20 March 2013

What Oz the Great and Powerful Draws from Baum’s Works

The credits for Oz the Great and Powerful say the movie is “Based on the Works of L. Frank Baum.” Those works are in the public domain, meaning the moviemakers could use as many details from Baum’s Oz books as they wanted for free.

In fact, the moviemakers used very few details from those books, aside from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz itself, filtered through other versions (more on that tomorrow). Fans of the series have been tallying the items they recognize from the later books, and the list is short:
  • The Wizard’s full name is as stated in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908). That book also adds a few details to what the Wizard told Dorothy earlier about his arrival in Oz and finding himself caught between the witches.
  • When a map of Oz appears, it includes the name “Wogglebug.” Baum introduced that character in The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), and the maps credited to his highly educated self appeared in Tik-Tok of Oz (1915).
  • A group of mechanically inclined inventors is called the Tinkers, and Ozma of Oz (1907) includes a Mr. Tinker as co-inventor of the Tik-Tok the clockwork man.
  • As discussed yesterday, The Road to Oz (1909) introduced the notion of traveling inside a bubble. That main inspiration for that detail of the new movie nonetheless appears to be its reappearance in the 1939 movie.
  • Oz has to escape from aggressive plants in a forest, reminiscent of man-eating flowers in The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913). However, since both the book and movie forms of The Wizard of Oz include aggressive plants, Patchwork Girl might not be the source.
  • The land of Oz’s recent history echoes the situation Glinda explains in The Marvelous Land of Oz: the last rightful king was deposed and destroyed, leaving a daughter out of power. In the books, that daughter is Ozma. In Oz the Great and Powerful, that daughter is Glinda herself.
That last tidbit demonstrates the new movie’s real relationship to Baum’s books. While crediting them as its basis, the new movie’s story is incompatible with them.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, for example, the Wizard explains that he oversaw the building of the Emerald City and had his subjects wear green glasses, ostensibly to shield their eyes but really to make the city glow like emeralds. In the new movie Oz arrives at the Emerald City, its green towers already scraping the sky. That leaves less for him to do.

And there’s no way for this land of Oz to become the fairyland of The Marvelous Land of Oz and beyond because there’s no way to fit Ozma into that political history. The new movie’s Glinda is not only the Good Witch of the South as in the books and the obvious analogue of the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 movie, but also the rightful heir to the throne of the Emerald City.

There’s nothing wrong with offshoots of the original mythos. Indeed, Baum was so unconcerned with consistency that he created offshoots in his own books and plays. But this latest version of Oz isn’t on a trajectory to end up at the happy paradise under Princess Ozma where Baum ultimately left us.

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