The Wizard of Oz

Now that you’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) and read the first chapter of the original book from 1900, I’d like you to comment on the translation from text to image.  Every act of adaptation is an act of interpretation.  So, how does Victor Fleming (the director of the film) understand the literary text?  What words and themes are most relevant to him?  What does he decide to discard?  Explain based upon your engagement of both version.

Please respond by Tuesday, April 2nd, at 6 pm.  This gives you a full week.

42 thoughts on “The Wizard of Oz

  1. Victor Fleming understands the text mostly through the use of the word “gray.” The opening scene is gray and lacks any substance or color for the land. He stays consistent with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and their lack of personality due to their surroundings and lifestyles. Something different he employed was adding more characters than just the original three, although they do not have much importance. He also does not pay as much attention to the detail of the house in the opening scene as was originally written by Baum.

  2. Victor Flemming interprets the text in a way that not only emphasizes Dorthy’s dissatisfaction with her kife in Kansas but also her dreams and imagination. For instance, she meets several characters besides her Aunt and Uncle who are not in the original text but serve their own function. One of them is a woman who is trying to take Dorthy’s dog. when she first appears on her bike, the music playing is eerily similar to the theme of the Wicked Witch. Another character is the traveler Dorthy comes across, whose manner and costumes are reminiscent of the Wizard in his first appearance. All in all, Dorthy is imaginative to the point where she reimagines them as fantastical and exaggerated characters. This also helps smooth the transition of Kansas into Oz, as it ties both the ‘real’ world and Oz and gives some basis to the world of Oz itself.

  3. Victor Fleming uses the word grey to his advantage. The word is scattered throughout the first chapter of the book to emphasize Dorthy’s life on the farm with her Aunt and Uncle. Flemming also introduces new characters in his film adaptation. I think this was a thoughtful idea to introduce the main characters that the viewers meet when Dorthy travels to Oz. It shows the correlation and her vivid imagination and also somewhat explains the ending.

  4. The director keeps to the theme of gray and bland colored as the book does. However, some things are added to the movie. The tightrope walking on the fence post, the woman coming to take the dog, running away and meeting the professor, and the singing from Dorothy. The part in the book where Aunt Em helps Dorothy into the cellar as well as the dog nearly being pulled out into the twister was taken out. Instead, Dorothy goes into the house where she is then knocked unconscious by a window being busted in from the twister. Victor may have made these changes to add more tension between the audience and the woman will then become the wicked witch. The twister scene could also have been dragged out a little more to keep an audience on the edge of their seat wondering what Dorothy will have to do in order to survive the twister.

  5. I actually read most of the Wizard of Oz series of books as a kid, before watching the movie, so I’ve always had a heavy leaning toward Baum’s style and viewed the movie as its own beast. However, the opening of the movie is I think one of the places where Fleming captures his style the best, by taking an incredibly gray and drab setting, meant to inspire wanderlust into the reading, and making it literally gray-scale in the film. However, I do think one way in which Fleming misses the mark is by adding the characters which are analogues to those found in Oz; their introduction into the beginning of the story creates conflict and excitement early on in the film that breaks the blase tone of the book.

  6. In the story, it is mentioned that “everything on the prairie was grey”, a description that Victor Fleming takes to heart in the film with a bland setting. Another thing to notice is how the story mentions that the land Dorthy lives on is very “flat” which in the film can clearly be seen. There are no buildings or anything to be seen in the horizons. There were slight differences to the film and story, an obvious difference being the characters that Dorothy sees passing her window in the film, which did not occur in the story at all. This was probably a means for Fleming to foreshadow the witch and make things more exciting.

  7. Well, by this point, this idea isn’t at all original, but Fleming’s vision for the film borrowed quite literally the tone and description of the beginning of the novel, and translates it seamlessly on-screen. The flatness, the gray descriptors, the feeling of slow-moving life. Of course, he takes his own liberties with the story, opting for much more foreshadowing of characters than there was in the novel.

