Mar 21, 2010

Dungeons of Oz

For years I looked down on Oz as candy coated kiddy fare. But I recently read the original Wizard of Oz for the first time. If you've only seen the movie, then you haven't experienced this wonderful, magical place created by L. Frank Baum.

The famous 1939 movie only covers a very edited version of the first half of the book. I found that once the Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow got their heart, courage, and mind that the book really gets good! The rest of the book is spent in adventures showing what they did with their gifts. And it all struck me as being very much like a good D&D campaign with dark forests, powerful, terrifying and evil creatures, and of course the Wicked Witch of the West.

I could easily see Oz as a great fantasy world for an old-school campaign. It's got all the ingredients for epic fantasy adventures with villains, strange inhabitants, fantastic locations, magic, and deadly creatures. It is a much darker, scarier place than the colorful musical version would ever lead you to believe.

In my excitement for Oz I rented the 1985 movie Return to Oz, and enjoyed it more than the famous 1939 musical. Much more.

Disney advertised it as a sequel:

But really it was nothing like that. It is much darker and more fantastic with no singing, it was more like this:
And Return to Oz is so much more faithful to L. Frank Baum's writing.

One of the best characters in Return to Oz is the sorceress Mombi. An evil witch who collects heads, which she switches by taking her head off and putting a new one on. What a great villain! She delivers one of the best lines to Dorothy in the movie:

Mombi: Not beautiful you understand, but you have a certain prettiness, different from my other heads. I believe I'll lock you in the tower for a few years until your head is ready. And then I'll take it.
Dorothy: I believe you will NOT!

I'm collecting the other Baum Oz books on my eReader (currently my iPhone, but quite possibly for the iPad when it comes out) and am looking forward to experiencing more of the wonderful world of Oz.


  1. Does that map key up anywhere with Kansas?

  2. Except of course that movie Mombi is actually a pastiche of two of Baum's characters, the wicked witch Mombi and the head-collecting Princess Langwidere (the latter being so creepy precisely because she's not evil, just vain and uncaring and with a different personality depending on he head she decides to wear that day).

    Baum's Oz is indeed one of the richest (and sometimes quite dark) fantasy worlds out there, and it only gets more medieval in tone if you include Thompson's twenty or so books in the canon. Then there are many more little out of the way kingdoms and bizarre wilderness locations to work with.

    >>biopunk: that would be a "no." Oz is supposed to exist on its own continent, within an entirely fictional ocean.

  3. Ah yes, that Oz film is much closer to the books and the steamman is very fun.

    Hope the Oz book editions you're reading have the original illustrations. You might like some of his other fantastical works too, but starting out with the Oz books is just grand.

    Librivox has quite a few Baum works available as free audiobooks. I prefer the single reader versions so you don't have different readers from chapter to chapter.

    Internet Archive should also have scans of older editions (they also host the Librivox files).

    Hrm, they also have some very early film versions!

  4. I love the map. Those are the kinds of maps that I prefer for use in gaming.

  5. One thing I love about Return to Oz is the way they use design and stylistic elements from the time period the books were written in--especially at the end, where the Emerald City looks like the 1902 Pan-American Exposition and they're playing music that sounds like a cross between a Sousa march and a Joplin rag.

    There's also Nicol Williamson's (and Will Vinton's) Nome King. There's an adversary for you.

  6. You should also check out the 5 or so comics, "Adventures in OZ" by Eric Shanower. The art is quite good, and the stories are a bit darker then expected.

  7. So glad to see the shared enthusiasm. I was a little hesitant to post this here, not sure if people would see what a great connection there was between old school D&D style adventure, and Oz.

    J.D.: I haven't read the other books, so I'll take your word for it. But I still insist Return to Oz is so much closer to Baum's writing.

    gibbering ghoul: great links, thanks!

    Paladin: yeah, I love maps, and that one really tickled my fancy.

    Jayson: the set and character designs in Return to Oz were fantastic. I agree.

    eldersprig: thanks for bringing my attention to Eric Shanower. He is quite good. Though I picture Oz to be much darker now that I've actually read the book.

  8. I'm with you, Oz is terrific and I remember loving the movie, especially those gibbering Wheelies (iiarc)!

  9. I remember there being some mega-dungeon-esque content in the books after The Wizard of Oz!

    Great books, would definitely read them again.