When I was a kid my parents, attempting to instill a love of reading in me, bought me a series of fourteen illustrated, hard cover books set in a fantasyland.
In fact, I read them over and over. As soon as I finished the last, I’d start over on the first, in addition to all the other books I read as a kid. I’d take one on sleepovers, camping, vacations, and that pretty much cements my reputation as a nerd, doesn’t it? Or is it a geek? Certainly a bookworm, although I should add that I never took one on a date.
I was, to the best of my knowledge, the only person ever to have those books. I knew of no one else who’d read them or owned a copy. Oh, you’ve heard of the fantasyland. The writer, Lyman Frank Baum, was one of the early filmmakers in a little village called Hollywood, and spent much of his life converting his stories into silent films.
Later, years after he died, a somewhat more successful version of the first book came along: It was called The Wizard of Oz.
But the first book was considerably different from the movie, and the rest veered wildly from future attempts to copy the Judy Garland film. For one thing – brace yourselves – Dorothy was blonde, and years younger than portrayed in 1939. Much as I loved the movie, I loved the books more – a very lonely love.
Then one day, in my teens, I stumbled across a book that I’d somehow missed during all those years of scouring the library: The Cowardly Lion of Oz.
Well, nothing shocking about that, right? We’re all familiar with the Cowardly Lion, and I already knew about the fourteen books.
But that wasn’t one of the fourteen books.
Imagine that you grew up loving Star Wars. You have all six movies memorized, know the layout of the ships, the names of the actors, and listen to the soundtracks constantly. You go to conventions and write fanfiction, and know every single thing about the fandom.
Then, one day, you suddenly discover there were six more Star Wars movies, and you never knew a thing about them. That’s the way it was with me, when I discovered that not only were there other Oz book fans, but that they had nicknamed “official” Oz books the Famous Forty. Not fourteen. And that doesn’t count the dozens of other Oz related books.
It turns out that not only is there still a core of Oz book fans, but that they knew more about the fandom than I did. The even know that Dorothy’s blonde. These are people who can argue the minutia of every Oz story the way baseball fans can get into a fist fight over who’s the best left handed National League redheaded near-sighted relief pitcher.
And now those fans are worried.
You see, Oz is big again.
Hollywood, never hesitant to steal from other sources, is in the midst of an Oz boom. Most of the proposed projects will likely rip their material from the 1939 movie, which was the only hugely successful Oz project since Baum’s traveling stageplay/slideshow near the beginning of the last century. (Even the movie wasn’t a huge draw when it was first released.) Wicked, a book very different from its source material, was made into a wildly successful stage musical, so you can look for that to eventually be one of the new movies.
Meanwhile, Dorothy of Oz is an animated movie based on a book by Baum’s great-grandson. I’ve heard mixed opinions on how good the book is, but it’s probably getting a push from having the Baum name behind it. I’ve seen some illustrations, and yes – Dorothy’s a pigtailed brunette.
What else is coming along?
Surrender Dorothy has been attached to Drew Barrymore. A friend of mine, who knows much more about the world of Oz than I do, says it may involved the Wicked Witch of the West pursuing a fully grown Dorothy around New York City. At least Drew is blonde.
This has become a habit among Hollywood: To turn little Dorothy into an adult, and to then make the projects “darker”. A project called Tin Man did an especially good job of making the Oz universe bad. D.G. was the adult girl’s name. If you’re keeping score: brunette. To give you an idea of how faithful the story was to its source, D.G.’s hair color was the least changed item.
Then there’s Dark Oz, which has many of the characters from the early Oz books – but in a world where they’re freedom fighters, battling an evil dictatorship. I’ve only seen a little of it, but why everyone insists on making Oz, a place designed as a children’s fantasy, so violent and depressing is beyond me. Dorothy’s dark hair is the lightest thing there.
On a related note, a guy named Todd McFarlane is trying to turn his line of “twisted” Oz action figures into a movie that would make Dark Oz look like an MGM musical. Imagine Dorothy tied up in bondage gear. No, wait, don’t imagine it – okay, too late, but at least I won’t have to describe it anymore. Relax, your therapist can help.
There’s also a prequel to the first book (okay, probably to the movie) called Oz, the Great and Powerful. You see, the original Wizard isn’t from Oz at all, but from Midwest America (just like Baum). In a later book Dorothy (blonde) encounters him under California (you read that right) and eventually they go back to Oz together. The new movie project tells the story of how the Wizard gets to Oz the first time.
Being a prequel, they can’t screw up the canon of the books too much. Well, some. Actually, if anyone can screw up a book, it’s Hollywood.
So the fandom watches and worries, afraid that moviemakers have no more idea that there were Oz books than most other people do. Hope springs eternal, even in Dark Oz. Speaking of dark, singing and dancing is not necessary – but could we please get a blonde Dorothy?