Study Guide

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

By L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Introduction

You're off to read the Wizard, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! (Sorry. We couldn't resist.)

You may think you know this one cold, but even if you've seen the movie a thousand times, you're in for a few surprises. And we're not talking about lions and tigers and bears.

This book has the flavor of a classic fairy tale. You know, the kind of story where wicked stepsisters slice off pieces of their feet to cram them into glass slippers? Or where horrible stepmoms convince their husbands to abandon their kids in the woods where they're enslaved and fattened up by a cannibalistic witch? Yeah, that kind of fairy tale. (Apparently the children of long ago liked their bedtime stories with a little more CSI: Miami than Disney princess.)

That's not to say The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a grisly story. It's not. But there are a few scenes—such as when the Tin Woodman explains exactly how he became a tin man—that may catch you off guard. Still, this is the classic story of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the tin man, and the Lion and their quest to meet a wizard, vanquish a witch, and acquire their desired parting gifts: a brain, a heart, some courage, and a way home. It's just that in its original novel format, the story contains a few more gruesome details, a few new characters, some odd tangents, and a lot more chopping. Turns out the tin man is like a ninja with his axe. Who knew?

When L. Frank Baum wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he wasn't trying to create a cautionary tale, which is what a lot of the old Brothers Grimm stories were. Baum's goal wasn't to warn children about anything. He just wanted to write a story that would make kids feel happy. That's it. Plain and simple.

Clearly, he succeeded.

The book was so popular when it was published back in 1900 that Baum went on to write 13 more Oz titles, and the stories didn't end there. Multiple authors continued to write about Baum's fictional land long after he died in 1919. The publishers behind 13 of Baum's Oz books published 26 more by other authors between 1921 and 1963. Other publishers and authors continued the tradition after that.

Today, Baum's original tale continues to inspire new work, including a recent trio of books by Sherwood Smith that ended with the publication of Sky Pyrates Over Oz in 2014. And there are also books that go beyond the traditional canon to present an alternative view of the Land of Oz, like Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. That one was so popular it became an award-winning Broadway musical.

Just think: all of those books and stories, representing over a hundred years of adventures and characters, started right here with the book you're about to read.

So put on your silver slippers (they weren't ruby until the 1939 Technicolor movie version of the story) and get ready to ease on down the yellow brick road. Who knows? You might even discover a few new options for Halloween costumes. Kalidah, anyone?

What is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz About and Why Should I Care?

Oz is a place that defies expectations. Big surprises are everywhere and little contradictions abound. The guy who cuts wood for a living is made out of metal. The king of beasts is scared of his own shadow. A little girl is more powerful than a wicked witch. But perhaps the book's biggest surprise is this: obstacles that seem impossible to overcome turn out to be nothing more than bumps in the (yellow brick) road.

Think about it. Dorothy and her friends encounter a lot of unexpected problems as they work toward their goals, and each time, they find a way to keep on moving. When a huge ditch blocks their path, they jump over it. When the next ditch is too large to jump across, they build a bridge. They construct rafts and ladders and, on one memorable occasion, a chariot designed to be pulled by talking mice. More than once, someone worries that all is lost—but it's always a momentary feeling.

Even when Dorothy and her pals face their most bitter disappointment—when the Wizard admits he can't actually help them with all that brain/heart/courage stuff—they stay positive and find their own solutions. In this story, as long as the characters keep on keeping on, things have a way of working themselves out. And that's a great message.

Whether we're talking about brains and hearts or money and power, life isn't about the rewards that someone else gives you. It's about digging deep to find good things in yourself. Difficult circumstances may arise, but you'll get through them with a little help from your friends.

Plenty of writers have tackled the topic of self-reliance, but L. Frank Baum does so with uncommon style. So go ahead. Read the book. And the next time you find yourself staring down a gang of winged monkeys, just tell yourself, "I've got this." That's a life lesson you can put in the bank.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Resources

WEBSITES

A Cool Exhibit by the Library of Congress
Interesting documents, manuscripts, early reviews of the book (it was an instant success!), and more.

A List of 75 Fascinating (and Occasionally Horrifying) Facts About the Movie
You want fun facts? We've got your fun facts. Like…Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, was a kindergarten teacher before she got into acting.

The Illustrations
Page through the original drawings from the publisher's 1900 edition of the book.

MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTIONS

The Classic Oz
See the film poster, review the cast, watch a clip, and read the summary. Yeah, you're going to want to see it again.

Oh, You Wanted the One with Michael Jackson and Diana Ross?
We got you. Roger Ebert gave The Wiz three out of four stars back in 1978—and, of course, one thumb up—so it could be worth a watch. If only to see MJ easing down the yellow brick road.

The One with the Muppets
Oh yes. In Muppets' Wizard of Oz, Piggy plays the witches, Queen Latifah is Aunt Em, and Quentin Tarantino plays Kermit's director.

ARTICLES AND INTERVIEWS

"Dissecting the Real Wizard of Oz"
Slate takes a closer look at America's first fairy tale, and in particular, its creator: L. Frank Baum.

A Look Behind the Curtain
Smithsonian Magazine profiles L. Frank Baum (and a 2000 biography about his life).

L. Frank Baum Profile
A website that maps the literature of Kansas wouldn't be complete without a page dedicated to Baum. Photos, a bio, writing samples, and more.

A Critique of Oz's Critics
This Wall Street Journal writer thinks people tend to read too much into the story.

VIDEO

Great Trailer, or Greatest Trailer?
Videos weren't really a thing in the author's lifetime. Why not watch the original trailer for the movie instead?

AUDIO

Audiobook Excerpt
Listen to a sample from the audiobook, read by Anne Hathaway.

All Things Considered
NPR takes a look at the book's origins.

IMAGES

Meet the Author
You'll also meet his awesome 'stache.

Meet the Illustrator
His name is William Wallace Winslow. (Another great mustache!)

The Book Cover
This is from the first edition, which was printed in 1900.