what needs to be done, that is, search for a way back home, and never back down however hard and ugly things get. The same can be said of his companions and friends, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion, as they chase after their individual aspirations.
The way I see it, in Children’s Literature, particularly in the 1900’s — the era during when the book was published — tales are more inclined to be didactic, character development sometimes gives way to prop up the moral of the story. Baum, however, serves up both in equal portion in this first book in the Oz series; as the characters go nearer and nearer toward the realization of each of their individual goals, their actions becomes the compass that drives them to their sense of self-fulfillment.
The author’s prose rolls along smooth as silk, the experience no different from Dorothy’s as she finds herself swept up in the cyclone’s caressing grip. While she and her companions are hurled adventure after adventure, chase after chase, Baum’s narration ambles along with plentiful of heart-gripping and tense moments yet doesn’t go along uncomplicated strides that might confuse his young readers. Traipsing his own yellow brick road, the author knows enough how to get there and when to get there, especially in arriving at the book’s key scenes.
As I said earlier, being clueless and a first time reader of the book served me more as an advantage, specifically in seeing the purpose of how the little things affect my perception of each of the incidents and characters in The Wizard of Oz — that there’s a violent reason behind the Tin Woodman’s yearning; that there’s more to the wizard Oz, the great and the terrible, to his appearance and what he purports himself to be; that cruel creatures isn’t what they seem; that defeating a wicked witch isn’t that hard when others suppose it is (this last one is so simple and utterly clever I even chastised myself for over-thinking).
With its adorable protagonists, The Wizard of Oz is an enchanting and entertaining tale with an important lesson to impart, sure to captivate readers of any age. Indeed, its status in American culture has never waned even after a hundred or so years since it was first published. Baum’s classic book is an adventure waiting for everyone to discover.
All it takes is a courageous first step on the yellow brick road.