  8. The emphasized grayness of the midwest environment of Dorothy’s home is used in how Kansas has literally no color. The theme of Dorothy’s family being downtrodden is used. It differs from the text because there are much more people around, juxtaposing the lonely desolation of the text. Victor Fleming also added much more comedy into the story, and shifted around the order of events slightly. Fleming’s use of color, showing the grass and plants and their vibrancy is a good interpretation of the book’s wording when Dorothy gets to Oz. Musical numbers and more effects on the witch of the north are added, probably because cinema is viewed as an “event”, it must be grand. So these “cinematic” elements are added.

  9. Victor Fleming used themes of grey and dreariness in his adaptation of the literary text. He does very well at interpreting that into the mise-en-scene of the film. The aunt and uncle appeared to be as grumpy and unpleasant as they were portrayed in the text. Fleming did not focus as much on the layout of the house and the room like how it was described thoroughly in the book. Fleming also made the decision to add some characters that weren’t mentioned in the first chapter including the Professor, Miss Gulch, and the three men on the farm at the beginning of the film.

  10. In the book, there are many reoccurring instances of the word “gray” to describe Dorothy’s relationship and life with her family, and Victor Fleming carries this idea through the beginning of the film adaptation. This can be seen especially as the first several scenes in the movie are shot with a gray and bleak color tone. However, he does take some liberties with the film, as seen by the addition of several characters that appear at the beginning of the film.

  11. In the book, the author mentioned everything on the prairie was gray. In the film, everything is in black & white up until Dorothy goes to Oz. Fleming also decided to add some characters to Dorothy’s life outside of her own imagination. The friends that she has back home represent the friends she makes in Oz, which Baum did not have in at least the first chapter of his book.

  12. Victor Fleming borrows many stylistic similarities that are present throughout first chapter. Fleming pays homage to the book by creating the gray and empty landscape the book had emphasized as Kansas. Also, Victor does a fantastic job of showing how Dorthy and Toto are the only expressions of light and positivity, compared to the grim personalities of her Uncle and Aunt.

  13. Good job, everyone. Keep these coming until the 6pm deadline.

    You were likely surprised to see the brevity of the book chapter. We generally think that film adaptation requires cutting down. But here you see that Fleming’s adaptation is also a fundamental amplification of the book chapter–you see that the film version is a musical of sorts, one that forecasts the characters to come in Oz. We also see, as almost all of you have noted, the word “grey” turned into the black and white tonality of the film. What a brilliant choice! This then contrasts wonderfully with the saturated candy colors of Oz. Imagine the film done without the changes in tonal choices. It would not be the same film.

    Finally, consider the contexts: the book is published in 1900 and the movie in 1939. The movie has a pioneering context (the end of U.S. westward expansion is officially 1890). The characters have a rough character to them–they are surviving in the rough. The 1939 version has the Great Depression in the background–discussion of the pigs worrying themselves into anemia and Aunt Emily’s potential sickness relate to this. But perhaps the most fascinating distinction for me is the storm. Where does it come from? In the book, it conforms to conventions–it’s a children’s story. But in the film it comes as a manifestation of negative forces in the world–Ms. Gulch’s desire to destroy Toto; the financial crisis on the farm; the potential death of a family member. It seems to me that all of this negative energy gets externalized in a fury. So, the movie also adds a psychological dimension the book lacks.

    You’ll want to keep all of these types of differences in mind (particularly with respect to contexts and how that makes adaptation possible in different ways) for your papers on “The Stepford Wives.” You are dealing with three versions there.

  14. The book contains a lot of mentions of the word “gray” as a way of describing the situation that Dorothy is in. From the relationship with her family to the way, she perceives her life. The lack of emotion from her aunt and uncle and the baroness of Kansas with fields and nothingness going for miles around her. Fleming puts his own twist on the story by using many characters, not just the three that we are used to. Another thing that stood out was the lack of detail with the house and the room. A choice which was different from the original by Baum, who had focused on making the house look much more detailed to help it stand out.

