The Wizard of Oz is a classic film, as is its inspiration, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Growing up, The Wizard of Oz was one of my all-time favorite movies and being an avid reader it is surprising that I had not read the book before this course. I suppose that is the point of this lesson though, to examine the effects of a movie that has overshadowed the original text. The differences between the two are numerous, but the changes made, in my opinion, are what have led to the film becoming the timeless classic that we know and love.
Scene to scene, chapter to chapter, there are many choices made by the filmmakers that stray from the original text, but I think the biggest change is the overall plot of the book. The book, in my opinion, is much more of an episodic adventure, where the movie has a more circular plot. This makes sense when translating a book into a film, especially when taking into consideration that film was a somewhat new medium and book-to-film interpretations were just beginning. Viewers today expect to see exact representations of their favorite stories and anything less is a disappointment. I wonder if it was the same then. I think that by altering the plot to fit within a circular story line made the story more palatable for viewers and helped to create a more satisfying story.
One way that the filmmakers created this circular story is by introducing new characters in what I think was an interesting way. Rather than simply introducing the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Wicked Witch, and the Wizard of Oz in the Land of Oz, the filmmakers cleverly created “real life” counterparts in Dorothy’s Kansas life. I think this made for a more rounded story and made the story more plausible for viewers not accustomed to science fiction or surrealism. We also do not learn much of the backstory behind the Scarecrow or Tin Man like we do in the book. Aside from the time constraints of film, it was also likely because the back stories would not do much to advance the plot of the movie. The Scarecrow was stuffed the day before Dorothy found him, so he literally has no back story. The Tin Man, on the other hand, had a rich back story about how he came to be made of tin. This story, one of being cut apart limb by limb, however, would be considered graphic for children even today, so its omission is logical.
In addition to adding characters, two characters from the book were combined into one. In the book, the Witch of the North and Glinda, the Witch of the South are two separate characters. In the movie, however, they were combined in the film, creating another instance of circularity. We meet Glinda when Dorothy first arrives in Munchkin Land and are revisited by her again when she saves Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion in the field of poppies, and at the end of the movie when Dorothy is finally sent home. In the book, we met the Witch of the North when Dorothy first arrived in Oz. She was described as being much older than Uncle Henry with a face “covered with wrinkles, her hair nearly white, and she walked rather stiffly”. Glinda, the Witch of the South, is not introduced until much later when she helps send Dorothy home. Unlike the Witch of the North, Glinda is “both beautiful and young to their eyes”. While I understand why these two witches were combined for the film, I think the story is better served by having the witches as separate characters. If Glinda knew that the shoes would take Dorothy home from the beginning, why would she make her go on such a grueling and dangerous journey? With two different witches, it is easier to understand that perhaps the Witch of the North did not know the power of the shoes, making the journey to seek out Glinda necessary.
By setting up the beginning of the movie with negativity towards the Elvira Gulch/Wicked Witch character, the filmmakers were able to create a more circular story a major climax where the book has more than one climax and has a number of different adventures. From the very beginning of the movie, there is a conflict between Dorothy and the Wicked Witch leading to a large climax when Dorothy finally melts the witch. In the book, we don’t learn of the Witch until much later. She is mentioned by the Witch of the North, but there is not really a true conflict between Dorothy and the Witch of the West until the point that the she tries to steal Dorothy’s shoes. The true conflict, in fact, is between the Witch of the West and the Wizard. Dorothy is merely fighting Oz’s battle for him, where her conflict with Witch is much more developed in the film.
Another major difference is the entire premise of the Land Oz. In the book, Dorothy actually travels to Oz. This is evidenced by the description of Dorothy’s return home. “For she was sitting on the broad Kansas prairie, and just before her was the new farmhouse Uncle Henry built after the cyclone carried away the old one”. The house has obviously disappeared or else it would not have needed to be rebuilt. Unless she had been unconscious on the prairie for a very long time, it is unlikely that she was simply imaging her adventure through Oz. The film, on the other hand, depicts Oz as a dream or hallucination caused by being hit on the head. We see this Dorothy is struck on the head and wakes up in her same room.
