Somehow I made it through childhood never reading this book. I remember seeing the whole collection of Oz books on the shelf in the Denville Public Library. They were right there next to the table I liked to sit at. I always felt they were kind of taunting me... like they were some kind of club that I wasn't allowed into because I was too young, and by the time I was old enough, I wasn't interested. Of course, I'd seen the movie many times, and always marveled at its wonderful dreamlike qualities.
What got me thinking about it was that somehow I got roped into reading Wicked, which was simply awful. At first, I liked the idea that it was fleshing out the Oz universe, but it did so in such an inconsistent way, with so many plotlines that went nowhere, that it is almost hard to understand why the book is so popular. But I think I know why -- no one has read it. I think lots of people bought it, and everyone likes the idea of "the witch's side of the story", and the idea that the Wicked Witch of the West was college roommates with Glinda is amusing. It's too bad the book is so very, very painful to read. I mean, it has some engaging scenes, but they aren't connected to each other. For me, the whole thing just fell apart.
And I had even less respect for Wicked after reading the original. What really struck me is how, well, real parts of it seem. Like when the Scarecrow gets stuck on the pole in the river -- it feels like something that would really happen to four friends trying to travel through the wilderness. So much of it is about the friendship of those four, and how they help each other. I was quite surprised to learn that the movie ends halfway through the book, eerily similar to the Neverending Story! But while the Neverending story gets deep and meaningful in the second half, TWWOO gets kind of pointless... we visit a land of tiny china dolls, for example, who seem to serve no plot purpose whatever, and don't seem at all at home in the universe that has been established. After reading this, I have even more respect for the movie: it added powerful things that weren't in the book at all: Dorothy throwing the water in an act of kindness; the diploma, the heart, and the medal; an implication that Oz is in the sky; and the idea that Oz was just a dream. It's a truly rare case: the book and the movie are both wonderful, but in completely different ways. There is something special about Oz, I just don't know what it is yet. Someone must be pitching the idea of making new movies which are more true to the books.... but they are probably wisest to leave that alone. I certainly am curious to read the subsequent books.