Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Marvelous Land of Oz, L. Frank Baum

English: Book cover of The Marvelous Land of O...
English: Book cover of The Marvelous Land of Oz (1st edition), published in 1904. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had such a wonderful time reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with its charming simplicity, yet rich and colourful, and above all, magical creation, that I had to pick up the second in the series, which happens to be what this post is about. You can get it for free from Gutenberg.org.

In my previous journal entry, I wrote about how the ebook lacked the ability to tab through chapters and was difficult to navigate. This book, however, was not neglected. There is a table of contents which is called a "List of Chapters" rather than a TOC, which can be used to navigate through the book, and the chapters can be tabbed through. However, when pressing the menu button, one may not find "List of Chapters" as one might usually find a "Table of Contents" to go to. So, one must go to the first page and tab through to get to this menu.

This story takes off where the two characters, the tin man and the scarecrow, were left off. We do not get to see Dorothy or Toto again. And, even the lion is no where to be seen. We are also introduced to some new characters. These are: Tip, who is a real boy. There is Jack Pumpkinhead, who has a pumpkin head stuck in a great big smile. Jack is brought to life by Tip. Then there is Woggle-Bug, which is a gigantic bug who was enlarged and became sentient. There is also a Saw-horse that is brought to life. Finally, there is the Gump, which is a flying creature with couches for people to ride in. All of these new inanimate characters were created by Tip, who had stolen it from a witch called Old Mombi. It was a bit of dust that, when given to an object, could turn that object into a living, thinking, caring being.

The strawman has been attacked in his Emerald City and forced to abdicate to an army of girls. Most of the adventures are about the new friends trying to get it back. But, towards the end, we discover that the Emerald City was in fact supposed to be ruled by a girl who had been lost when the original wizard had taken over. Glinda, the good witch, tries to put the rightful heir to the throne back on the throne. It turns out that Tip was that girl. He had had his gender transformed by Old Mombi to hide him. So, he is changed back into a she after the city is taken, and she is placed on the throne.

This story is also highly imaginative, with witty humour and word play banter. It's a short read, but still a lot of fun.
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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank L. Baum

Title plate of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (not...
Title plate of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (not the cover, it's the interior title page), 1900 Wizard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Who can forget one of the greatest children's films of all time? The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was, and still is, magical. I got it in my head to read the book, and I'm quite glad I did. It's available for free at Gutenberg.org.

First off, the one criticism I have of this book is that there is no formatting, no navigable table of contents. This is a Gutenberg slip. I notified them, but I haven't heard back from them. Maybe it'll be fixed, and maybe not. But, I found the story so charming and imaginative that I almost didn't care.

I don't think I need to outline the plot, but I will quickly: cyclone brings Dorothy to the land of Oz. She kills a bad witch, meets a scarecrow, a tin man, and a lion. The scarecrow wants brains, the tin man a heart, and the lion, courage.

However, the treatment of these characters differs, I believe, between the book and the movie. The scarecrow is not stupid, the tin man is not heartless, and the lion is not a coward. Quite the contrary: it's the scarecrow's brains that helps them overcome many of their obstacles. The tin man often sheds tears. He's the most empathetic character, who is moved to tears on many occasions. Finally, the movie version of the lion is a kind of funny joke. In the book, however, he is a noble character who is often using his courage to overcome dangerous obstacles that the group could not otherwise overcome.

When they do meet the Wizard of Oz, they discover of course that he is a fraud. Nonetheless, he is able to give each of them (excepting Dorothy) their wish. But, it is their belief in his ability to bestow those powers which gives them those attributes. In essence: the placebo effect.

At the conclusion of the movie version, Dorothy clicks her red shoes and finds herself back in Kansas with her family. Conversely, Dorothy of the book uses her silver shoes to get back. However, when she gets back in the movie, it's as if she's awoken from the carnage of the house. In the book, the house has been replaced altogether and a significant amount of time has passed.