In the movie interpretation, Dorothy starts out in Kansas, just as in the book. Both are dull and gray, but the story taking place in both is very different. In the movie we are given a more in depth look at Dorothy’s life in Kansas, which is surprising as books typically provide a deeper story. Where the book begins almost immediately with the approaching cyclone, in the film we are introduced to the farm hands that are never mentioned in the book. We also meet Elvira Gulch and Professor Marvel, other characters not mentioned in the book. In addition to just meeting these characters, these characters shift the plot from that of the original book. Dorothy runs away from home because of Ms. Gulch, causing her to meet Professor Marvel/Oz and to get stuck in the cyclone rather than make it to the safety of the storm cellar. The fact the Dorothy is running away makes the theme of “home” stronger than presented in the book. In the film, Dorothy decided to leave home. She did not intend to be taken to a magical land, but just the same, she made the choice to leave home. In the book her trip to Oz is completely accidental.
In creating a circular plot, the filmmakers removed, downplayed, or altered several of the episodes and story elements presented in the book. One example is the use of color. In the book, colors are very important. The munchkins, for example, are represented by the color blue. This is part of what causes the munchkins to trust Dorothy. Their houses and clothing, in the book, were all blue, just like the dress she chose to wear upon arriving in Oz. In the film, we see Munchkin Land as a bright colorful place. This was probably done for the same reason that Dorothy’s shoes were changed from silver to ruby. That is that the film makers were showcasing the use of Technicolor and the bright colors and shiny ruby color were more impressive on film. Since this was Dorothy’s (and the viewer’s) first impression of Oz, I think the film makers were wise in making such a contrast with the image of Kansas.
Another major departure from the book is the golden cap and flying monkeys. In the book, the golden cap is the source of the Wicked Witch’s power over the flying monkeys. The book explains that the monkeys can be used three times by each owner of the cap before losing its power. Dorothy also uses the cap to control the monkeys, showing that the monkeys are not evil, rather they are just cursed and doomed to serve whoever controls the cap. The film gives the impression the Winkies and flying monkeys are simply the Wicked Witch’s slaves. I thought it was interesting, however, that the filmmakers DID include the golden cap. There is a scene where the Wicked Witch is talking to one of the flying monkeys and you can clearly see the cap in her hand. I watched this movie probably one hundred times or more in my life but never noticed this. Perhaps it was intended to be a nod to fans of the book who would have noticed the omission of the cap.
One thing that remains constant in both the film and the book is the theme; that home is important. Even if it is not the most beautiful or glamorous, home is where family is found and it is someplace to be treasured and appreciated.
The book provides readers with a sprawling adventure that includes many different lands and characters not included in the film. With a more episodic plot, we are taken on a fast paced adventure through Oz that feels rushed at times, but provides much excitement for the reader. With the episodic plot line, readers experience a number of adventures and climactic moments rather than the one major climax found in the movie.
As with most books, we are able to get to know the book’s characters on a much deeper level. From the very first pages, we learn about the history and back story of Uncle Henry and Auntie Em including how they came to live on the prairie and how life on the prairie changed Auntie Em in particular. We also learn more about the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin Man, learning that the Scarecrow was stuffed just the day before Dorothy finds him in the farmer’s field and that the Lion acts brave by roaring loudly, but that he is in fact a coward. The most interesting of these is the back story of the Tin Man in which we learn of his love for a beautiful girl. Through a curse, he loses all of his limbs and has them replaced with tin, eventually losing even his heart. With the loss of his heart, he loses his love.
In addition to knowing the main characters more deeply, we are also introduced to secondary characters that are not present in the movie, including the field mice and their queen, the Khalidas, the stork, the China princess, the Quadlings, and the Hammer-heads. The field mice are important in this book as they are the reason that Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion are saved from the poisonous poppies, unlike in the movie when they are saved by snow sent by Glinda. The other characters were also important to Dorothy’s travels through Oz, but were in parts of the book that were not chosen for the movie, so it makes sense that they were not included in the film.
Setting is very important in this book as there is a stark contrast between dull, drab Kansas and the bright and glistening Oz. L. Frank Baum paints Kansas as a lifeless land, with descriptions such as the “great gray prairie”, “not a tree nor a house”, and “the house was as dull and gray as everything else”. Oz, on the other hand, is bounding with life. With “lovely patches of greensward”, “trees bearing rich and luscious fruits”, “banks of gorgeous flowers”, and “birds with rare and brilliant plumage” Oz is a land full of life and vitality, very much the opposite of Dorothy’s Kansas. While the visuals of the setting are presented in the film, the text descriptions really causes you to think about the land in which Dorothy has arrived, rather than taking it for granted in the film.
While being far from a faithful interpretation of the original book, the filmmakers created a well-rounded story that captured the essence of Oz while adapting the story to the medium of film.
