Sarah Lawson on L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Soluble Witch

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Why did I always detest The Wizard of Oz so? The film, with its songs and vivid colours, isn’t so terrible, is it? You can see it every Christmas on TV even now, seventy and more years after it was made. Everyone loves it. ‘Perennial favourite’, they call it.

I was given the book for my birthday or Christmas in 1947 when I was 4, and it was read to me sometime afterwards, perhaps even after March 1948 when the Good Friday Tornado, as it is still called, hit our small town in Indiana.

Everything was wrong with the book. First and worst was the tornado that whirls Dorothy and the house up and away from Kansas and her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Even as a little pre-schooler who couldn’t cross the street by myself, I knew that tornadoes were extremely dangerous and if you were blown away by one you were not greeted by kindly Munchkins with bells on their hats. If you were outside during a tornado you simply disappeared and were never seen again, like the Williamson boy in our town.

Then there was the Scarecrow who was made entirely of straw. Imagine scratching your head and encountering only straw. The horror of it! And the Tin Woodman alarmed me. Until Dorothy fetches the oilcan, he is rusted so badly that he is stuck in one position, like the severely arthritic old man who went to my grandparents’ church and had to be lifted into and out of a car because his hips and legs were rigid right angles.

So I hated The Wizard of Oz with its terrifying tornado and its revolting characters. I once looked up a biography of the author, L. Frank Baum, and discovered, exactly as I had suspected, that he was born and grew up in New York State and not in the tornado-prone Mid-West. It figured. He had never been a small child watching a spring afternoon become a howling midnight and then afterwards, when the day came back, seeing big maples lying across the street like rungs of a ladder and the side of a solid brick mansio

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About the contributor

Sarah Lawson escaped tornadoes by moving to London; she now writes and translates from the safety of a house that has yet to leave the ground. Besides writing her own poetry (All the Tea in China) she has translated selected poems by Jacques Prévert.

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