Dorothy lived on the great and desolate Kansas prairie with her Uncle Henry and her Aunt Em. They had a very small house and Dorothy had a little bed in the corner of the single room. There was a small hole in the floor that served as a cyclone cellar. Everywhere Dorothy looked was flat and gray. The sun and wind were harsh and turned the once pretty and young Aunt Em into a hardened old woman. Uncle Henry never smiled either, and when Dorothy laughed Aunt Em looked surprised. What made Dorothy laugh was her little dog Toto; she was amused by him and they played all day long.
There was no room for laughter this day, however. Uncle Henry cried out that there was a cyclone coming and ran to take care of the cows and horses. Aunt Em rushed into the cellar and screamed for Dorothy to follow, but the girl tried to get Toto out from under her bed.
Suddenly the house whirled around in the air and rose higher and higher until it was at the top of the cyclone. It was carried miles away and rocked Dorothy and Toto gently, although the darkness and wind were horrible to behold. Once Toto even fell out of the trap door, but the pressure kept him aloft and Dorothy was able to grab him back inside and shut the trapdoor. As the hours went by, she decided to wait to see what happened and not worry; she soon fell asleep.
When Dorothy awoke she saw bright sunshine flooding the room. She was even more shocked by the beautiful land the house had settled in: there were stunning flowers, tall trees, a bubbling brook, and strange and colorful birds.
She observed three small men wearing bright blue clothing and a woman in white coming towards her. The men were no bigger than Dorothy despite being many years older. The woman - The Witch of the North - was also very old but spoke sweetly to Dorothy, welcoming her to the land of the Munchkins and expressing her gratitude for Dorothy's killing of the Wicked Witch of the East and setting her people free from slavery.
Dorothy was confused and said she did not recall killing anyone. The Witch of the North said it was her house that had landed on the Witch. From underneath the house a pair of legs and feet clad in silver shoes stuck out. The Witch of the North said that the little men, the Munchkins, were previously held in slavery. Although she was a witch herself, she was not powerful enough to stop the Witch of the East.
Dorothy replied that she thought all witches were bad, but the Witch of the North explained that the Witches of the North and South were good and the Witches of the East and West were evil. The Witch of the North also mentioned wizards, and whispered "Oz himself is the Great Wizard."
Before they could continue speaking, their attention was drawn to the disappearance of the Wicked Witch's feet. The sun dried up her body until only the silver shoes were left. The Witch of the North gave Dorothy the shoes, stating they belonged to her now. Dorothy inquired of her new friends how she could get back to Kansas. The Witch and Munchkins said it would be impossible to get there since the land was bordered by desert. Dorothy's tears startled and saddened the Witch, so she told her that the Wizard of Oz might know what to do.
The Witch kissed Dorothy's forehead and said she would be safe from harm on her imminent journey. She told her that the road was paved in yellow brick and that she and Toto should follow it straight to Oz.
When Dorothy and Toto were left alone, she changed into a white and blue gingham dress and the silver slippers, and had a lunch of bread and fruit. They began their walk, and Dorothy noted the abundant fields and the lovely blue houses of the Munchkins. She passed by a gathering of many Munchkins and had a meal with them, being personally served by the richest Munchkin himself, Boq. She was a little worried when he told her that he did not know how far away the Emerald City was because most people knew to keep away from Oz unless they had business there.
As Dorothy continued her journey she came upon a Scarecrow in a field. She was surprised to see one of his eyes wink at her in a friendly way, and she helped him down from the pole that held him aloft in the field. They introduced themselves, and he asked if he could go to the Emerald City to ask Oz for brains, since "I do not want people to call me a fool, and if my head stays stuffed with straw instead of with brains, as yours is, how am I ever to know anything?" Dorothy agreed and the two set out on the yellow brick road.
