CBR-V Review #50: Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum

So, my grandmother passed away last week, and I was having trouble reading–my head was in a weird place and I was having trouble focusing. When I got back into a reading kind of mood, I decided to read something that reminded me of her. She read a lot of the Oz books to me when I was younger, and Ozma of Oz was always one of our favorites. I have vivid memories of her reading it to me in the kid’s room at her old house when I was around seven and staying with her for a week while I went to camp. It was a really great way to honor her memory, and also to rediscover my love of this series.

For those of you who love The Wizard of Oz (the movie) but have never read any of the books in the series–you need to go out and pick one of them up ASAP. The book on which its based, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, isn’t even the best in the series, and Baum has created an extensive, fully-formed universe with all sorts of bizarre and beautiful characters who never appear in the movie. There are fourteen books in the series, some of which focus on Dorothy, some of which don’t. I’d forgotten how captivating they are, and was seriously impressed by a) how well they hold up over a century after they were written and b) how much I enjoyed this one, even as an adult. I’m definitely planning on re-reading the rest of the series now.

Ozma of Oz is the third in the series, but, as is generally the case with the Oz books, it’s not that important to read them in order, especially when it comes to the first few. This one harkens back to some earlier events and brings up characters who are introduced in the second book in the series (The Marvelous Land of Oz) but if you’re familiar with the Wizard of Oz, you’ll have no problem picking up on the plot. Dorothy Gale has returned to Kansas and is headed on a voyage to Australia with her ailing uncle. As befits our disaster-prone heroine, the ship hits a storm and Dorothy is swept overboard. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a strange land with a talking hen named Bill, and is quickly caught up in an adventure to rescue the kidnapped royalty of this new world (the land of Ev) that involves some familiar faces (the Scarecrow, the Tinman, the Lion) and some new ones (a thinking/talking/walking robot, Queen Ozma of Oz, and the evil Nome King, among others).

Honestly, this book is just so wonderful. Baum’s imagination is astounding, and his ability to create fantastical characters with enough humanity to remain believable is commendable. Dorothy is a great protagonist, representing the skepticism and groundedness of the “real” world, despite her being somewhat prissy and self-important. The supporting characters are, as always, enchanting and completely lovable (my favorite is the hungry Tiger, whose appetite is enormous but whose equally large conscience prevents him from indulging in what he really wants–fat, juicy babies). The story is charming and funny and the adventure is engaging yet comfortable–the stakes aren’t too high and the villains are never too scary. It’s almost cozy to read a novel that you know is going to come together neatly and have a happy ending.

This has always been one of my favorites in the series (I also adore Rinkitink of Oz) and I was happy to rediscover it. I’m looking forward to revisiting the others, too! If you and/or a young person in your life likes fantastical adventure filled with heart and humor, you should definitely check out this book and the others in the series as well.

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