  15. The main and central detail that Fleming centers on is taking the gray metaphor presented in the book to heart. Throughout the first chapter Dorothy is shown to not be content with the dull life of Kansas with no scenery for miles and Fleming incorporates that into his film by also contrasting it in Oz by having the land appear in technicolor and diversity all throughout Dorothy’s journey to the Emerald City.

  16. The author creates a bland scene in the book, describing her house in Kansas as “gray” and “flat”. Victor Fleming adapted this for film nicely, withholding color from the beginning of the film. The first chapter and beginning of the film are quite similar, aside from the additional characters Fleming adds to the movie to represent the ones Dorothy meets in Oz.

  17. Fleming really focuses in on trying to drill the “grey” theme into the audience. The entire first portion of the film is without any color in order to emphasize the boredom that Dorothy lives through in her everyday life. Fleming did however add additional members to the film that were not included in the first chapter, this is perhaps to possibly make the film as realistic as possible that you could get in a small town in Kansas. The lack of color and culture at the beginning of the film allows for Dorothy’s adventure to oz to truly sand out with its vivid colors and sights.

  18. Victor Fleming uses the repetitive use gray to show the dreariness of Dorothy’s life in the movie. He added a layer of complexity by adding other characters who would later appear as OZ. I think the use of the sepia type coloring was used over traditional gray scale coloring because it shows more age to it and is less harsh than black and white. In the text Dorothy is described to have a laugh that is out of place in dreary Kansas which is really shown here in the difference of her voice and her aunt and uncle’s voices. The setting is well done as it shows the very cloudy sky, the dead grass and nothing but farmland and small houses throughout the land.

  19. Fleming focused on the Gray aspect as best as possible by using the black and white technique before changing to full color when Dorothy arrived in Oz. He shows the contrast between Dorothy and the characters around her by having her hair in braids instead of the bun that her Aunt Em has, as well as a more layered outfit, showing that Dorothy is ready for more intricate and exciting surroundings than the gray of her life that both the first chapter and scenes of the Wizard of Oz show.

  20. Victor Fleming does interpret the literary text in his own way by adding some of his own touches. He does take the repeated use of the word “gray” and make the beginning of the film black and white. Unlike the book, he also introduces us to five characters, Professor Marvel, Hunk, Zeke, Hickory, and Miss Gulch, during the initial events. The way the five characters are introduced foreshadows their places in the Land of Oz. Additionally, in the book, Dorothy decides to fall asleep while the house is still in the air, which makes sense as it is a children’s book. However, in the film, Fleming discards this simple action and instead has a window break and knock Dorothy out during the tornado.

  21. Director Fleming takes parts of the book rather seriously. Making the start of the moving entirely gray, as a kid, it made the movie hard to start watching since the gray beginning gave strong feelings of dullness. Just like the book had wrote. He makes distinct differences by adding more characters (farmhands) that will turn into other familiar characters later on. Like the staw man tinman and the cowardly lion. He also keeps to the story by making the house fly up but changes how it happens. In the book, there was a cellar in the house and she was in the house to begin with but in the movie, she had temporarily run away which gave a better reason why she couldn’t get in the cellar, to begin with, and had to go back into the house.

  22. The book spends a fairly large portion of the chapter describing how grey everything is. While most of the action that takes place in the first chapter is changed and redone in the film, Victor Fleming has attached himself to this part of the description and films the opening with (technically sepia) gray-scale film, to really convey how bleak everything is.

  23. In the book, Baum described everything to be very “gray”. That image was also delivered well in the movie. Everything seemed very dull and colorless, and the aunt and uncle seemed to live a very uneventful life. There were also more characters in the movie than there were portrayed in the book.

  24. Not only did the director use black and white film to show the greyness of the farm, but he also includes a lot of extra scenes to add to the feeling of difficulties and Dorothy not being completely happy there. For example them working to save the chicks, fixing the wagon, feeding the pigs, and her song. He took 7 pages and made a really long intro with them. It also felt that the tornado scene was more scary in the film than it was in the story, but he did use up beat music and that little scene with the characters passing by the windows which had more of the lighthearted feeling that the story does.

