Adaptation Blues: A Fan of L. Frank Baum Laments Oz the Great and Powerful

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So much of the discussion about John Carter centers around the adaptation and whether it was faithful enough, or whether the changes were justified, etc, etc.   I’m on record as feeling that the standard many fans have held Andrew Stanton to in terms of his adapation choices has been quite high.  That said, it’s probably not fair to compare the John Carter adaptation — in which it was the first time the book had been adapted — to Oz the Great and Powerful, which is a prequel to an iconic movie that was based on a book.  So I get that it’s not a complete corollary.  But since Disney has decided to release OGP on the same weekend they released John Carter, it’s not IMO completely off topic to think about this a little.

So …. it’s interesting to hear a knowledgable fan of the Oz books talk about the movie.  This aporoaches it from a feminist angle, lamenting the fact (among others) that Baum generally provided female heroins while the movie decided to make the Wizard the hero of the story.

Why Oz the Great and Powerful Is A Major Step Back For Witches and Women

When it comes to adapting the wonderful world of Oz, Hollywood is, admittedly and regrettably, in a bit of a bind. All things Yellow Brick Road and Emerald City are so tightly linked to the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” that trying to venture back into L. Frank Baum’s mythology is treading on the memories of millions of fans.  The film is such a massive piece of film iconography that it has become the definitive version of this tale, and outstripped the Baum book itself. It doesn’t matter that it’s a loose adaptation of Baum’s work, it is *the* adaptation, and any filmmaker itching to make a more authentic version has their hands permanently tied. The outcry — “How dare you remake The Wizard of Oz!” — would be deafening, no matter how illogical the idea  (“Hamlet” can survive a hundred versions, but not the adventures of Dorothy!).

Yet Baum’s Oz mythology didn’t begin and end with Dorothy. He wrote 17 Oz books (18 if you count “The Royal Book of Oz,” but you shouldn’t, because it was written by Ruth Plumly Thompson) in all, and they’re marvelously weird, violent, and enchanting. Baum styled himself as “Royal Historian of Oz,” trying to maintain the illusion Oz was a real place, and that he received the stories by telegraph by Dorothy and Princess Ozma themselves. Despite such a wonderful conceit, there’s no real sense of continuity or central mythology binding these stories, as there is in J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Rather, the books simply read as tales Baum felt like telling at that particular time. If he contradicted himself, he didn’t stress about it, but kept on writing.

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4 comments

  • Who knew Kansas in black and white could be so much more interesting than OZ in brilliant, FX color? At least there was interesting conflict there. This movie bored me to tears with its paper-thin plot and bombastic, meaningless CGI. If this the mind-numbing future of tilms, it’s easy to see why some viewers thought ‘John Carter’ asked too much of them.

  • I’m saddened growing up reading the original “canon” that nobody has attempted to mine these amazing stories for adaptation. If Hollywood is so bereft of ideas that they have to continually adapt and re-make what has already been done, shouldn’t they at least go for the good stuff?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Oz_books

    Please, treat yourself to some of the most captivating and imaginative fantasy literature ever created.

  • I hit that problem all the time; Some mouth-breathing purists expect to see Dejah Thoris’ boobies for 2 hours and 15 minutes. As if nothing else matters. It’s beyond sad.

    As to Oz – they keep missing the boat. Did it with “Return to Oz” — I don’t have high hopes this go round.

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