Battle of the Books: Oz edition

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This week, I am debuting a new monthly feature -- Battle of the Books! Each month, I will read and review two books that take a spin at a similar topic, be it broad (space opera! dragons!) or narrow (weird westerns! time traveling to WWII!) in scope. With this feature, there will be two posts a month -- one to introduce the topic and books, and another with my reviews.

A seasoned professor once told young hopeful graduate student me that rarely is a good idea new. This idea depressed me at first. But honestly? Now I have accepted that it can be kind of awesome. If you love a topic or have a great idea, even an esoteric one, it can be great to find out that someone else has done it too.

Therefore, even though I am calling this feature a battle (who among sci-fi/fantasy fans doesn't love battles, am I right?), I don't want a reader to get the wrong idea -- both books could be awesome and totally recommended. Ultimately, I hope my reviews may help future readers identify a book (or two) in an area that would suit them best.

Without further ado, this month's Battle is in the realm of munchkins and magic and yellow brick roads.... the world of Oz, as originally created by L. Frank Baum in 1900 with his novel 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.' 

Baum's novel inspired a musical and later the 1939 film adaptation we all know and love. The author went on to write 13 other novels based on the land and people of Oz. (In the spirit of honesty, I have only ever read the first in this series, but hope to read the whole bit for my daughter when she gets old enough!) From the introduction preceding The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we read Baum's motivation in the creation of Oz:
...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 of joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.
The land of Oz has inspired many adaptations (and pop culture references) over the years, but today I am going to focus on two novel adaptations that spin this original fairy tale world back into a gritty one with plenty of heartaches and nightmares for young adult and adult readers -- Danielle Paige's young adult novel Dorothy Must Die (published in April 2014) and Gregory Maguire's Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (published in October 2009).


Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige tells the story of a modern day teenage girl from Kansas named Amy. Her father abandoned both Amy and her mom early on, and Amy's mother struggles with addiction. They live in a trailer park in a small town. Amy is at home, alone, when a tornado hits and sends her and her trailer to Oz.

Our protagonist finds that the land of Oz is drastically different from the stories we know and love -- a gloomy washed out land where magic is mined from the land and magically creatures are enslaved to a despot named Dorothy. Dorothy is the one and same girl from Kansas we've previously known, and she has come back to Oz greedy for attention, magic, power, etc. Amy finds herself bound to a group called the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked whose members include wicked witches and wizards intent on killing Dorothy and restoring a balance of good and evil in Oz.

Wicked: Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire focuses on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. It tells us her side of the story, a girl born with strange green skin and a fear of water to a minister/missionary and heiress to the Thropp family. The story travels to familiar places and introduces the reader to other familiar characters, with secrets of their own.

Wicked also creates complex political and religious issues in the land of Oz with a class-based system and debates on topics such as whether Animals who can talk should be treated the same as animals that cannot.

Have you read either of these books or others inspired by L. Frank Baum's work? Have suggestions for other books for fans of Oz? Ideas for other books to battle? Leave a comment below! And don't forget to check back later this month for my reviews and the winner of this month's battle.


  1. Ooh perfect timing. Just finished DMD for Boundless Book Club and I read Wicked years ago when I heard about the play. Both are great spins on the original story, but I haven't read the original to really give an authentic comparison. I wonder if DMD's series will get darker. Did you read the second book in the Wicked series? I think it's called Son of a Witch?

    1. Hi Hadas! Thanks for the comment!

      Yeah, my local bookclub read Wicked this month; I read it a few years ago and just finished rereading it again. I had heard good things about Dorothy Must Die at SDCC this year, so I decided to give a try at comparing the two. :)

      I haven't read the second book in the Wicked series, but yes -- it is called Son of a Witch and follows Liir. What shined for me in Wicked was the character Elphaba (with her slow descent to madness), so I am not sure if I could handle the story without her!

  2. I've read Wicked multiple times, but I've never heard of Dorothy Must Die! "Remixes" of classic stories can be so fascinating.

    1. Dorothy Must Die was published earlier this year, so it is still relatively new.

      I am posting my review of the two books tomorrow, but briefly: Dorothy Must Die is a YA novel, so it has a faster pace / less complex storyline. If you enjoy the world of Oz / want a quick easy read, I recommend it (although I am not sure it was really for me).

      And I hear ya on remixes! The local bookclub I am a member of had a monthly theme of retellings / remixes and I had so much fun finding books to nominate. Some authors really infuse a whole complex dimension to familiar stories.


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