Audiobook Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

26 03 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Read by Anne Hathaway

Audible, Inc. (The A-List Collection)

Length: 3 Hrs 49 Min

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: . The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a book all should experience whether they’ve seen the movie or not. You may miss the songs, The Lollipop Guild, and the horse of a different color, but you may just find new characters and stories to love as well. Anne Hathaway’s reading allows you to fully immerse yourself in this Wonderful tale.

Grade: A

If the Amish and I have one thing in common, it’s that we both love The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, before ever seeing the movie. For those of you who are younger than me, I grew up in a far off age where most people didn’t even own VCR’s. My family was often the last people to get any sort of new technology. In fact, we even had an 8 Track player, although it was quite old. In those ancient days, you had to wait until movie came on to network television to watch them, especially if, like us, you didn’t have cable. So, movie like The Wizard of Oz were events for our family. We would all gather around the 19 inch TV, and someone would grab the pliers so we could turn the channel since the knob broke long ago. Now, in all likelihood, someone, an aunt or grandparent, put me in front of the TV to watch The Wizard of Oz with drool running down my face and a handful of Tasteeos in front of me. I first read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz when I was six years old. After that, when I finally saw the movie, it was glorious, but quite different from the book. To this day, I still love the movie and watch is regularly. It is one of the few things I loved as a child that brings the same level of wonder and joy to the children in my life. Yet, its been decades since I read the book, and with the new audible version, I thought it was time again to ride the cyclone to Oz, follow Dorothy in her silver shoes, and meet those strange people made out of china.

So, this is the part where I am supposed to review the book. Now, I could spend time trying to convince you that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is in fact wonderful. I could come up with some clever way to talk about how L Frank Baum modern fable was almost subversive in the way it reinvented the fairy tale. But really, why bother. If I actually need to convince you that this book is indeed a joy, then I may as well also write a dictum on the deliciousness of ice cream. Yet, I can make some observations. For those of you who only have seen the movie, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz may pale in comparison but I still believe it’s worthy of the experience as an almost addendum. You learn the real story of the winged monkeys. You will meet the ever helpful Queen of the field mice. Most importantly, you will go on one more adventure with Dorothy and the crew from Oz, as they head South to find Glinda. This journey allows them to deal with some pesky trees, discover people made of China, and dodge a strange race of Hammer Heads. This last journey was always my favorite part of the book, because it was like a secret trip that only those who read the book could experience. Some other observations, while yes, The Wizard is a humbug, but he is also a bit of a dick. I am always frustrated that he would send Dorothy on what he believes is a suicide run, to assassinate a rival politician, and it’s laughed off with the line "I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard."  No dude, you sent a little girl to kill a witch, because you were scared everyone will find out you’re a fraud. You are not a very good man. You’re a politician. One thing I always loved about the book is how Baum hit you over the head with the fact that what the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Tin Woodsman desired most, they already had in spades. What I think you miss out in the movie, is that the same also applies to Dorothy. In many ways her love of Kansas is inexplicable, mostly scene through its transformational affects on Aunt Em, who was once young and pretty, but now is shocked by the sound of laughter. I could go surprisingly on and on about this book, although it is quite short, but I won’t. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a book all should experience whether they’ve seen the movie or not. You may miss the songs, The Lollipop Guild, and the horse of a different color, but you may just find new characters and stories to love as well.

I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical about Audible’s whole A-List thing. I’m not a huge fan of celebrity narrators. All too often you end up listening to the narrator instead of to the book. Yet, Anne Hathaway’s reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz totally works. It’s hard not to hear the influence of the 1939 Musical in how she captures some of the characters, particularly Dorothy, and The Cowardly Lion. This creates an interesting issue. One of the things that is often strange for me when viewing The Wizard of Oz is Garland takes on the almost impetuous and naive cadence of an 8 year old girl, which is Dorothy’s true age as opposed to Garland’s actual age of 17 at the time of the performance.. Hathaway perfectly mimics that tone, which is just right for Dorothy, but you can’t help imagining the older Garland when she does it. This really isn’t a bad thing, but it does make for a weird blending of movie Dorothy and book Dorothy. Her voice of The Tin Woodsman has a melancholy tone, an almost feminine softness that is hard to adjust to at first, yet it captures the dichotomy of a character who a times cries when he kills a small bug, but then ruthlessly slaughters a legion of wolves. Most importantly, when you listen you are not constantly hung up on the fact that you are listening to a Hollywood Starlet read you a classic tale. Instead, her voice allows you to fully immerse yourself in the world of Oz, which is in fact, Wonderful.