About the Author
Date of Birth:May 15, 1856
Date of Death:May 6, 1919
Place of Birth:Chittenango, New York
Place of Death:Hollywood, California
Education:Attended Peekskill Military Academy and Syracuse Classical School
Read an Excerpt
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
By L. Frank Baum
Amereon LimitedCopyright © 1985 L. Frank Baum
All right reserved.
Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife. Their house was small, for the lumber to build it had to be carried by wagon many miles. There were four walls, a floor and a roof, which made one room; and this room contained a rusty looking cooking stove, a cupboard for the dishes, a table, three or four chairs, and the beds. Uncle Henry and Aunt Em had a big bed in one corner, and Dorothy a little bed in another corner. There was no garret at all, and no cellar-except a small hole, dug in the ground, called a cyclone cellar, where the family could go in case one of those great whirlwinds arose, mighty enough to crush any building in its path. It was reached by a trap-door in the middle of the floor, from which a ladder led down into the small, dark hole.
When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.
When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled, now. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.
Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.
It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her other surroundings. Toto was not gray; he was a little black dog, with long, silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose. Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.
To-day, however, they were not playing. Uncle Henry sat upon the door-step and looked anxiously at the sky, which was even grayer than usual. Dorothy stood in the door with Toto in her arms, and looked at the sky too. Aunt Em was washing the dishes.
From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm. There now came a sharp whistling in the air from the south, and as they turned their eyes that way they saw ripples in the grass coming from that direction also.
Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up.
"There's a cyclone coming, Em," he called to his wife; "I'll go look after the stock." Then he ran toward the sheds where the cows and horses were kept.
Aunt Em dropped her work and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand.
"Quick, Dorothy!" she screamed; "run for the cellar!"
Toto jumped out of Dorothy's arms and hid under the bed, and the girl started to get him. Aunt Em, badly frightened, threw open the trap-door in the floor and climbed down the ladder into the small, dark hole. Dorothy caught Toto at last, and started to follow her aunt. When she was half way across the room there came a great shriek from the wind, and the house shook so hard that she lost her footing and sat down suddenly upon the floor.
A strange thing then happened.
The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air. Dorothy felt as if she were going up in a balloon.
The north and south winds met where the house stood, and made it the exact center of the cyclone. In the middle of a cyclone the air is generally still, but the great pressure of the wind on every side of the house raised it up higher and higher, until it was at the very top of the cyclone; and there it remained and was carried miles and miles away as easily as you could carry a feather.
It was very dark, and the wind howled horribly around her, but Dorothy found she was riding quite easily. After the first few whirls around, and one other time when the house tipped badly, she felt as if she were being rocked gently, like a baby in a cradle.
Toto did not like it. He ran about the room, now here, now there, barking loudly; but Dorothy sat quite still on the floor and waited to see what would happen.
Once Toto got too near the open trap-door, and fell in; and at first the little girl thought she had lost him. But soon she saw one of his ears sticking up through the hole, for the strong pressure of the air was keeping him up so that he could not fall. She crept to the hole, caught Toto by the ear, and dragged him into the room again; afterward closing the trap-door so that no more accidents could happen.
Hour after hour passed away, and slowly Dorothy got over her fright; but she felt quite lonely, and the wind shrieked so loudly all about her that she nearly became deaf. At first she had wondered if she would be dashed to pieces when the house fell again; but as the hours passed and nothing terrible happened, she stopped worrying and resolved to wait calmly and see what the future would bring. At last she crawled over the swaying floor to her bed, and lay down upon it; and Toto followed and lay down beside her.
In spite of the swaying of the house and the wailing of the wind, Dorothy soon closed her eyes and fell fast asleep.
She was awakened by a shock, so sudden and severe that if Dorothy had not been lying on the soft bed she might have been hurt. As it was, the jar made her catch her breath and wonder what had happened; and Toto put his cold little nose into her face and whined dismally. Dorothy sat up and noticed that the house was not moving; nor was it dark, for the bright sunshine came in at the window, flooding the little room. She sprang from her bed and with Toto at her heels ran and opened the door.
