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Somewhere Over The Rainbow……………….

The_Wonderful_Wizard_of_Oz,_006I have never read The Wizard of Oz. Not as far as I remember. My childhood books were very much the classics of English literature for children. I remember of course, A.A. Milne, Lewis Carroll, Wind In The Willows (very strongly), the marvels of the Andrew Lang coloured fairy story books, which I was forever borrowing from the library, Dodie Smith, the marvellous Moomins, a few Blytons – the Faraway Tree stood out. The famous five appealed less than Swallows and Amazons – I wanted to be Pirate Nancy Amazon, the Swallows were too tame! , Noel Streatfield, and, most of all, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – a marvellous central character, a cross, imperious, bad-tempered girl who discovers a real love of the natural world (clearly, lots to identify with!) My guess is that what lay over the Atlantic did not really enter my mother’s mind. I don’t think I even saw the film till I was an adult, probably on one of the perennial TV showings.

W.W.Denslow, Illustrator

W.W.Denslow, Illustrator

So, having discovered that Baum wrote it – it never even occurred to me that it had had a literary beginning way before Judy Garland developed an obsession with rainbows – and that it first saw the light of day in 1900, it seemed time to see what a 1900 child was getting, particularly as the version I got on Kindle came with the original drawings (albeit in black and white). I gather that one very original feature of the book was that it had colour illustrations, which of course is something we absolutely expect in a children’s book these days. Thinking about those illustrations it was interesting to see that Dorothy is quite a stocky, solid, normal looking little girl, not stylised into extreme pulchritude in the Barbied or Disneyfied fashion of today

I was intrigued by Baum’s reasons for writing this . In the foreword, he states he wanted to write a book full of magic and wonders but without the moralising aspect of children’s books of the time – fair dos to that – but, curiously he was troubled by the nightmares and the horrors in children’s books – as in traditional fairy stories, for example, Brothers Grimm style. However, I was less impressed by that idea. Children do tend to rather love a degree of grisly, and I think it’s adults who then forget that as children there was a kind of terrified delight in the grimness of those dark tales. Things always came right in the end, despite the horridness.

I do have to say I rather missed the scary in this. There are of course baddies – the two Wicked Witches, though the first one is killed by Dorothy’s house landing on her before we even know she exists, and the second one, though not the nicest of lassies by any means, certainly is no where near as chilling as witches generally are in fairy tales. Besides, Dorothy is such a sensible and grown-up little body that though we are told she is frightened, homesick and the rest, Baum doesn’t really go in for the kind of description which really gets you into identifying with the feelings of the central character. And, perhaps this was an unusual aspect in the book. It is the little girl, Dorothy, not to mention the good and beautiful witch Glinda who are the most sensible and grounded, as well as psychologically balanced. Dorothy might almost be said to be too good to be true. I liked very much that the driver of resolutions (with a little help from her friends whom she, of course, had enormously helped in their own psychological development) was a female child. Dorothy is rescuer as much as she is ever rescued.

It was also interesting to see that her heart’s desire was always practical and pragmatic – to get back to Kansas. In large part because the kindly girl does not want to leave her aunt worrying about her. Her companions, the brainy scarecrow who believes he has no brains, the highly empathetic and feeling tin man who feels he lacks heart, and the cowardly lion who constantly behaves bravely but not does not realise that feeling fearful doesn’t mean cowardice, have problems in being unable to positively see themselves as they really are. Likewise, the wonderful wizard of Oz himself is a fake, who is afraid of being seen for himself. It’s only Dorothy who doesn’t really have time for all this neurosis which, in their different ways, the over-imaginative chaps of straw, tin, lion and wizardry are expressing.

800px-Cowardly_lion2

Difficult to completely cast myself back into the mindset of the child I was, and try to see this through that child’s eye, but I suspect Dorothy would have been far too sensible and perfect for me to identify with, though I would have liked the fact that she’s the one who solves the problems rather than just waiting feebly for the prince to come and rescue her.

I also very much enjoyed the warm humour. Much of this may have resonated more for the adults reading the book to their children, though I’m not really convinced that those adults would have been thinking ‘here is an allegory about economic theory’ (see below):

Something I enjoyed almost more than the story was the inclusion, in the interesting after material of a fabulously, barkingly hot air academic analysis of this which tied itself in ever more ridiculous knots to find political, economic and sociological analysis of the text, indeed, going so far as to claim that Baum clearly wrote the book to engage with a major strand in economic theory thinking at the time – bimetallism. Oscar Wilde makes satiric reference to this theory in An Ideal Husband, as Mabel Chiltern deflects the often proposing Tommy from yet another proposal :

At luncheon I saw by the glare in his eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately I don’t know what bimetallism means. And I don’t believe anybody else does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for ten minutes. He looked quite shocked.

Bimetallism referred to a monetary standard which gave a fixed rate to both gold and silver – a fixed rate of exchange between them. Both gold and silver can then be exchanged into fixed rates of legal tender

Henry Littlefield, an historian, produced a highly complex analysis of the Wizard of Oz in the 60’s (irreverently I wondered under what influence!) claiming that the Yellow Brick Road which led to the Emerald City represented the Gold Standard. Which led to the fakery of The Emerald City with its fake wizard and the green glasses which deceived wearers into only seeing green: the fraudulence and fakery of ‘greenbacks’ – paper money. The silver slippers which finally will get Dorothy back to Kansas represent the stability which ‘Bimetallism’ would bring (according to its adherents) to the economy, compared to only using the Gold Standard.

Frank L. Baum

Frank L. Baum

You’re quite right, I went cross-eyed trying to work out the theory of this, as reported in the afterword which reported on Littlefield’s theories, and others.

I think I’m with Mabel Chiltern.

I enjoyed my reading of Baum, and the inevitable inclusion of that iconic rainbow moment from the 1936 film.

I shall be looking forward to including some more books written for children, in due course, as I progress, increasingly slowly, through the century. It seems harder to move on from a year than I anticipated

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Amazon UK
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Amazon USA
This Kindle version has the original illustrations, but in black and white, and with the addition of a lot of extra background material

I have since found another version, also on Kindle, with those original illustrations by W.W. Denslow, but as colour illustrations. Heaven. I’m not sure whether it has all the interesting postscripts that the copy I had contains – I suspect not, from the big difference in numbers of pages. I suspect the first version is perhaps of more interest for adults, with all the background. Me, I’m greedy, one version with both please!
Original illustrations in colour Amazon UK
Original illustrations in colour Amazon USA

A READING THE TWENTIETH POST – 1900 : FICTION  (CHILDREN’S)– NON UK

Finally – I’m told by the Site Admin that this is my 500th post. It seems more than fitting that a blog called ‘Lady Fancifull’ should have a distinctly fantasy/fairy tale book review for such a momentous number

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