Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Source: Librivox (zipped mp3s)
Length: 3 hr, 45 min
Reader: J. Hall

The book: When I started reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, my first question was, "How could the book possibly be better than the movie?" After all, the 1939 film starring Judy Garland has rightly become a classic of American cinema. As I listened to the book, I found similar admiration for Baum's book. While the movie contributes new facets to the story through the use of color, music and a distinct visual style, the book contains an episodic plot and playful language that don't quite translate to the screen. A number of the episodes in the book are altered or removed in the film. Baum's repetition of plot elements recall fairy tales like "The Billy Goats Gruff" and "The Snow Queen". After all, Baum was attempting to create an American fairy tale and so the oral structure of fairy tales comes through, making this a perfect book for listening.

A few weeks ago, I wondered whether children would still enjoy Alice in Wonderland. I don't think there's a doubt that most kids would like The Wizard of Oz. Perhaps this is because the book is closer to our time and doesn't have the dated references to forgotten poems and Victorian life. Maybe it's because Baum's book is not as ambitious as Carroll's; Oz keeps the plot grounded in a fantasy world with rules rather than going off in surreal flights of fancy as in Alice.
In this way, Oz is a book that reflects child's play itself: imagination and adventure within a framework of rules and repetition. This, I think, is a reason for Oz's continued success: that it makes us remember how we play as children.

Rating: 8/10

The reader: J. Hall narrates the book with a pleasant American accent that would be at home at NPR. This isn't a professional reading; Hall has several minor stumbles and he doesn't attempt distinguishing voices for the characters. However, these minor faults can be easily overlooked when one considers the excellent pacing and emphasis with which Hall reads. The recording is free of any background sound, but has a compressed sound when played at higher volumes, perhaps due to noise filtering. All in all, this is a excellent choice if you're looking for a recording of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that comes without silly voices or overacting.

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