Emerald City is the Oz TV series L. Frank Baum would make today
Note: this post is going to compare the current NBC TV series with the original L. Frank Baum book series and the 1939 Judy Garland musical version. There is no way to do that effectively without revealing elements of the three works which would be a surprise the first time someone reads/watches them. Therefore, this is part of our Spoiler Zone category of analysis and this is a
No doubt, some people watching the
are shocked and offended that a beloved children’s classic has been turned into a depraved show with sex and violence.
Others are probably delighted that a daring reimagination has taken a namby pamby, bland story and made it into something more mature, relevant, and realistic.
As a long-time Oz fan, my guess is that people of either opinion haven’t read the “famous 14” original L. Frank Baum books in the main series.
Oh, they may have read the first book, perhaps, or seen the 1939 musical with Judy Garland. The most famous book actually doesn’t match the rest of the series very well (for a good in-universe reason) and is one of my least favorites, and the movie was so different that it wasn’t a hit when it was first released (despite what had been a very solid “fanbase”, arguably one of the earliest).
L. Frank Baum himself makes a statement before the first book starts which could lead to the idea of Oz being just all happy:
“Yet the old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.
Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.”
That last line is simply not true, especially if you continue through the other books.
No nightmares and heartaches? In the first book, there are over 100 deaths (mostly animals hacked to death with an ax by the Tin Woodman). Slavery is common and an ongoing theme in Oz. The Scarecrow is dismembered.
Now, you could argue that the tone is different: that this is “fantasy violence”, like cartoon violence. You might guess that the emotional anguish we see in Emerald City is not like the way people react in the books. Violence is committed against animals and “non-meat” people who can’t be killed anyway (after the big change in Oz). The gun violence in Emerald City would never happen in Baum’s Oz.
You could argue that…but it’s pretty easily refuted.
Take this passage from Rinktink in Oz:
“They found on every hand ruin and desolation. The houses of the people had been pilfered of all valuables and then torn down or burned. Not a boat had been left upon the shore, nor was there a single person, man or woman or child, remaining upon the island, save themselves. The only inhabitants of Pingaree now consisted of a fat little King, a boy and a goat.
Even Rinkitink, merry hearted as he was, found it hard to laugh in the face of this mighty disaster. Even the goat, contrary to its usual habit, refrained from saying anything disagreeable. As for the poor boy whose home was now a wilderness, the tears came often to his eyes as he marked the ruin of his dearly loved island.
When, at nightfall, they reached the lower end of Pingaree and found it swept as bare as the rest, Inga’s grief was almost more than he could bear. Everything had been swept from him—parents, home and country—in so brief a time that his bewilderment was equal to his sorrow.
Since no house remained standing, in which they might sleep, the three wanderers crept beneath the overhanging branches of a cassa tree and curled themselves up as comfortably as possible. So tired and exhausted were they by the day’s anxieties and griefs that their troubles soon faded into the mists of dreamland.”
This was devastation perpetrated by humans on humans, out of a motive of greed. They destroyed everything in wanton violence and enslaved the people. This had a genuine emotional impact on the survivors.
Okay, yes, one of the survivors is a talking goat, but still. 😉
This takes place outside of Oz proper, but is in a nearby land and it is part of the Oz series (and the Land of Oz and characters from it are part of the book).
That is hardly the only part of Oz that deals with “dark” cruelty. Some characters enjoy inflicting pain…here’s an example of torture from The Emerald City of Oz (one of the famous fourteen, not the TV series):
“By this time the jailer had tired of sticking pins in the General, and was amusing himself by carefully pulling the Nome’s whiskers out by the roots, one at a time. This enjoyment was interrupted by the Grand Gallipoot sending for the prisoner.”
That was pain for pain’s sake, and the General was being tortured.
In the books, the Tin Man becoming the Tin Man is very different from Emerald City, although I liked the way they did it on TV, making it more integral to main character relationships.
In the books, a regular human falls in love with a young woman who lives with a woman who doesn’t want her to marry. The older woman pays a wicked witch to prevent the marriage. The witch enchants the woodchopper’s ax to cut off his leg. It’s replaced with a tin leg, and that doesn’t discourage the chopper. The witch continues the enchantment, and eventually, the woodchopper has had all of his parts replaced with tin ones…which ironically makes him not love the girl any more.
What about guns?
There are many guns in Oz…even a gun-tree where a musket is picked. At one point, someone is instructed to only use a gun as a last resort: “…I do not wish to be cruel or to shed any blood–unless it is absolutely necessary”.
The Wizard in the books, by the way, is much more like the one in the TV series than in the Judy Garland version…he does some very self-serving things, and while he later becomes a member of the “cabinet” of the ruler, he wasn’t an innocent, sweet person in the early stories.
There is one big difference between the Oz books and Emerald City: sex. Sex is a big part of the TV series, and it gets talked about (not explicitly shown) a lot. That doesn’t happen in the Oz books…although there may be an argument for why that is true, besides simply the cultural standards of the time. No one ages in Oz (after a change happens): babies stay babies, and have to be cared for by other people. It’s unclear what would happen if someone became pregnant. People who come to Oz from the outside world do remark on people (and I’m using that term broadly to include supernatural beings) being attractive, but Emerald City’s libido is front and center.
Baum did have “dancing girls” in his stage productions, and I suspect that if he was making a TV series today, it would be as “sexy” as Emerald City is.
My guess is that he would also produce child-friendly versions: in the early 1900s, he was trying a lot of things…silent movies, stage shows, crossovers, tie-in books. Disney had nothing on Baum in multi-platform use of characters.
I’m a fan of the Oz books, and I look forward to and enjoy the episodes of Emerald City. Before criticizing or praising the TV series for being different from the books, you might want to read the books…and then decide. Even if you disagree with me about what Baum would do, you still will have read the books…and that’s a good thing. 😉
Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think about this by commenting on this post.
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