  25. I love how the director elaborated on this chapter. It’s so simplistic in story and characters that a 5 year old could likely breeze through reading it with an understanding of what is going on, but Victor Fleming went above and beyond the simplicity. He created additional characters to model the characters Dorthy encountered along the way and took the excessive use of the word “grey” to heart as put the scenes in black and white to starkly contrast the bright and vibrant colors of Oz. Fleming seems to play less detail to the house itself and more on the characters to contrast the book as well.

  26. The contrast of gray scale Kansas in the beginning of the movie and the vivid color of Oz serves to emphasize the particular emotions Dorothy felt towards her environment. Fleming took the use of the word gray in the book and ran with it, using it to influence the perspective for the audience. It reminds me of how Coraline used the same tactic: the normal world was duller and grayer, but the Other Mother’s world was bright and fantastical, similar to how the real world and Oz were. Victor Fleming also made sure to ground the world in extra scenes that made Kansas seem more like a real place.

  27. The word gray is used throughout the original text, and Flemming seems to take this literally by filming all the scenes in Kansas in a sepia tone. Flemming also eliminates the brief backstories of the characters, possibly in an attempt to streamline the opening scene. The door to the tornado cellar is placed outside, so the scene of Toto falling out the bottom of the house is not in the film. Flemming also changes how the film starts, with Dorothy arriving home in a panic. The book begins with Dorothy in the house when the tornado arrives.

    • The cellar was likely moved so that Dorothy would not be able to enter after she returns home, instead of her just not entering like in the novel. Dorothy arriving home allows for viewers to learn more about Dorothy’s personality before she arrives in Oz. Flemming allows viewers to learn more about Dorothy based on her interactions with the characters who mirror those in Oz on the farm by having Dorothy arrive home.

  28. Victor Fleming appropriately applies the word gray, frequently used throughout this chapter to metaphorically represent the monotonous life that Dorthy lives on the farm. Characters such as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry also reflect this word choice, having quite flat personalities possibly as a result of their environment. He also chooses to add some extra characters to the beginning of the film that were not present in the text. This may have been done to keep the viewers attention through the gray, bland exposition.

  29. Victor Fleming understands the literary text as a base to build on for the film. The first book chapter repeats everything is gray including one could say life in general on the farm and living with her aunt and uncle. Fleming takes that ‘gray’ feeling and doesn’t translate it to the characters but to the color of the film itself. So that he can keep the gray theme from the book but introduce interesting characters at the same time, as well as build the contrast between Kansas and Oz. But doesn’t keep the gray demeanor’s of Dorthy’s aunt and uncle from the book. I think ultimately Victor Fleming understand the text to be about Dorothy learning to be self-sufficient and understand the value of the family she has.

  30. Flemings adaptation of “Wizard of Oz” does a fantastic job communicating the drab sort of existence that Dorothy will eventually long to return to. The use of grey scale is the most obvious cinematic technique that creates the mood in Kansas. Other choices that form the mood include the dialogue with the relatives and farm hands, and the mise en scene including the dusty and disheveled farm. All of these elements set the stage for the reveal of color when Dorothy finally arrives in Oz.

  31. in the 1900 novel “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” Dorothy was trapped in a dull grey world, Victor Fleming expertly translated that into the 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” film through a sepia tone. I’ve read through some comments speaking on the fact that instead of reflecting the grey in her aunt and uncle Fleming painted it in the tone and coloring of the Kansas in the film. I found that in the first sequence of the film (until the tornado) Dorothy’s aunt and uncle did in fact reflect the grey from the novel as well. Dorothy acted a range of slightly overdramatic emotions whereas her aunt and uncle remained rather one-toned about most things. At the end of the film when Dorothy finds her way back from Oz the demeaner of her aunt and uncle had clearly changed. Though the film had much more exposition setting up characters before the twister, it still greatly resembled the book in it’s intentions and goals.

