The Wizard of Oz: An Enchanting Adaptation
Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz is a fantasy story loved and cherished by millions who read it. Every year, the book and the movie grow closer to becoming part of American mythology. The two versions of the story are remarkably alike in tone and spirit, and the movie reinforces key themes of the book about the importance of home and the true power of humanity. The book and the movie do differ, however; the movie provides a slightly more concrete view of reality than the perception-based world of the book, and the book contains a satire of populism ignored by teachers for decades after its release and not present in the movie.
Both versions of The Wizard of Oz were created primarily for the purpose of entertainment. Baum says it “aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out” (1). The title screen of the movie says, “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and (sic) Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return…and to the Young in Heart — we dedicate this picture.” This purpose is reflected in the atmosphere and tone of the story. Almost everyone in the tale is good, even the Flying Monkeys, whose curse binds them to servitude, the Hammer-Heads, who are only trying to defend their people from invaders, and the Yellow Winkies, who initially oppose Dorothy but immediately thank her when she frees them of the Wicked Witch of the West. The antagonists of the story are the malignant forces that are beyond man’s control, such as the tornado and the witches. This touch of Realism only contributes to the optimism of the book. All the true humans become protagonists and support the implied theme: everyone has some good in them. This commitment to joyful and pure entertainment is the main reason people so dearly love the book and the movie.
The book and the movie have some strong themes in common. Both emphasize the importance of home; Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home” is a refrain of the story, though the line itself is only in the movie. The girl likes Oz, but she loves Kansas, a place whose only local color is its desolate, black and white existence. Baum says that every person has a place where they truly belong. Another theme of both the book and the movie is that humans always have the power to achieve what they desire at their fingertips. The Scarecrow always had brains, and the Tin Man had a heart; they just didn’t realize it. The Cowardly Lion, whose, very name is a paradox, had courage inside him all along. Dorothy could have come home at any time with three taps of her slippers and a few quick words. All these people needed were people to reveal the truth to them; these people were Oz in the Emerald City and the Good Witch, Glinda. Dorothy and her three friends are dynamic characters, even if they attribute all their development to the Wizard of Oz. These themes were left in the movie to increase its value as family entertainment and a teaching tool for children. As a result, young people still watch the movie today.
The book and the movie share important themes, but they also differ slightly in their takes on the conflict between perception and reality. Both say that perception of reality is often more important than reality itself, but the movie is more grounded in the real world than the book is. In Baum’s book, the setting of Oz is a fantastic place that Dorothy may have actually visited; the movie instead shifts the setting inside Dorothy’s mind. During the denouement, the movie is clear that Dorothy was only dreaming, and the real crisis she faced was not a physical conflict against the Wicked Witch of the West but a psychological crisis regarding her feelings about home. “But I did leave you, Uncle Henry — that’s just the trouble. And I tried to get back for days and days,” Dorothy says when she wakes up. Aunt Em replies, “There, there, lie quiet now. You just had a bad dream.” The Emerald City provides reality questions of its own. The reality-coloring goggles in the book are not present in the movie, where the city really is green and shiny.
The points of epiphany for the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion are different in the book than in the movie. Oz tells them that they have had what they desired all along, but none of the men believe him. Instead of giving the three physical signs of their traits, as in the movie, Oz must supply them with “bran-new brains” (166), a silk heart filled with sawdust (168), and a bottle of liquid courage. The characters in the book and the movie are both subject to their perceptions of reality, but the people in the book are especially dependent. The screenwriters probably changed the movie in part for expedience and faster pacing of the plot, but they probably also did it to make the movie easier to swallow for the most unimaginative and reality-dependent portion of the human population: adults.
Another element of the book that is missing from the movie is the satire that permeates The Wizard of Oz’s pages. The educational establishment was not aware that The Wizard of Oz was a satire of populism until Henry Littlefield’s 1963 essay “The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism,” and the general public is still ignorant of the book’s second meaning. Given the intricacies of this part of the story, the satire would not have fit in the movie even if the creators knew about it. In the book, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion are symbols of the farmers, the industrial workers, and William Jennings Bryan; in the movie, they are simply Hunk, Hickory, and Zeke. The absence of satire does not detract from the movie; it merely augments its purpose as pure entertainment with positive, child-friendly themes.
The Wizard of Oz’s movie adaptation is slightly different from the book, but the story remains the same. The movie creators kept and strengthened the charm and the positive messages of the book, and that devotion to heart and soul overrides any differences in perceptions of reality or hidden satire. Sixty-three years after its release, the movie remains one of the greatest movie adaptations of a book ever filmed. The differences in details in an adaptation are immaterial as long as the movie keeps the spirit of the book alive.