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The Original 'Wizard of Oz' Books Are Shockingly Violent Compared To The Judy Garland Classic

Everyone remembers 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, starring young Judy Garland; the classic tale that teaches you that there is no place like home, that the greatest weapon is water, and that we all have what we seek within ourselves. The popularity of the movie has, for decades, spawned all manner of spinoffs, merchandise, and even a creepy Wizard of Oz theme park

The kinds of lessons weaved throughout the movie are also present in the original Wizard of Oz books, on which the film is loosely based, but in the original stories there are so many limbs being lost in any given chapter that the heartfelt message gets a little buried. The original Wizard of Oz stories were told through a series of 14 episodic novels by L. Frank Baum, who wrote them in the early 1900s. They find Dorothy and her Yellow Brick Road Gang meeting strange foes and strange friends alike on their road to Oz, chapter by chapter, book by book. They’re whimsical tales set in a magical land, but there are many characters and sequences that are downright dark, and there's a lot of dark political symbolism also embedded into the tales. 

Reading The Wizard of Oz and its subsequent series will probably have you wondering how filmmakers of the 1930s even decided to adapt such sordid tales into a movie, and how said movie turned out to be so charming. But the books reveal fascinating insight into turn-of-the-century children's literature, and what a contrast the original stories are from the beloved film. You might never watch Judy Garland's version in the same way again — or you might vow never to stray from it. 

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  • Photo: John R. Neill / Wonderful Wizard of Oz

    Tinman Cuts Off The Heads Of 40 Wolves

    Instead of sleepy-time poppies, the Wicked Witch sends 40 wolves after the Yellow Brick Road Gang. Dorothy, Lion, and Scarecrow react in fear but the Tinman and former lumberjack is no stranger to an ax. He proceeds to decapitate all 40 wolves in a bloody massacre that ends with him victorious in a puddle of blood.

    Throughout many of the books, Tinman’s powers of brutal dismemberment serve as one of the gang’s most effective means of doing business.

  • Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use

    Jack Pumpkinhead's Head Constantly Rots

    Baum picks and chooses when he wants his world of The Wizard of Oz books to reflect real life. In the books, he introduces a character named Jack Pumpkinhead, who looks a lot like Jack the Pumpkin King at the beginning of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He’s a real Halloween looker, all spidery-limbed with a big pumpkin for a head - and that head rots just like a real pumpkin.

    As he adventures through Oz, his head begins to cave in and fall apart which makes him look all the more horrifying. He often needs to find a replacement head and it slows the gang down.

  • Photo: John R. Neill. / Oz Wiki / Public Domain

    The Flying Monkeys Are Cute Compared To The Book's Wheelers

    It didn’t work out too well for the film’s Wicked Witch of the West when she sent out her flying monkeys. Perhaps she should have sampled from a quicker, more devious brand of Oz monsters like the Wheelers.

    In his third book, Ozma of Oz (1907), Baum describes the Wheelers as having the “form of a man, except that it walked, or rather rolled, upon all fours, and its legs were the same length as its arms, giving them the appearance of the four legs of a beast.”

    He then goes on to reveal that instead of hands and feet they sport viciously fast spinning wheels attached to their limbs. Cute!

  • Photo: John R. Neill / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Scarecrow Has A Haunting Love Interest Called The Patchwork Girl

    One of the scariest illustrations arrives in the form of the human-sized Patchwork Girl. The Patchwork Girl, affectionately known in the books as “Scraps,” is a teenage rag doll made from quilt scraps with pearl teeth and a felt tongue. The Scarecrow becomes taken with her beauty and the two became an item, a match that sounds doomed to disaster. When Patchwork Girl first comes to life she spills a magical liquid that turns her creators to stone and she is often up to clumsy shenanigans that turn sinister.  

    Some believe Patchwork Girl was an influence on Raggedy Ann, who luckily looks nothing like the John R. Neill illustrations of her.