Inspiration for the Week: Music to Write By – Defying Gravity #MondayMotivation

In 2016, this song from the musical Wicked was sort of my personal theme song for the year. Every time I listened to it, this song helped motivate me to dream bigger and reach for something greater. May it do the same for you!

Let me know how this music inspires you this week!

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Stories that Make Me Happy

For this week’s post, I’m publishing a bit later in the week than I normally do because I’m participating in the Classic Movie Ice Cream Social blog-a-thon, hosted by Movies Silently. While I must confess that I haven’t watched a great many silent films, I thoroughly enjoy reading the blog, and I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling as it’s done through the vehicle of silent film. 

A good story is a good story, in my opinion, whether it’s a book, a musical, a comic, a silent film, a poem, or a song. So for this blog-a-thon, I’m sharing two of my favorite classic films that I think not only tell a good story, but just plain make me feel happy.

The Wizard of Oz

I’ve blogged about The Wizard of Oz numerous times before, because, well, it’s The Wizard of Oz. I love all of Baum’s Oz books, and I love the musical Wicked, but for me what started it all was watching the classic 1939 movie on TV as a kid. I know I’m dating myself here, but when I was really little, The Wizard of Oz would air on network TV once a year, and the whole world (or at least my family) would drop everything for the evening and watch it. We had two television sets (I know, we were big time), and thankfully one of them was a color set. Ah, that magical moment when Dorothy opens the door of her dingy house into the brightly colored world of Oz! Of course I now have the movie on DVD and can watch it any time I want, but it always takes me back to the special days when it was a rare treat. Continue reading

Strong Women of Oz

March 8th is International Women’s Day, and so to celebrate (albeit a day late), I’ve decided to highlight some strong female characters of fantasy literature. (I suppose what I really should have done was highlight or interview a female author, but I didn’t plan this out well enough for that. Also, I just wanted an excuse to blog about fantasy characters, because I love fantasy. So there’s that.)

Anyway, there’s been a lot of buzz in recent years about writing strong female characters. A lot of people complain that many supposedly strong women characters are nothing more than gender-swapped male characters, or are women who are trying too hard to act like men. I’m not actually going to talk about that per se in this post – but what I am going to do is discuss some strong female characters of classic fantasy literature. Specifically, characters in the Oz stories.

The Matriarchal Land of Oz

Baum's three main female leads: Ozma, Glinda, and Dorothy

Baum’s three main female leads: Ozma, Glinda, and Dorothy

Okay, so it’s perhaps not quite accurate to call the Land of Oz a matriarchy, but L. Frank Baum was very adept at writing female characters. And remember, he was writing The Wizard of Oz and subsequent books in the first two decades of the 20th century. Women’s suffrage was a hot topic during this time, but even though women were fighting for the right to vote, writing strong female characters in books wasn’t really a big focus. Especially not strong female characters in children’s fairy tale books.

So was Baum a supporter of women’s suffrage, a feminist, or perhaps just a keen observer of people (male and female alike)? That’s a discussion for a different post. But whatever his reasons or method, Baum excelled at writing strong women. Not women who acted like men – but women who were every bit as feminine as a lady of the 1910s should be while still smart, resourceful, and did not usually require a man to get them out of a scrape. Continue reading

10 More Wonderful Quotes from Oz

I recently compiled a list of ten great quotes from the various Oz stories – everything from Baum’s original tales to the 1939 movie to Wicked the Musical. But I couldn’t stop at just ten. Even if you’re not an Oz buff, I’m sure you can find a witty or meaningful quote in this bunch.

 

“Everything in life is unusual until you get accustomed to it.” The Scarecrow, from The Marvelous Land of Oz

Says the man made of burlap and straw. Point taken. Different isn’t bad – it’s just different.OzHat

 

“So much of me is made from what I learned from you. You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart.” Elphaba, from Wicked the Musical

This is one of the best quotes about friendship I’ve ever come across, and reminds us that a love story does not have to be about sex and romance.

 

“But in Oz we are loved for ourselves alone, and for our kindness to one another, and for our good deeds.” Princess Ozma, from The Road to Oz

Even in Oz society is not always as perfect as Ozma claims here, but to her credit, this is a creed that she herself lives by and employs as she rules her people. And here on earth we’d do well to keep this attitude more in our daily lives.

 

“Nothing’s impossible if you just put your mind to it.” Oz, from Oz the Great and Powerful

Just remember that if a small-town circus performer could defeat two wicked witches with this attitude, then you can do anything.

 

“The only way to do a thing
Is do it when you can,
And do it cheerfully, and sing
And work and think and plan.
The only really unhappy one
Is he who dares to shirk;
The only really happy one
Is he who cares to work.”
Johnny Dooit, from The Road to Oz

This little rhyme speaks the truth for itself, I think.

 

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” The Wizard, from The Wizard of Oz

This is so true. And one who is deeply loved usually can’t help but love in return.

 

“No one can be unlucky who has the intelligence to direct his own actions.” Scraps, from The Patchwork Girl of Oz

The stuffed patchwork doll named Scraps displays almost Scarecrow-level wisdom with this statement. Even in the most unfortunate of circumstances, we still have free will and can make choices.

