The Wizard of Oz (1939) is undeniably one of the most famous films ever made. Growing up, I was completely captivated, watching it religiously and daydreaming of “somewhere over the rainbow.” I know I’m not alone in that.
However, the cinema classic couldn’t have made its unforgettable mark on the masses without the iconic book it was based on. L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was written in 1900. In turn, it’s a bit different than the movie version in some notable ways.
So without further ado, we’re off to see the 12 biggest differences between the timeless book and the iconic movie. For those who still haven’t done you’re reading, prepare for some surprising spoilers along the way.
Fans and critics alike often crown this as the biggest difference between the book The Wizard of OZ and the movie. But is it, really? In the cinematic version, Dorothy’s time in the land of OZ turns out to be a vivid dream. The characters she meets along the way? They’re all based on people in her daily life. In the book, however, she really travels to Oz.
As moviegoers know, Dorothy hits her head during a tornado and promptly passes out. But this narrative-shaping moment never happens in the book. In the OG story, Dorothy falls asleep before the house is literally swept up by the storm.
This clever change definitely keeps things in Kansas interesting, but it also totally changes the ending. Instead of waking up surrounded by people she knows, Dorothy returns to the prairie wearing her magical slippers, but alas, one falls off and gets “lost forever in the desert.”
In both versions, those enchanted slippers were one of the most important details of the plot, but with one big difference. In the original storyline, they were silver, not red. For decades, there’s been tons of speculation about this change in the movie, and it’s not just a matter of which color was more eye-catching.
Many believe that Baum’s color choice was likely a metaphor for the 19th-century American Populist movement’s opposition to the gold standard, which is said to be represented by the Yellow Brick Road, and he didn’t stop there. Historically speaking, those most affected were farmers (represented by the Scarecrow), factory workers (Tin Man), and the general public (Dorothy). Not to mention, Populists supported free coinage, which was silver.
Even though he changed the color, screenwriter Noel Langley never lost sight of the narrative importance of the slippers. Metaphors aside, red definitely pops more on screen, all other color choices considered. “The color would stand out better against a yellow brick road,” per The Smithsonian.
When Dorothy meets him in the forest, you’d think there’d be a few more questions (and answers) about “the Tin Man’s” origin story. Although, those who’ve read the book know much more about where he came from and how he wound up in this unusual situation.
As the story goes, Tin Man was once a normal human being, but his fate changed forever after he fell in love with a Munchkin girl. Her “roommate” wasn’t a fan of the relationship. The object of his affection lived with an old woman who wanted her to stay home and forget about him.
With the help of the Wicked Witch of the East, she devised an ironclad plan to split them up, so to speak. No longer just a pair of shriveling socks beneath Dorothy’s house, this crafty character bewitched a woodman’s axe, which chopped off the Tin Man’s limbs and head. Then his torso (and heart) was split into two unrepairable pieces.
Gruesome, huh? After that, the woodman rebuilt him using tin limbs but left out a ticker on purpose. If he only had a heart from start to finish, things might’ve turned out much differently.
If you’ve only seen the movie, you may not know anything about the Queen of Field Mice, but she has a pretty important role in the story. In the book, Dorothy and company saved the Queen of the Field Mice early on, but I’ll spare you the grizzly details of how and why. I strongly suggest you read it instead. Grateful for the help, the Queen did something for the fab four in return.
After Dorothy and the Lion fall asleep in the poppy field, the scarecrow and tin man were able to safely scoop up Dorothy and Toto, but the lion was too heavy to carry. Thankfully, the field mice were able to put the lion on a truck bed and pull him to safety. While the movie gives Glinda the Good Witch all the early do-gooding credit, the Queen of Field Mice actually helped them first, and Glinda didn’t work her magic until much later.
If you’ve read the book, you know that what happens in that field had nothing to do with the Wicked Witch. Or at least, she’s not as responsible as the movie makes her out to be. That’s because poppies don’t need any enchantment to make you very, very sleepy.
Scientifically, poppies are famed for their sleep-inducing effects. In fact, their Latin botanical name (Papaver somniferum) translates to “sleep-bringing poppy.”
The witch might’ve sent everyone to sleep in the movie, but in the book, it was probably the poppy latex. When cut, this milky fluid exudes compounds like morphine, codeine, thebaine, papaverine, noscapine, and even trace amounts of opium. In both versions, they doze off after smelling the flowers. In real life, however, they would need to ingest the flowers first. I guess that’s where magic comes in handy!
If you think nothing could be scarier than her green skin and ear-splitting cackle, you’d be wrong. The original Wicked Witch of the West had “a single, all-seeing eye” in the center of her forehead.
