What I Am Reading: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Ok, yes, I have read this book so many times I can probably recite large passages of it, but I am reading it again. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum is one of my all-time favorite books and I have some new personal projects in the works related to it, so I am reading it again. In this case, I am reading a reprint of the first edition illustrated by W. W. Denslow.

There are so many reasons that I love this book and I find something new to like every single time I read it. It’s such a well-known story in so many ways, especially the first two-thirds of it which are retold in the 1939 movie with Judy Garland, and yet it’s got so many details and elements that are so easily forgotten. The side-pieces are often the most interesting ones. They flesh out the world and tell us a lot about our heroes and their adventure – from the frightening Kalidahs that chase the travelers, to the charming China Kingdom where the most dangerous thing is the travelers themselves.

It’s interesting to me how different this book is from the rest of the Oz series. Baum didn’t have a plan for the world before he wrote this book. At least, not one that would extend it into a longer series. And this book was created in close collaboration with the illustrator, which he would never do again (and none of the subsequent books retained Denslow as the illustrator). It means that while many elements of Oz remain constant, many things also change dramatically after this book. Since this is by far the most familiar and famous book in the series, though, it raises the question of what differences matter and which ones don’t!

Every time I read this book I remember why I love it and why it has such a well-deserved place in our culture as a classic story. The adventure is unusual and was groundbreaking at its time in so many ways, but it’s also just pure fun and imagination. This book is really something special and I love reading it!

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