  32. In the novel “The Wizard of Oz”, the blandness and darkness of a sleepy Kansas farm is conveyed through descriptive words and the use of the word “grey”. The word grey suggests some sense of blandness or dark nothingness. This very closely represents how Dorothy’s world feels. The first chapter is similar, however not all of the “classic” characters were present.

  33. I believe Victor Fleming is trying to definitely try to create a view for us to look at this particular scene as a “dark” or rather even “grey” image or scene. He wants us to be able to view this by showing, especially in the cyclone scene, by making the sky all grey and even giving black and white color to the movie. He does disregard in one scene in the book of how she lost her footing and went to the floor and replaced that with the floor being the bed. Another thing he kind disregarded was how in the book the house spun about 2 to 3 times and he has in his movie the house spinning simultaneously that’s what viewed for me at least or looked like to me at least.

  34. The main theme that Fleming picked from the book was how Dorothy found everyone gray and dull. He shows this by making the film in greyscale during the beginning (in Kansas) and then changing to color when she is in Oz. In both the book and the film Dorothy is not satisfied with her life, but Fleming adds more details to why Dorothy is unsatisfied in the film. The book just shows how unhappy she is that no one has any joy, while in the movie Dorothy is frustrated because she feels no one understands her and everyone isn’t listening to her. He also added characters into the movie. The book only has Uncle Henry, Aunt Em, and Dorothy, but the film has three workers on the farm and a grumpy lady. Another theme that Victor Fleming used from the book was Dorothy’s love for Toto. In the book she says the only joy thing that brings her joy is her dog and in the movie, the main reason for Dorothy running away is the threat of Toto being taken away.

  35. As mentioned numerous times before, the director really felt the scene being gray was relevant to the story. He translated this well and the use of sepia tone was interesting. The director could have opted for black and white but instead chose sepia tone, giving the film a more brown appearance. The main idea that Fleming seems to understand about the text was that the Kanas life was dull and dreary. Even having Dorothy in the movie long to leave and get away from Kansas.

  36. Victor Fleming keeps many of the important characteristics of the original text and expands upon them to establish the movie world thoroughly. He keeps the same idea of the “gray” landscape by not filming in color until Dorothy is in Oz. He also keeps Aunty Em and Uncle Henry’s personalities similar to what is established in the book. He does take some liberties with the text, like establishing characters in Kansas that mirror those that are in Oz. In the original text only Dorothy, Aunty Em, Uncle Henry, and Toto are mentioned as being in Kansas. He also takes liberties with the farm and creates a much more established farm, having farmhands and a house rather than a one room cabin as described in the book.

  37. Director Victor Fleming illustrates Dorothy’s love for Toto that author L. Frank Baum emphasized in the original text. The dreary grayness of the Gales’ farm is also shown in Fleming’s choice to have the opening chapter of the movie be filmed in sepia tones. In the movie, Fleming expands on Dorothy’s desire for something nicer than what her current life can offer, while the narration of the book does not tell readers about how Dorothy feels about her farm outside of the description of the landscape (while it is told in the third person, the story is mostly from Dorothy’s perspective).

  38. In the book, the word “grey” is often used so the readers can get a feel of how dreary Dorothy’s life on the farm is. In the movie, Victor Fleming uses a grey monochromatic color pallet to demonstrate the contrast of her life in Kansas VS the colorful, happy Land of Oz.

  39. I thought it was very interesting how Victor Flemming interpreted the word “gray” for the movie and the fact the beginning of the movie wasn’t a true black and white, it was a dusty red color which perfectly fits into this idea of a farm pretty much in the middle of nowhere Kansas. It also really brings out the flatness of the land. He also represents the color gray in everyone’s personalities, very similar to how they were described in the book.

  40. The theme of gray is consistent throughout the book and film. Gray is a representation of plaid and boring, which Kansas itself for the most part is. The characters in Dorothy’s life live the quintessential normal boring life, for example her aunt and uncle are a seemingly unhappy married couple in both the film and book. The use of color of course comes in later when she leaves home and Emerald city is used to represent adolescence leaving home for something “better”.

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