The little girl gave a cry of amazement and looked about her, her eyes growing bigger and bigger at the wonderful sights she saw.
The cyclone had set the house down, very gently-for a cyclone-in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of green sward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.
While she stood looking eagerly at the strange and beautiful sights, she noticed coming toward her a group of the queerest people she had ever seen. They were not as big as the grown folk she had always been used to; but neither were they very small. In fact, they seemed about as tall as Dorothy, who was a well-grown child for her age, although they were, so far as looks go, many years older.
Three were men and one a woman, and all were oddly dressed. They wore round hats that rose to a small point a foot above their heads, with little bells around the brims that tinkled sweetly as they moved. The hats of the men were blue; the little woman's hat was white, and she wore a white gown that hung in plaits from her shoulders; over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened in the sun like diamonds. The men were dressed in blue, of the same shade as their hats, and wore well polished boots with a deep roll of blue at the tops. The men, Dorothy thought, were about as old as Uncle Henry, for two of them had beards. But the little woman was doubtless much older: her face was covered with wrinkles, her hair was nearly white, and she walked rather stiffly.
When these people drew near the house where Dorothy was standing in the doorway, they paused and whispered among themselves, as if afraid to come farther. But the little old woman walked up to Dorothy, made a low bow and said, in a sweet voice,
"You are welcome, most noble Sorceress, to the land of the Munchkins. We are so grateful to you for having killed the wicked Witch of the East, and for setting our people free from bondage."
Dorothy listened to this speech with wonder. What could the little woman possibly mean by calling her a sorceress, and saying she had killed the wicked Witch of the East? Dorothy was an innocent, harmless little girl, who had been carried by a cyclone many miles from home; and she had never killed anything in all her life.
But the little woman evidently expected her to answer; so Dorothy said, with hesitation,
"You are very kind; but there must be some mistake. I have not killed anything."
"Your house did, anyway," replied the little old woman, with a laugh; "and that is the same thing. See!" she continued, pointing to the corner of the house; "there are her two toes still sticking out from under a block of wood."
Dorothy looked and gave a little cry of fright. There, indeed, just under the corner of the great beam the house rested on, two feet were sticking out, shod in silver shoes with pointed toes.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" cried Dorothy, clasping her hands together in dismay; "the house must have fallen on her. What ever shall we do?"
"There is nothing to be done," said the little woman, calmly.
"But who was she?" asked Dorothy.
"She was the wicked Witch of the East, as I said," answered the little woman. "She has held all the Munchkins in bondage for many years, making them slave for her night and day. Now they are all set free, and are grateful to you for the favour."
"Who are the Munchkins?" enquired Dorothy.
"They are the people who live in this land of the East, where the wicked Witch ruled."
"Are you a Munchkin?" asked Dorothy.
"No; but I am their friend, although I live in the land of the North. When they saw the Witch of the East was dead the Munchkins sent a swift messenger to me, and I came at once. I am the Witch of the North."
"Oh, gracious!" cried Dorothy; "are you a real witch?"
"Yes, indeed;" answered the little woman. "But I am a good witch, and the people love me. I am not as powerful as the wicked Witch was who ruled here, or I should have set the people free myself."
"But I thought all witches were wicked," said the girl, who was half frightened at facing a real witch.
"Oh, no; that is a great mistake. There were only four witches in all the Land of Oz, and two of them, those who live in the North and the South, are good witches. I know this is true, for I am one of them myself, and cannot be mistaken. Those who dwelt in the East and the West were, indeed, wicked witches; but now that you have killed one of them, there is but one wicked Witch in all the Land of Oz-the one who lives in the West."
"But," said Dorothy, after a moment's thought, "Aunt Em has told me that the witches were all dead-years and years ago."
"Who is Aunt Em?" inquired the little old woman.
"She is my aunt who lives in Kansas, where I came from."
The Witch of the North seemed to think for a time, with her head bowed and her eyes upon the ground. Then she looked up and said,
"I do not know where Kansas is, for I have never heard that country mentioned before. But tell me, is it a civilized country?"
"Oh, yes;" replied Dorothy.