Adding to the spookiness, the cyclops version of the wicked witch uses her eye to search the land for Dorothy and her friends. No crystal ball needed!
If you’ve never heard of her, you’re not alone. Only those who’ve read the book are familiar with the Witch of the North. She’s actually the first person Dorothy meets in the land of OZ. Glinda doesn’t magically appear until close to the end.
But have no fear. The Good Witch of the North is pretty hospitable too. After welcoming Dorothy to OZ, she kisses her head for protection. After that, she is the one who sends her to find help getting home, making the book’s storyline a bit more cohesive.
While I will always be a big fan of Glinda the Good Witch, she does send mixed messages about how to proceed. One minute she tells Dorothy she needs to see the wizard for help but then bursts all of our bubbles by saying she could’ve gone home the whole time.
In the movie, the winged monkeys clearly work only for the Wicked Witch. My question is, why so loyal, monkeys? The book explains. Apparently, she has current control of the Golden Cap, and whoever owns it can “call upon the monkeys” for up to three requests. In other words, it’s sort of like a magical genie lamp in the form of a velvety yellow hat.
In the book, the leader of the monkeys reveals the spell they’re under to Dorothy. In turn, we are given tons of details about how the cap sealed their fate that never made it into the movie.
The ruby slippers weren’t the only important element to get a makeover with the silver screen in mind. Who could ever forget that shimmering green skyline when they first spot Emerald City on the horizon? When they arrive, the colorful world only becomes more vibrant, and everything is draped in green. However, that’s not how it looked in the book.
Up close, things are not as they seem. And this was a very important detail in the book. Yes, the home of Oz is still called the Emerald City, but that vibrant green turns out to be a facade.
Many critics and historians believe the book’s choice might’ve been another key metaphor related to the times. “While Baum’s novel does not convey an environmental ethic, it does illustrate a wide gap between thinking about the city and its possibilities for achievable greenness in the past, and the changing framework of recent years,” per Environment and Society.
In the movie, one of the most memorable aspects of Emerald City is the unique animals, particularly “the horse of a different color.” We first see it when Dorothy and her friends make their way around thanks to a horse-driven cart. But you won’t see any animals in the book version.
The original storyline is very clear about the fact that there are no horses (of any color) here. In Emerald City, the people pushed and pulled themselves around. This may not change the overall narrative too much, but it does drastically change the vibe around town.
For this Technicolor masterpiece, having a color-changing horse was a choice largely made for visual wonderment. And if you were curious or concerned, no horses were actually dyed.
“The ASPCA refused to allow the horses to be dyed; instead, technicians tinted them with lemon, cherry, and grape-flavored powdered gelatin to create a spectrum of white, yellow, red, and purple. They had to be prevented from licking the colored powder off themselves between takes,” per Oz Wiki.
While the “great and powerful Oz” turns out to be “the man behind the curtain” in the movie, he actually takes four forms in the book. There’s also more than one visit to see him. Each of the four friends visits Oz separately. With each encounter, he appears in a different form.
Dorothy meets the luminous head that moviegoers will never forget, but the Scarecrow sees the wizard as a beautiful woman. The Tin Man meets a beast “with five eyes in its face,” while the Lion sees the most important figure in Oz as a ball of fire.
In the movie, Dorothy wakes up from an elaborate dream surrounded by people. In the book, she winds up stuck in Oz for a while, leading to more books. In both versions, Oz departs via a hot-air balloon, accidentally leaving Dorothy behind. Dorothy worries she’ll be in Oz forever, and in the book, it is only then that she seeks the help of Glinda (the Witch of the South) to get out.
This makes the biggest difference not just in how things ended but when the ending actually falls into place.
With the Wizard gone, Oz is in need of new leadership pronto. In the movie, he puts all three of Dorothy’s friends in charge before taking off. In the book, however, the Scarecrow takes his place, and the Tin Man becomes the leader of the Winkies. Then, the Lion makes his mark (and some new friends) in the forest after killing a monstrous spider that’s been disturbing everyone’s peace. Thanks to his valiant efforts, they elect him “King of the Beasts.”
From there, a lot more happens in the book. In the end, most critics believe that much of what was removed from the movie came down to time constraints. After all, one of the biggest differences between the book and the movie is time itself. In Dorothy’s dreamy cinematic journey, she’s in Oz for what feels like a few days, but in the book, everything is more drawn out. Our leading lady seemingly follows the Yellow Brick Road for days, weeks, and maybe even months. Oh my!