 

“We get up at noon and start to work at one. Take an hour for lunch and then at two we’re done. Jolly good fun!” The citizens of Emerald City, from The Wizard of Oz

This is my kind of workday. Can I live here? This line is from the song “The Merry Old Land of Oz”; so if you’ve seen the movie, you now have that song in your head. You’re welcome.

 

“But those as knows the least have a habit of thinkin’ they know all there is to know, while them as knows the most admits what a turr’ble big world this is.” Cap’n Bill, from The Scarecrow of Oz

Sad but true. I’m sure we’ve all met an ignorant know-it-all or two.

 

“He had nine book-trees, on which grew a choice selection of story-books. …the books were picked and husked and ready to read. If they were picked too soon, the stories were found to be confused and uninteresting and the spelling bad. However, if allowed to ripen perfectly, the stories were fine reading and the spelling and grammar excellent.” from Tik-Tok of Oz

I love the magical land that Baum invented, where most anything you could want probably grows on a tree somewhere. I also love Baum’s not-so-subtle hint to aspiring authors everywhere: if you pick (publish) your book too soon, without giving it time to ripen (with rewriting, revising, and editorial help), then most readers will be confused, bored, or just get bogged down in grammatical errors.

Bonus quote:

“Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen.” Elphaba, from Wicked the Musical

I put this in here to be funny, because nobody knows what this means. And if you’ve seen Wicked, then you are now singing the song “No Good Deed.” You’re welcome.

10 Wonderful Quotes from Oz

If you know me, then you know that I’ve always been a big fan of the Oz stories. I’ve seen the 1939 movie more times than I’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy (if such a thing is possible). I love the two (different but equally awesome) prequel stories Oz the Great and Powerful and Wicked (the musical. I haven’t read the book yet. Yes, I know they’re rather different).

I’ve also been working my way through L. Frank Baum’s original books. You can see a recent post I wrote about that here. As I’ve been exploring the Land of Oz, I’ve started collecting some great quotes. So here are ten of my favorite quotes (so far, since I’m only on book 6 of Baum’s original 14) from books, movies, and shows.

 

“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?” The Scarecrow, from The Wizard of Oz

This is one of the most famous quotes of the Scarecrow, and possibly one of the most well-known quotes from the entire movie (with the exception of “Fly, my pretties!” and “There’s no place like home.”) Apparently the Land of Oz has its share of morons who won’t be quiet, too, just like earth.

 

Oz: “You want me to lead an army that can’t kill?”

Glinda: “If this was easy, we wouldn’t need a wizard.”

from Oz the Great and Powerful

Poor Oz. There’s really nothing he can say to this. At this point he’s really wishing his balloon had never left Kansas.

 

“When music is not very good, and is indulged in all the time, it is better that the performer should be alone.” Princess Ozma, from The Road to Oz

I love Ozma’s polite, stinging slap to obnoxious people everywhere. I need her in the car with me at traffic lights, so she can roll down the window and say this to the guy next to me who has the bass cranked so loud that it can be heard all the way to Oz.

 

Fiyero: “You think I’m really stupid, don’t you?”

Elphaba: “No, not really stupid.”

from Wicked the Musical

Elphaba, the master of the back-handed compliment. Love it.

 

Elmira Gulch: “I’m here to see Dorothy about the bite on my leg.”

Uncle Henry: “You mean she bit ya?”

Elmira Gulch: “No, her dog.”

Uncle Henry: “Oh, she bit her dog, eh?”

from The Wizard of Oz

God bless acerbic, long-suffering Uncle Henry. This is one of my favorite dialogue exchanges in the whole movie.

 

“I’ve been lost before, and always got found again.” Dorothy, from The Road to Oz

The beautiful logic of a child. Baum did a good job in his books of portraying Dorothy with the emotional maturity of an adult so she could remain clear-headed during her various adventures, while still maintaining the imagination and purity of a child.

 

“Some things I cannot change, but till I try, I’ll never know.” Elphaba, from Wicked the Musical

Elphaba is never afraid of trying or pushing the envelope, and we never should be, either.

 

“I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” The Scarecrow, from The Marvelous Land of Oz

More wisdom from the Scarecrow.

 

“You’re capable of more than you know.” Glinda, from Oz the Great and Powerful

Glinda’s encouragement to the Wizard is really an encouragement to all of us.

 

“In this world in which we live simplicity and kindness are the only magic wands that work wonders…” from The Emerald City of Oz

Baum may have been a writer of fairy tales, but he understood the truth.

When the Movie is Better than the Book

As a novel writer, I always feel a bit guilty when I like the film version of something better than the book. I feel like a traitor to my craft, almost, for daring to like a reimagining better than the sacred literary original.

But then I remember that movies are a valid storytelling medium – just like short stories, poetry, stage plays, and comic books. Even though my main focus right now is novel writing, I am first and foremost a lover of stories. And sometimes, the movie version really tells a better story than the book.

