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Erin Reads: Dorothy Must Die, then some Oz Original Flavor May 19, 2016

Posted by Erin Ptah in Erin Watches.
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Latest relief for my long work day: an epic re-listen of the Oz books — all fifteen of Baum’s. (Librivox has free recordings of the whole set!)

The inspiration to do this was kicked off after listening to the unsubtly-titled Dorothy Must Die, one of the endless Darker And Edgier modern Oz fan-sequels. The premise of this one: an adult Dorothy came back to Oz, went grimdark along with her friends, and took over. Our heroine is a modern-day US girl — a grouchy trailer-park teenager with pink hair — who’s been summoned to help overthrow her.

It…has its ups and downs. A female sidekick character gets killed off fairly early, in such a nasty way that I thought it had to be a fakeout, but nope. It uses the character designs from the MGM movie — e.g. Dorothy has technicolor-red shoes (which are also evil, of course…possibly so evil that they’re what caused her to go grimdark in the first place).

There was a point when I was underwhelmed, and considering dropping the book without finishing it…when suddenly Ozma shows up.

So I stuck around.

For once, a series that doesn’t just take the MGM movie and make up its own backstory for everything else! The author has clearly read Baum! Ozma and Mombi both have roles in the plot., and there are cameos from later books — the Nome King, the Shaggy Man, Polychrome. The main character has seen the movie, recognizes those characters, but is clueless about the bookverse ones, which is a shame. There’s one book-backstory-related twist that she only gets in the last few pages, when I saw it coming halfway through the story.

Anyway: the whole thing builds to a confrontation which fizzles out in order to end on a sequel hook. Instead of picking up the sequels to see more beloved characters get name-dropped, I figured I’d go back to the originals.

Plus, I want to see Dorothy being awesome, not a stock Sexy Evil Overlord with Dorothy’s name.


The weird thing is? In the book version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy does…almost nothing.

That is, she goes through a bunch of adventures, but it’s all her bumbling aimlessly along whatever path someone sends her down. The party goes through challenges that (in classic fairy-tale style) are neatly solved by the Scarecrow doing smart things, the Tin Man doing loving things, and the Cowardly Lion doing brave things. Dorothy gets none of that. I kept expecting her to take initiative or make a suggestion, and nope. She’s the little kid that they, parentally, protect.

Dorothy spends book 2 (The Marvelous Land of Oz) being an unseen Ozian legend, and only returns to the narrative in book 3 (Ozma of Oz) — and, aha, here’s the Dorothy I remember! It feels like a couple of years must have passed on Earth, because she’s distinctly older. The story opens with her going out into a storm to rescue Uncle Henry, which is how she gets swept into adventure in the first place. She’s brave and determined. She gets involved in conversations and plans with her party.

When the Wicked Witch kept her prisoner, little Dorothy obediently went along with it, doing what she was told. (In the movie, she throws water on the Witch as part of defending the Scarecrow; in the book, it’s basically an accident.) When Princess Langwidere of Ev tries to order her around, older Dorothy puts her foot down, and responds to getting locked in a tower by flagging down a rescue party. Development!

Plus, there’s a sequence where she’s just rescued an even littler kid, and she takes on the protective caretaker role for him. Super sweet.

Book 3 is just overall such a good read. There’s a complicated plot that everything ultimately fits into. The Nome King is a great villain — I had forgotten that he isn’t introduced as Obviously Unsubtly Evil. He seems jolly and affable! Dorothy’s first impression is to be reminded of Santa Claus!

Then things get eerier and more ominous, one step at a time. There’s a scene with Ozma in the Nome King’s caverns — it has genuine atmosphere. She has to pick the right enchanted bauble from a museum’s worth of ornaments and treasures, and she only has one more guess — so she decides to put it all in fate’s hands, closes her eyes, and guesses the next thing she touches without ever seeing what it is. The writing is downright haunting.

Also, this is the book where Dorothy and Ozma meet for the first time, and instantly adore each other, and it’s wonderful.


I would rec Ozma of Oz all on its own, but you gotta read books 1 and 2 first.

Even if the writing of the first book can be pretty wobbly, it’s worth it just to clear all the MGM-related fanon out of your head and re-establish what’s really part of bookverse continuity. For Baum’s loose values of “continuity.”

Book 2 puts Oz through a revolution — literally, the palace gets taken over and everything — which lays the groundwork for what becomes the Ozian status quo in all the books to follow.

Also: it features an early (1904!) example of literary Weird Gender Stuff, that’s not treated as icky or shameful or dysfunctional in-universe. The LGBTQ appeal of Oz didn’t start with Judy Garland (chill though she was). That bell had already been ringing for decades.

Book 2 is also the one that features a parody of suffragettes, and it doesn’t read as terribly affectionate to modern ears. The thing to keep in mind is that Baum was an active feminist. As in “secretary of his local Women’s Suffrage Club” feminist. As in “when Susan B. Anthony came to town, she crashed at his place” feminist.

So. Get your backstory down, get your worldbuilding foundations in order, then you can dive into the world of Dorothy Being Awesome and Ozma Being Elegant and general Dorothy And Ozma Being Best Girl Friends.



1. Nathan - May 20, 2016

Maybe the evil-making red shoes were like the ones in the Andersen fairy tale.

Erin Ptah - May 20, 2016

Maybe? They don’t seem to have anything other than the color in common, though. Evil!Dorothy’s ruby slippers put people under a hypnotic trance of vanity/greed for them. And there’s no dancing.

2. markrhunter - June 18, 2016

I’ve rarely been happy with the “older Dorothy” versions. I like my Dorothy to be eleven … okay, let me rephrase that. The tough, practical, farmgirl little Dorothy is great, but the older ones always seem to be harsh, overly violent, or badly damaged.

Erin Ptah - June 18, 2016

I’d bet there’s a lot of overlap between “let’s make Dorothy an adult” and “let’s write a grimdark-and-edgy dystopian version of Oz.”

You’d probably have better luck if you focused on works that age up Dorothy for shipping purposes…I’ve got a couple of stories with young-adult Dorothy, and it’s mostly for the sake of writing stuff with the flavor of classic Oz plus non-subtexty romance.

markrhunter - June 18, 2016

Yes, that’s it–and I’m not into grimdark or dystopian, although you wouldn’t know it from some of the stuff my wife gets me hooked on. I *do* like the young adult Dorothy tales, including your stories, but to me Dorothy will always look as Neil drew her.

I’ve told people before that the Oz book I’ve had on the back burner would examine what it’s like for a woman who’s over a century old but looks 11 But I tend to write light and (hopefully) funny, so it would be different from what others would do with the concept.

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