10 Differences Between ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Book and Movie

V.M. Braganza
On the set of The Wizard of Oz.
On the set of The Wizard of Oz. / Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages
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The Wizard of Oz (1939) is one of the most famous films of all time—but it differs quite a bit from the novel on which it was based, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). Here are 10 things the book did differently from the film. (SPOILER ALERT: This list contains plot spoilers for those who haven’t read the book.)

1. The original slippers were silver, not ruby.

It may come as a surprise to classic film fans that the original enchanted slippers were silver, not red. Some critics speculate that Baum’s color choice was part of an elaborate metaphor for the 19th-century American Populist movement’s opposition to the gold standard. By this reading, the Yellow Brick Road symbolizes the gold standard [PDF], which was notoriously inaccessible to farmers (Scarecrow), factory workers (Tin Man), and the masses (Dorothy) [PDF]. As a result, Populists supported free coinage of—you guessed it—silver.

Screenwriter Noel Langley made the decision to alter this detail and give the slippers their now-famous ruby hue, “probably,” as Jesse Rhodes writes in Smithsonian, “because the color would stand out better against a yellow brick road.” The rest is cinema history.

2. The Kansas alter-egos of the Oz gang were an invention of the movie.

“Remember me? Your old pal Hunk?” Baum didn’t. The film’s elaborate framing structure, which transforms the crabby Miss Gulch, the humbug Professor Marvel, and the three farmhands into the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard of Oz, and Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, wasn’t part of the book. In fact, none of the five Kansas characters are in the book at all, the opening scenes of which focus instead on Dorothy, her aunt and uncle, Toto, and the very gray midwestern landscape.

3. The Tin Man used to be a real man.

Does anyone else find it odd that nobody in the movie questions the existence of a “Tin Man”? Where does a man made of tin come from in the first place? The book supplies this missing information: The Tin Man was once an ordinary human who fell in love with a Munchkin girl. Their romance was thwarted by a selfish old woman who lived with the girl and wanted her to remain at home.

The old woman enlisted the help of the Wicked Witch of the East (no longer just a pair of striped socks under a house), who bewitched the woodman’s axe so that it chopped off all of his limbs and his head, and cleaved his torso (and heart) in two. The woodman replaced each part of his body with tin limbs—but ended up without a heart.

4. The Wicked Witch of the West did not send the poppies.

In the book, the poppy episode has nothing to do with the Wicked Witch. In fact, these bewitching flowers need no magical help at all. As their scientific name (Papaver somniferum) suggests, poppies have long been connected with sleep-inducing effects, and there’s an excellent reason for this: the poppy latex, a milky fluid that oozes out of the seed pod when cut, contains morphine, codeine, thebaine, papaverine, noscapine, and trace amounts of opium (oh, my!). In the book and movie, Dorothy and Lion doze off after smelling the flowers—but in reality, one can only feel a poppy’s effects by ingesting its narcotic components.

5. People have to wear sunglasses inside the Emerald City.

The Emerald City of the book is much more dazzling than that of the movie—it’s bejeweled with so many emeralds that its inhabitants must wear sunglasses all the time. These shades are more than a fashion statement: They’re actually locked on behind the wearer’s head to protect them from being blinded by the gems.

6. There are no animals of any kind in the Emerald City.

In the movie, Dorothy and her friends are taken around in a horse-driven cart. But the book tells us specifically that there are no horses—of any color!—in Emerald City. Without any beasts of burden, the citizens push their wares around manually on carts.

7. Oz appears to each of the characters in different forms.

The luminous head of Oz in the movie is, in the novel, just one of four forms that the sham wizard takes. In the original, each of the four friends visits Oz separately and he takes a different shape for each one. He appears to Dorothy as a luminous head “much bigger than the head of the biggest giant”; to Scarecrow as a beautiful woman; to Tin Man as a fearsome beast “nearly as big as an elephant … [with] five eyes in its face”; and to the Lion as a ball of fire.

8. The Wicked Witch of the West has one eye.

If you thought that Margaret Hamilton’s green skin and shrill cackle were scary, the original Wicked Witch of the West was a cyclops. Baum doesn’t describe her appearance much, except to tell us that she has a single, all-seeing eye that scans the land for Dorothy and her friends. Luckily for the faint-hearted among us, the filmmakers opted for a crystal ball instead.

9. The mark of Glinda’s kiss is visible.

In the film, as in the book, Glinda the Good Witch kisses Dorothy on the forehead before she sets out for the Emerald City. The film makes very little of this moment. However, in the novel, Glinda’s kiss leaves a protective mark visible to all, which eventually gets Dorothy and her friends in to see Oz and, later on, prevents the flying monkeys from killing her.

10. Dorothy doesn’t faint during the tornado.

The film stages Dorothy’s time in Oz as an elaborate dream, brought on during the tornado when she receives a nasty knock on the head from a loose window and passes out. This framing device isn’t in the book: Dorothy dozes off as the house is borne aloft by the twister. However, she is fully conscious for the return journey back to Kansas, during which she is whirled up into the air “so swiftly that all she could see or feel was the wind whistling past her ears.” Just before she lands back in Kansas, the silver slippers fall off, “lost forever in the desert.”  

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