Take for example The Wizard of Oz. I grew up watching the movie every time it came on network TV (as did everyone in my generation and older, probably). I was overjoyed when VCRs became commonplace (remember those?) and The Wizard of Oz was released on video tape.

I can quote basically the whole movie, I know all the songs, I’ve tried dancing like the Scarecrow (not as easy as it looks), and I’d still like to have a pet flying monkey or maybe a Horse of a Different Color. I’m also a big fan of some of the “prequel” stories – the Disney movie Oz the Great and Powerful, and the musical Wicked. But up until now, I’d never read the original book that started it all.

When I started reading Baum’s first Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, I knew that my perceptions of the story would be colored by the 1939 movie and everything that came from that (see the aforementioned Oz and Wicked). But I set my expectations aside and purposefully selected an ebook version of the original 1899 edition that had all of the original illustrations, so that I wouldn’t be seeing Judy Garland on every other page.

Sticklers for the “original book version” of a story likely disapprove of The Wizard of Oz movie, because it was nothing like the book. A few glaring differences (besides the obvious lack of song and dance routines in the book) would be:

  • The gentle Tin Man is devoted to Dorothy and his friends, but lacking a heart, he is thoughtlessly violent and slaughters great numbers of creatures of all sorts if they even appear to be hindering Dorothy’s quest. (Rather ghastly for a children’s book, in my mind).
  • The Wicked Witch of the West is a feeble old crone who is terrified of both Dorothy and the Lion. She is also not green (reducing Margaret Hamilton’s character back to only Elmira Gulch, and negating about half of the songs in Wicked).
  • On that note, Miss Gulch is not in the book, nor are the loveable farmhands or Professor Marvel. Dorothy does not dream of going to Oz – she really does get sucked up in a cyclone, along with the house. Poor Uncle Henry and Auntie Em – childless and homeless all in one day!
  • The shoes are silver, not ruby. The Good Witch of the North sends Dorothy on her way, while Glinda (the Good Witch of the South) doesn’t appear until the very end.

Before I continue, please note that I am not complaining or giving a negative review of the book. My intention here is to illustrate the dramatic differences between this book and the movie sensation it spawned, and why I think the movie told a better story.

From a storytelling perspective, the script writers for the film told a more cohesive, believable story. Here are a few writing techniques that I think the film achieved better than the book:

  • Cutting or combining minor characters – such as using the single character of Glinda to perform the acts done by both of the Good Witches in the book.
  • Dorothy’s desire to return home was very believable in the film, due to the amount of time spent on developing the world of the Kansas farm and the people in her life. In the book, Dorothy dislikes Kansas and seems to show little fondness for her aunt and uncle. While it’s understandable that she would want to return to the familiar, her intense desire to leave Oz just as soon as she arrives seems forced.
  • A clear antagonist. In the film, Dorothy’s enemy Elmira Gulch becomes her enemy in Oz. The Wicked Witch of the West makes repeated appearances and actively tries to interfere with their quest. Her main goal as an antagonist is to get the shoes that Glinda gave to Dorothy. In the book, the Wicked Witch doesn’t appear until near the end; and while she does capture Dorothy and tries to get her to take off the shoes, the entire Dorothy-is-captured-and-her-friends-rescue-her sequence is very anti-climactic in the book.
  • The use of plot devices. The shoes belonging to the late Wicked Witch of the East are a much bigger deal in the film than in the book, and to a much better effect, I feel. Glinda gives them to Dorothy with the instructions to never let the Witch of the West have them, because the shoes are talismans of great magic. The shoes become one of the major features of the plot. In the book, the Witch of the North (that extra character who is not Glinda) basically tosses the shoes Dorothy’s way with a remark to the effect of “well, she’s dead so you can have them if you want.” (Paraphrasing here. This is not verbatim what Baum wrote).
  • Also, the Wicked Witch of the West’s iconic broom is not in the book. (This would mean no dramatic “Surrender, Dorothy” skywriting in the movie, and no “Defying Gravity” song in the Wicked musical.) But that aside, the broom becomes a plot point much like the shoes. It not only represents evil magic (as the shoes represent good magic), but it serves as the token by which Dorothy and company prove their worth to the Wizard. After the melting of the Wicked Witch in the book, they return to the Emerald City with a “by the way, she’s dead, and you’ll just have to take our word for it.” (Paraphrasing here again.) In the film, the broomstick is a tangible indicator that the protagonists are worthy of not only being the main characters, but actually being the heroes, too.

Again, I am not trying to say anything bad about the original. Baum wrote a book that at the time was unlike anything seen before, and he created a rich fantasy world. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was an instant success, and Baum wrote many other Oz books because of it (which I am currently working my way through). This strange little story – grisly, anti-climactic, and full of modern storytelling no-no’s – grew into an important part of our culture, and the world of Oz has endured for over 100 years.

I have nothing but respect and appreciation for what Baum wrote. But I am also grateful to everyone at MGM in the 1930s for pulling the best elements out of this book and turning it into not only a visual and musical spectacle, but a stronger and more memorable story. So in this case, I am not ashamed to say that the movie was better than the book. May we all aspire to have our stories get better with the re-telling.