The road became rougher but it did not hurt The Scarecrow, even when he fell. The country became more "dismal and lonesome." The travelers sat down for a meal (although only Dorothy ate of course) and he asked her to tell him about herself. She spoke of Kansas and he marveled why she would want to go back to such a dreary place. She asked him to tell her a story, and he said he was only made yesterday and did not know many.
Instead the Scarecrow spoke of how the farmer created him, painting his ears, then eyes, then his nose and mouth. The farmer and his friend left the Scarecrow alone in the field. Some birds were afraid of him but an old crow landed on him and was not fooled. The crow told him how important brains were and the Scarecrow resolved to try and find some.
Dorothy and the Scarecrow continued along their way until they came to a great forest. The road went into it and they knew it must come out, but they decided to stay in a cottage so as to not walk in the dark. Dorothy fell asleep on a little pile of leaves on the floor and the Scarecrow stood by, as he did not need to sleep.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is without a doubt one of the most famous works of children's literature in the English language, in no small part due to the enduring power of the beloved 1939 film adaptation. Modern readers familiar only with the movie, however, are in for some surprises. Gone are the songs and musical numbers, the storylines about the carnival wizard and mean Miss Gulch, and the elaborate Munchkin welcome to the Land of Oz. The ruby slippers are silver and there are two good witches that make an appearance. In the movie, there is far more information about the backgrounds of Dorothy's three companions – The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, and The Cowardly Lion – and the history of Oz himself. The main difference is that Dorothy's trip to Oz is explained away as a dream in the movie, whereas in the book she actually travels there and continues to do so in subsequent books, eventually moving there permanently.
Some expository information regarding Baum's names and places provides illumination for readers. First, there are some differences between the illustrations of W.W. Denslow, the original artist of the novel, and the creative license taken by the film. In the drawings (and, frankly, in the way the character is written) Dorothy appears to be a young girl of 5 or 7, while in the film she is a teenager. Dorothy was never given the surname of "Gale" in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; this first appeared in the musical version of the novel and was incorporated into the book series beginning in the 1907 Ozma of Oz. Second, the word "Munchkin" may derive from the blue statue of a child in Bavaria known as the "Munich Child". While Baum did not visit Germany, he had German roots and lived in Pennsylvania, a land filled with German culture and history.
In regards to the origin of the word Oz, there is a story, probably apocryphal, recounted in Baum's autobiography that provides some background. According to Baum, he was telling stories of Dorothy to a group of children when one asked him the name of the fairyland. He looked over to his file drawers and noticed the labeling of "A-N" and "O-Z" and chose the latter as his famous land. Scholars debate the validity of this story and have posited other theories as to the origins of the land of Oz's name, but it is most likely that Baum chose it, and other names, for the sound rather than the sense of the word.
In the annotations to the Oxford World Classics edition of the novel, Susan Wolstenholme discusses the significance of color in the note about Dorothy's observation of the Munchkins' love for blue. Color is very important in both the novel and the movie; in the latter, the introduction of Technicolor wowed the audience, and in the former a distinct primary color is associated with the three countries – blue for the Munchkins, yellow for the Winkies, and red for the Quadlings. Baum was familiar with color theory, discussing it in his guide to window decoration. Using that theory, yellow is to the west of blue, red is to the bottom/south, the yellow and blue areas intersect in Emerald City, and the china country is trimmed in brown in Denslow's illustrations - which is where the three primary colors meet.
In these first few chapters the main thrusts and themes of the novel are established. Dorothy is a sweet and innocent child full of mirth and joy, exemplified by her delight in her free-spirited dog Toto. She makes an indelible impact upon the land of Oz through the killing of the Wicked Witch of the East, although she is loath to take responsibility for it. Although Kansas is dreary and deadening, she cannot help but desire above everything else to return to her home. Her journey to the great Wizard whom she is told will help her is not a solitary one, however, for the good-natured Scarecrow makes his appearance as her first companion. His wish for brains is in contrast to the wise statements he frequently makes; even young readers will note that he does indeed have "brains" in his straw head.