One of the things I enjoy about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is how much more agency the characters have, compared to their counterparts in the movie.
In most of the adventures that befall Dorothy and her three friends, it’s their personal qualities that solve the problems, not the wave of a magic wand. For example, in the poppy field, the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman save Dorothy and the Lion by simply carrying her out of the field, and telling the Lion to run for it to get away from the sleep-inducing smell – no need for a magic snow fall from Glinda. Interestingly enough, it’s the Scarecrow’s cleverness, the Tin Woodman’s kindness, and the Lion’s bravery which bring about a solution to whatever tight spot they find themselves in. And Dorothy is quite the feisty little girl, despite saying to the Wizard that she’s “Dorothy the Small and Meek.” When you tick her off, she takes action. For example, the bucket of water dumped on the Witch is not to save the Scarecrow from fire, but happens because Dorothy is mad at the Witch for swiping one of her silver shoes (yes, silver, not ruby. Apparently that was put into the movie because red looked better on screen.).
Unlike Harry Potter and Narnia, I’d only read Oz once, or maybe twice, before, so most of my knowledge of the story comes from MGM. It’s interesting comparing the versions. The messages are different – for example, the Wicked Witch, which plays such a huge role in the movie, is relatively unimportant in the book. The movie could be said to have as its chief problem the conflict between Dorothy and the Witch, which prevents her from going home – in the book, the chief problem is Dorothy wanting to go home; the Witch is just one obstacle among many (pretty much the biggest one, but still, none of the “I’ll get you, my pretty…” cackling).
The Tin Woodman, incidentally, is quite deadly with his axe. I had to laugh at the scene where he sees a wildcat chasing a mouse, “and although he had no heart he knew that it was wrong for the wildcat to try to kill such a pretty, harmless creature” (64). So what does he do? He decapitates the wildcat. Because the wildcat is an ugly, scary beast (with ugly teeth and eyes that glow like fire) it’s obviously quite all right to kill it. Of course, the mouse turns out to be the Queen of the Field Mice, who now owes them a favour, so it’s all good. And when they’re going after the Wicked Witch, she sends a big pack of wolves after them, which the Tin Woodman dispatches just like the wildcat with a single stroke of his axe, one after the other, all forty of them. And leaves the carcases piled in a big heap. Hmm, yeah. Can’t blame the Witch for getting a little ticked off at that, now can you?
No, this band of travellers isn’t the shivering singing-and-dancing lot of the movie; they’ve got clout. You’ve got to like them for it.