"Then that accounts for it. In the civilized countries I believe there are no witches left; nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians. But, you see, the Land of Oz has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. Therefore we still have witches and wizards amongst us."
"Who are the Wizards?" asked Dorothy.
"Oz himself is the Great Wizard," answered the Witch, sinking her voice to a whisper. "He is more powerful than all the rest of us together. He lives in the City of Emeralds."
Dorothy was going to ask another question, but just then the Munchkins, who had been standing silently by, gave a loud shout and pointed to the corner of the house where the Wicked Witch had been lying.
"What is it?" asked the little old woman; and looked, and began to laugh. The feet of the dead Witch had disappeared entirely and nothing was left but the silver shoes.
"She was so old," explained the Witch of the North, "that she dried up quickly in the sun. That is the end of her. But the silver shoes are yours, and you shall have them to wear." She reached down and picked up the shoes, and after shaking the dust out of them handed them to Dorothy.
"The Witch of the East was proud of those silver shoes," said one of the Munchkins; "and there is some charm connected with them; but what it is we never knew."
Dorothy carried the shoes into the house and placed them on the table. Then she came out again to the Munchkins and said,
"I am anxious to get back to my Aunt and Uncle, for I am sure they will worry about me. Can you help me find my way?"
The Munchkins and the Witch first looked at one another, and then at Dorothy, and then shook their heads.
"At the East, not far from here," said one, "there is a great desert, and none could live to cross it."
Excerpted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum Copyright © 1985 by L. Frank Baum.
Excerpted by permission.
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Reading Group Guide
1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was first published in 1900 and met with both commercial and critical success. It continues to be a favorite, and the story has been translated to the stage and film numerous times. What do you think makes this tale so appealing, so timeless, and so easily adapted to other media?
2. What roles do money and capitalism play in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? What is valued in the land of Oz as opposed to what is valued in the real world?
3. In addition to being a writer, L. Frank Baum was an actor and playwright. Does theatricality play a role in this book? How? What role does illlusion play in the story?
4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is said to be the first American fairy tale, and L. Frank Baum had indeed aspired to write a fairy tale that was different from the older, mostly European ones. How is this story the same as or different from, for example, those by the Brothers Grimm? Is it particularly American? If so, in what way(s)? What makes it unique?
5. One of the things that L. Frank Baum did not like about traditional fairy tales was the didactic way in which they taught morals and values. Does his story express any particular values or moral lessons? If so, how does he communicate them?
6. Though this story has had a timeless appeal, is there anything time-bounded or dated about it? Are there aspects of the story, characters, style, or setting that decrease the accessibility or appeal of the book for a modern audience?
7. William Wallace Denslow’s illustrations have been an essential part of this book since its first publication. In some cases, these illustrations anticipate the action in the text. What effect do the illustrations have on your reading of the story?
8. The Scarecrow yearns for a brain, but in reality he is the most intelligent of the small group in which Dorothy travels. Is this irony present elsewhere in the story? If so, what do you suppose Baum’s purpose is in using this device?
9. Baum has been praised for his ability to include psychological and philosophical insight in a fantastical children’s story. In what ways is this story psychologically and/or philosophically insightful or sophisticated?
10. Analyze the character of the Wizard. Why does he behave the way he does? Is his behavior excusable or not? He tells Dorothy that he is a good man but a bad wizard. Do you agree?
11. What is the significance of the delicate people in the Dainty China Country? What is Baum saying about beauty and/or about sensitivity in this chapter?
12. In his Preface to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum says that he aimed to create a tale in which “wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.” Would you say he succeeded? Do you think that this type of optimism and pure entertainment are valuable? Why or why not?
13. Are there ways in which the characters and political dynamics in Oz could be likened to real-life people and political dynamics during Baum’s time? How about during our time?
14. Why do you think Baum wrote this story when he did? Was there anything going on in the world at that time that might have led him to want to write a pure fairy tale?
15. What are the power dynamics in Oz? Who has power and who lacks it? How does one gain and lose power in Oz?
16. Baum’s mother-in-law was a feminist and a suffragette. Do you think the ideals of feminism influenced Baum’s writing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? In particular, how would you view Dorothy and the witches in a feminist context?