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Book Club Wed Jul 16 2008

August 2008 Selection: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Come join us this month as we take a trip down the Yellow Brick Road to a place that many of us are already familiar with and love - the wonderful world of Oz. While most of us are well acquainted with the movie The Wizard of Oz, fewer people have been introduced to the book that originally inspired Judy Garland's famous performance. Written by L. Frank Baum in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz broke sales records and was made into a play and the famous musical, all of which turned the author into a celebrity. After the success of this first book, Baum went on to write fourteen other books in the series as well as over 35 other non-Oz books, none of which were ever as successful as the original Oz book and its immediate successor, The Marvelous Land of Oz.

Set in Kansas, the orphan Dorothy lives with her Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and dog Toto on a small farm that is one day hit by a horrible cyclone. Dorothy and Toto are carried away to a strange land where they are greeted by the Good Witch of the North and the Munchkins, the inhabitants of the land. Soon after landing, Dorothy is told that her house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East and only her silver shoes (not red!) remain. After imploring the Good Witch for directions on how to get home, she gives Dorothy a protective kiss on her forehead and sends her on her way, down the Yellow Brick Road, to find the Wizard in the Emerald City of Oz. It is along this way that she meets three characters she will never forget: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.

It is a great example of Baum's wit that the very characteristics Dorothy's friends most desire are also the ones they most exemplify. The Scarecrow yearns for a brain, yet he is the one who constantly provides well-thought, logical solutions for the obstacles the group faces on the way to Oz. The Tin Man wants nothing more than a heart, but it is his great empathy for all living things that makes him noble and virtuous. The Cowardly Lion may believe his fear warrants him his name, but it is his ability to carry forth in the face of his fears that makes him truly courageous. Just as Dorothy was always able to find her way home, the story holds up the notion that everything you need is already inside you.

Born in New York, Baum moved to Chicago after the birth of his third son where he worked as a reporter for the Chicago Evening Post, a salesman and editor of a magazine for window decorators. He began publishing children's stories at the encouragement of his mother-in-law and first collaborated with Chicago illustrator W.W. Denslow in 1898. Denslow served as the original illustrator of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum never intended to write more than one Oz book, however financial difficulties later in his life prompted him to continue the series. A dispute with Denslow over the first book's royalties resulted in John R. Neill serving as the illustrator for all the subsequent books. The Oz books have since become the subject of much critical analyses, from political, gender, commercialism, exchange theory and more.

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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

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