Current book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Pages read: 159 - 261 (end)
After Dorothy and the companions get themselves back together, they head to the Emerald City (I know I was all insistent before about it not being the Emerald City, but then it got inconsistent on me) to collect their rewards. There they discover that the wizard is just a little old man, though he grants them their wishes regardless. The Scarecrow gets brains made of bran and pins and needles, the Tin Woodsman gets a silk heart stuffed with sawdust, and the Cowardly Lion gets a bowl full of liquid courage. (And no, that's not a euphemism for alcohol. Probably.) The whole point of these gifts, of course, is that Dorothy's three companions have embodied these traits all along and don't actually need to be given that for which they've respectively asked.
The Wizard promises to take Dorothy back to Kansas in his hot air balloon, but the balloon escapes its tethers before she can get in, and she's left in Oz. The companions resolve to go see Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, who might help them. Along the way, they meet a forest full of animals that need to be defended from a horrible monster, which the Cowardly Lion does, and so becomes their king (after he's done helping Dorothy, of course). They also go through a small country made entirely of china - ground, people, houses, everything. They have to be very careful not to break anyone as they go through, and still end up smashing a church and breaking a cow's leg.
When they finally get to Glinda, she explains that Dorothy could have used the silver shoes all along to return home, and, after tearful goodbyes, she does so. When she comes running home across the fields, Aunt Em is surprised and delighted to see her.
You'll note that there's none of that "waking up from being knocked unconscious" nonsense that happened at the end of the movie. Dorothy was lost and she came home; it was all real. So, as far as the messages and themes of this book go, I mentioned there was some politics involved, and there is, but there are also just a lot of rather smoothly incorporated morals. The politics are mostly quite anti-dictator, what with the wicked witches keeping people as slaves. The Tin Woodsman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, who end up ruling the Winkies (who were formally the Wicked Witch of the West's slaves), the Emerald City, and the beasts of the forest respectively, all earn their positions through merit, so that message ends up quite American in its sense of meritocracy.
As far as morals go, Baum carefully avoids having the characters moralize, but manages to work the morals in strongly regardless. It's nice because he avoids that old children's book syndrome of telling children what to do in a didactic, often annoying tone. (I'm looking at you, Louisa May Alcott.) The morals range from being kind to and protective of the weak, as the Tin Woodsman does by saving the Queen of the Mice, to caring for and being loyal to your friends, as the companions do throughout the story, to even, simply, making sure to keep yourself clean, as Dorothy does each morning before they set out. Never does Baum say, "And this, children, shows that you should..." He simply gives the example and lets children interpret it themselves.
Is it one of the greatest novels of all time? I don't know about that. It's a great children's book, and I loved it when I was little, so that says a lot. I also think about the country made of china a lot, because it's somehow captivating to me, especially the fact that the ground is made of china. I want to walk in the china country and see what it's like. How odd to be in a place where everything is beautiful and fragile at the same time. Then again, is it really that different?
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