Another major difference I was able to note is that the witch in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, is very antagonistic towards Dorothy and her friends as she makes her way to the Emerald City. However, in the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,  it is not until after Dorothy and her friends have been instructed to seek her out and kill her that the witch takes any actions against Dorothy. In the book version, the witch is a bad person: she enslaves people, she does cruel things, but she does not seek to do Dorothy any harm until Dorothy comes after her.

scanned from 1900 Wizard of Oz book
scanned from 1900 Wizard of Oz book (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are more differences between movie and book, but I don't think I will list any more.

I really believe this was a brilliant piece of fiction. It was written in the preface by Baum that he was looking to create a new fantastical world without relying on the imaginations of those who came before him. And, he did a great job of it. It's littered with jokes which are comical, whimsical, and magical. Already I've begun reading the second in this series of Oz books. I can't help but feel that Baum may have been one of the first and original authors to begin experimenting with fantasy outside of the fairytale universe which the likes of Andersen wrote.

In summary: excellent book. Read it! It's good for kids and adults alike.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Émile Zola, The Dream

This is a novel which can be found freely on Gutenberg.org's great website. 

I'm not really sure what brought me around to read this novel by Émile Zola. I guess I was at once wishing for something more substantial than the overdose of short fiction from the two short fiction magazines which I subscribe to. I wanted to read something a bit meatier than those. I am also quite fond of Henri Balzac, and wondered what other great French writers would appeal to me. Did he succeed in seducing me into another one of his novels through the quality of this one, The Dream? I'm not really sure.

In any case, I hadn't done my research before beginning to read this novel. If I had, perhaps I wouldn't have read this one first. In fact, it's near the end of the series of twenty novels.

This is the story of a girl, Angelique, who is lost or sent away by a terrible sort of mother. The mother had no scruples, and I have since read that she had been a prostitute in another novel. So, this is the sort of place where she began. She was then sent into social care. She fled from social care, and was on the verge of death on the doorstep to a house of a humble couple.

The humble couple so happened to feel the need for a child, lacking their own. The house itself is situated, somehow, within the outer structure of a Catholic church. The couple are devout and humble Catholics. When they raise her, they do so within the confines of this home and the church next door. She is cloistered within, and her only book is The Golden Legend, which is evidently a real book. In any case, the book is filled with legends of Catholic virgins who performed miracles and always persevered until taken up into heaven. She determines herself to be as one of these virgins.

She falls in love with a very wealthy prince, but cannot marry him. He loves her as much, but she refuses him until he can get his father's blessing. He ultimately does, but not until she nearly dies from a broken heart. However, in the end, they are married, and she dies, kissing him at the completion of the wedding.

Émile Zola
Émile Zola (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm not sure how much I loved Angelique. I'm not sure I entirely understood the outer context, either. Apparently, what Zola was trying to do was to show that it does not matter what kind of parents one has, but rather the environment within which they are raised, which affects the character of the person. In essence, he took a prostitutes daughter and put her into a good Catholic home where she can become a martyr of sorts.

There were a few thoughts I had here and there while reading this book. First off, was that Angelique's purity, her fast adherence to the letter of religious edict, effectively weakens and kills her. I'm not sure if this was what Zola was trying to point out, but it's worth considering. Is it evil which makes us strong, and goodness that makes us weak? This debate I remember well in a Star Trek episode, The Enemy Within, where Kirk is divided into two parts: evil Kirk and good Kirk. Good Kirk simply cannot make hard compromises or dangerous decisions, effectively making him a poor captain. Bad Kirk makes decisions too rashly, ready to endanger everyone. In essence, that episode tried to show that a balance of the two was what made Kirk strong. Does the absence of evil in Angelique make her weak?

Also, the ideals of purity, white, and beauty are things that I also have a hard time with: the closer to death that Angelique gets, the thinner and whiter she gets, and the more beautiful.

Will I read another of these books? At first I thought not, but perhaps I will have to take a look at the first book if I decide to try again.

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