Just as the book has characters not present in the film, so too does the film. Most noticeable are the farmhands, Zeke, Hickory, and Hunk, as well as Ms. Gulch and Professor Marvel. In my opinion, this was probably done to make a more circular story line and advance the story of their Oz counterparts even before Dorothy’s adventure. It also let viewers get to know the characters before even meeting them. For example, when Dorothy meets Professor Marvel, we see that he is sneaky and dishonest. When we are introduced to the Wizard of Oz, we can assume that he has the same character traits. We also get to learn about these characters and their interactions with each other through the use of two and three shots. One good example of a three-shot is when the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man are waiting outside the castle plotting how best to rescue Dorothy.
Another way in which we got to know the character was the use of close-up shots. Close-ups are used throughout the film to show the emotions of the characters, as well as during the songs. Close-ups are most frequently used with Dorothy, which makes sense as she is the main character and also shows the most emotion throughout the film
The setting in the film is impressively established through wide shots of the varied landscapes. The film was created with expansive sets with painted backdrops. This combination, along with the wide shots, creates the impression of a large, fantastical world; a world that I am sure must have wowed viewers who watched the film when it was originally released. These establishing shots are extremely effective and provide an even richer picture of Oz than presented in the book.
The use of color and black and white was also an effective choice in the visuals of the film. While in Kansas, the filmmakers decided to use the black and white film that was traditionally used at the time. In contrast, Technicolor film was used in Oz, making a large impression when Dorothy first opens the door into this new world. Filmmakers obviously considered their audience, one not accustomed to colored films, and provided a wow-factor by waiting to introduce color into the film until Dorothy’s arrival in Oz.
.One noticeable change from the book is the addition of songs. By translating the book into a musical, the filmmakers were able to add a lot of emotion and personality into the characters, as well as being able to elicit emotions from the viewers. Who would not feel the joy and excitement of the Munchkins when listening to Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead or feel Dorothy’s longing in Somewhere Over the Rainbow? By adding songs, the filmmakers were able to cleverly and efficiently get viewers invested in the emotions of the characters while staying within the time constraints of a film.
While the book is a classic in its own right, it was a classic book at the time the film was made after all, the film version of the Wizard of Oz has maintained its popularity around the world. In addition to its popularity, it has also had an influence in film, TV, and music, even in recent years.
Due to its popularity, The Wizard of Oz has been referenced in many different mediums, but one of the most recent is in one of my favorite television shows, LOST. The entire premise of the show mirrors that of the film and book. The characters in the show are stranded in an odd and lovely world that can be dangerous at times. Their adventures and motivations on the island are much the same of Dorothy’s, which is a desire to go home. Additionally, the creators of the show also directly reference the film through the names of episodes and characters, like “Henry Gale” who arrives on the island by hot air balloon, or episodes called The Man Behind the Curtain and There’s No Place Like Home, both direct references to lines in the film.
The visuals of the film have also had lasting effects in pop culture with of the most popular being the Star Wars movies. One of the most obvious correlations is between the characters. C3PO, the golden robot, is in essence a man made of tin, closely resembling the Tin Man. Another of Dorothy’s companions, the Lion, creates a striking comparison to George Lucas’s Chewbacca. Luke Skywalker, the protagonist of the Star War series, also shares many of the character traits of Dorothy. Both are naïve in many ways, but are passionate about their beliefs. Friendship is important to them and they are not too proud to lean on those around them.
One way in which the book has been recently reintroduced into pop culture is through the 2013 film, Oz the Great and Powerful. It wisely was created as a prequel to the 1939 film, rather than trying to recreate the classic film. In this film, we are introduced to many of the elements from the book that were omitted from the original film, most notably the China village.
There is also the book and musical, Wicked, which is an interpretation of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West. While there is a lot of content that does not relate to the original text, there are connects to some of the elements from the original Oz books, such as references to the Quadlings and Boq, both omissions from the 1939 film.
While the 1939 movie is most undoubtedly more popular than the book, I think that quality of the book should not be diminished by the fact that it is not as well represented in pop culture. The film was so smartly and well done that I feel that the movie improved upon something that was already great. The filmmakers took advantage of new filming techniques and gave viewers a film like they had never seen before.
Edith, very good paper about the book and film versions of the Wizard of Oz. You did a great job comparing the "texts" and what they offer, and thinking about what that means in a cultural context.
I'm Edie - wife, mom, instructional designer,online instructor, home renovator,
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