Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank L. BaumTitle: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Author: L. Frank Baum
Narrator: Anne Hathaway
Audiobook Length: 3 hours, 49 minutes
Genre: Fantasy; Children’s
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Release Date: 17 May 1900
Bottom Line: Even Anne Hathaway cannot make this a good story.

“Follow the adventures of young Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto as they get swept away into the magical land of Oz , where they encounter characters and places you may remember from the movie – and several more that never made it to the big screen – on an unforgettable journey to the Emerald City.”

Thoughts: Anne Hathaway is not a horrible narrator. When she is narrating lines of text, her voice is quite pleasant, melodious, and very easy on the ears. Her vocalizations of the characters, however, leave a lot to be desired. The Lion has a Jewish twang, while the Scarecrow definitely has a Brooklyn lilt. Dorothy sounds like she is always going to cry, and the Tin Woodman sounds like he is also constantly on the verge of tears. Had Ms. Hathaway not tried so hard to differentiate the voices, the entire performance would have been much more even and bearable. Unfortunately, her voices becomes so distracting that one begins to cringe at the mere thought of more dialogue. This is not the type of narrator experience one should have when one is already highly antagonistic towards the story.

That being said, there are some pleasant surprises that slightly redeem the story. Knowing about the hypothesized allegorical connections before listening or reading the original version makes one focus on the multiple mentions of silver, green, and gold throughout the story. (Unfortunately, whether the allegory is true or not is not something a generic reader will ever be able to discern.) Then there is the addition of a backstory for the Flying Monkeys, which makes them less frightening and much more interesting characters. The details of the book omitted from the movie really do add a bit more credence to the story, although that is not saying much.

The main issue with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is that it passes itself off as an adult warning tale hidden within the confines of a children’s story, and neither are very good stories or warnings. There is no doubt that the use of color is a deliberate choice, and there is plenty of symbolism throughout the story. However, it is obtuse symbolism. Even literary scholars do not agree on Baum’s ultimate message. There is something fundamentally wrong and almost subliminal about Baum’s motivation when no one can interpret his message. As for the child’s tale portion, there are aspects of the story that seem questionable for its audience. The killing, the slavery, and the trickery are all one thing, but the characters themselves are also problematic. They are embarrassingly clueless and naïve, something which just does not mesh well with today’s information-driven culture. They do not question authority, and they earn rewards for their lack of challenge. They are nothing but blind followers, not the mindset most parents want to teach their children. The children’s story may have been appropriate for the time in which it was written, but it does not cross generations at all.

I am not and have never been a fan of the movie version of The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her friends drive me batty. There is something about her voice that makes me cringe. The story is too extreme in its lessons of good and evil for enjoyment, and while the cinematography is gorgeous, it does nothing to improve the overall plot. I was really hoping the combination of Anne Hathaway and the original version of the story would be enough to change my mind. Alas, it is not enough, and my attempt to at least understand the fascination of this weird and pitiful story is at an end.

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