Dorothy comes of age

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Geraldine Brennan looks at two centenary editions of The Wizard of Oz

When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum was first published in theUnited States 100 years ago, it caused a stir on a Harry Potter scale. There were 40 Oz books in all - only 14 of them by Baum himself, who died in 1919 - of which the first tells the tale of Dorothy's journey along the yellow brick road.

The first Oz storyline is the one people are familiar with, thanks to the MGM film starring Judy Garland (itself 60 years old last year). James Riordan, who has retold the tale for one of two illustrated centenary editions (The Wizard of Oz illustrated by Victor Ambrus, Oxford University Press pound;12.99pound;7.99 pbk), points to Baum's "utopian socialism" in his afterword: "The book's theme is simple: led by naive innocence (Dorothy), the farmer (Scarecrow), the labourer (Tinman) and the politician (Lion) go to the mystical ruler (Wizard) to ask for gifts, only to learn that they can only gain personal fulfilment through their own efforts."

The values of the story and its quota of magic - talking beasts, good and bad witches and silver shoes (ruy slippers in the film) that whisk the wearer to a faraway, enchanted land - have echoes of folk tales in the European tradition, given a New World pioneer flavour by Baum.

There is still much for children to enjoy on the road to the Emerald City, and Riordan's text lends itself to a read-aloud session more happily than the original Wonderful Wizard (which is available with two more Oz stories in The Wonderful World of Oz, Penguin pound;8.99).

Michael Foreman's intensely coloured treatment (above) for the original text (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Pavilion pound;14.99) is more contemporary: the yellow brick road leads to a giant-scale fantasyville with a Disneyland flavour. The most touching paintings are those of the real world, which place Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's tiny farm in an endless Kansas prairie.

If possible, show children the two new titles alongside the original line drawings in the Penguin edition as well as Lisbeth Zwerger's 1996 version (North-South Books), which comes complete with emerald-tinted specs for wearing while travelling on Oz territory.

As the wizard shows us, seeing is believing.

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