WHY RAIMI’S “OZ” IS NOT SO GREAT FOR WITCHES (AND WOMEN)
By Elisabeth Rappe
When it comes to adapting the wonderful world of Oz, Hollywood is, admittedly and regrettably, in a bit of a bind. All things Yellow Brick Road and Emerald City are so tightly linked to the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” that trying to venture back into L. Frank Baum’s mythology is treading on the memories of millions of fans. The film is such a massive piece of film iconography that it has become the definitive version of this tale, and outstripped the Baum book itself. It doesn’t matter that it’s a loose adaptation of Baum’s work, it is *the* adaptation, and any filmmaker itching to make a more authentic version has their hands permanently tied. The outcry – “How dare you remake The Wizard of Oz!” – would be deafening, no matter how illogical the idea (“Hamlet” can survive a hundred versions, but not the adventures of Dorothy!).
Yet Baum’s Oz mythology didn’t begin and end with Dorothy. He wrote 17 Oz books (18 if you count “The Royal Book of Oz,” but you shouldn’t, because it was written by Ruth Plumly Thompson) in all, and they’re marvelously weird, violent, and enchanting. Baum styled himself as “Royal Historian of Oz,” trying to maintain the illusion Oz was a real place, and that he received the stories by telegraph by Dorothy and Princess Ozma themselves. Despite such a wonderful conceit, there’s no real sense of continuity or central mythology binding these stories, as there is in J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. Rather, the books simply read as tales Baum felt like telling at that particular time. If he contradicted himself, he didn’t stress about it, but kept on writing.