The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Study Guide

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W.W. Denslow, is without a doubt one of the most beloved children's books of all time. Its 1939 film adaptation is equally renowned; it routinely appears on lists of the greatest films in cinema history. The novel's characters and setting of the Land of Oz are firmly entrenched in American pop culture. The work has been translated into eight different languages as well.

The novel was published by George M. Hill Company on May 17th, 1900 and was dedicated to Baum's wife. In the first five months of the first edition, it was reprinted four times for a total of 90,000 copies. When the George M. Hill Company went bankrupt in 1901 the Bobbs-Merrill Company took over the novel's publication. By 1938 over one million copies of the book were printed, and by 1956 there were over 3 million copies in print.

Baum acknowledged that he was indebted to the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, but wanted his own fairy tale to be more enchanting and less frightening. Scholars believe The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was also inspired by the 1893 Chicago World's Fair; influences can be seen in Baum's depiction of the Emerald City. Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865) is touted as a major influence as well; Baum found the plot somewhat complicated but liked the central character of Alice and the plentiful illustrations, which he felt were key to successful children's literature. He did not believe that children's literature should be weighed down with didacticism and morality lessons.

The novel was reviewed favorably upon its release, with The New York Times praising its readability and pleasant illustrations. It has been criticized for poor writing by others, however, and it took many years before the book received serious literary critical analysis. One of the most important pieces of scholarly work on the novel is Henry Littlefield's 1968 article discerning the Populist influences in the text; other scholars have disagreed with this reading. The novel has been banned periodically by fundamentalist Christians for its supposed promotion of witchcraft, secularism, equality of the sexes, and talking animals. In 2000 the critic Leonard Everett Fisher reassessed the novel from a modern vantage point, noting that it has "a timeless message from a less complex era, and it continues to resonate."

Baum initially had no plans to write a sequel, but letters from thousands of children convinced him otherwise. He wrote the first sequel in 1904 and published several more before he tried to convince his enthusiastic readers that the Land of Oz had lost contact with the real world. This did not convince anyone, however, and he published several more books in the series before his death in 1916. Another writer, Ruth Plumly Thompson, was tasked by the publisher to write more sequels; she eventually completely twenty-one more.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was and is a popular book, but it is fair to say its cultural permanence is at least partly indebted to its most famous adaptation – the 1939 film starring Judy Garland. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first adapted as a Broadway musical (which dropped "Wonderful" from the title) in 1902 and was phenomenally successful. In 1925 a silent film adaptation was produced, but it was not favorably reviewed. In 1939, the iconic version was produced, and it quickly captured the imagination of a new generation of Americans. It has continued to delight and enthrall viewers in the new century.