The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Critical Overview
by L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book cover
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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

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When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, it immediately caught the attention of readers and critics. Baum had already enjoyed success with a previous children’s book, Father Goose: His Book, so the release of Baum’s new book was much anticipated. There were a few critics who dismissed the book as lacking style and real substance, and, over the years, the book has come under scrutiny by certain religious groups for its inclusion of witches and magic. Still, the novel continues to be regarded as a classic of children’s literature.

What set The Wonderful Wizard of Oz apart from other children’s books was its imaginative story line, its elaborate illustrations (created by W. W. Denslow), its characterization, and its departure from the typical style of children’s writing. In a 1900 review, a critic writes in the New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art that the story’s humor and philosophy will surely appeal to children’s minds. The critic adds that the “bright and joyous atmosphere” gives the story excitement and optimism. Leading Oz scholar Michael Patrick Hearn asserts in Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Writers for Children, 1900–1960, “Children’s books have just not been the same since Dorothy first went to the Emerald City.” He adds, “The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion have entered the collective consciousness of childhood.”

Critics often credit Baum’s characterization for the ongoing success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Although the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion are not human, Baum makes them seem so with their desires for human qualities. In Reference Guide to American Literature, Philip Jose Farmer remarks, “The quest of the Scarecrow for brains, the Woodman for a heart, and the Lion for courage, qualities they already possessed but did not know how to use, is the stuff of which classics are made.” On the subject of secondary characters, Hearn writes,

Like Dickens and Twain, Baum had that rare gift of memorable character invention. While really only a suit stuffed with straw and an odd collection of junk, Baum’s Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are among the most beloved personalities in all of juvenile literature.

American author James Thurber remarks in New Republic in 1934 that he has been told that Baum wrote the book “to see if he could animate, and make real, creatures never alive before on sea or land.” Thurber concludes, “He succeeded, emi- nently, with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman.” Commenting on the character of Dorothy, Hearn comments,

She is a practical, clear-sighted, modern child; she is an American child, full of mother wit and grit. . . . She thinks and reacts like a real child. When she lands in Oz, she does not go off to seek her fortune; she...

(The entire section is 705 words.)