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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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  • The Tinman Is A Tin Man Because He Hacked Off His Own Body Parts
    Photo: W.W. Denslow / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Tinman Is A Tin Man Because He Hacked Off His Own Body Parts

    The book's Tinman character actually has a bloody beginning. Born and raised in Oz, he began life as a human man who worked as a lumberjack aptly named Nick Chopper. Nick Chopper fell in love with one of the Wicked Witch's munchkin servants, so to keep them apart the witch put a spell on his ax so that he began to involuntarily hack off his own limbs.

    With each self-inflicted dismemberment, Nick replaced the body part with a tin replica until he was made entirely out of tin, hence the Tin Man. Except his heart, of course. The movie, of course, skipped this gruesome origin story.

  • The Wizard Of Oz Lobotomizes A See-Through Cat
    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Wizard Of Oz Lobotomizes A See-Through Cat

    One of the magical creatures that shows up in Baum’s seventh book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913), is Bungle the glass cat. Bungle, an entirely see-through cat, has heart and brains that are visible through the glass. Bungle is cool and aloof but serves as an ally to Dorothy and her friends on multiple occasions.

    Taking issue with Bungle's perceived arrogance, the Wizard performs an aggressive lobotomy to make her less autonomous and more obedient. He replaces her pink brains with clear ones and all consider her more agreeable post-op. Don't tell PETA.

  • Forget The Wicked Witch, The Books Have A Princess Who Steals Heads
    Photo: John R. Neill / Oz WIki / Public Domain

    Forget The Wicked Witch, The Books Have A Princess Who Steals Heads

    Like any spoiled royal, Princess Langwidere has her choice of accessories. She owns beautiful jewels and dresses but cares little about them. Her pride and joy lies in her cabinet of severed heads. When she grows bored of one head she takes it off her body and switches it out for one with a different look. Langwidere gets bored of her appearance easily and finds this to be the best solution. The heads themselves are stolen from beautiful maidens in the surrounding kingdom. 

    When Dorothy encounters her, Langwidere very much wants to steal her head. So much worse than stealing ruby slippers!

  • The Main Villain Is Half-Gnome, Half-Rock, And Allergic To Chicken Eggs
    Photo: Author Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use

    The Main Villain Is Half-Gnome, Half-Rock, And Allergic To Chicken Eggs

    The Wicked Witch of the West exists as basically a blip on Dorothy’s radar in the books, merely a villain of the week quickly vanquished by the gang. The real arch-nemesis of Dorothy and the gang is the Nome King. The Nome King, made of half-rock and half-stone, is a power-hungry, immortal being whose only weakness is the egg of a chicken – much like the Wicked Witch of the West’s aversion to water or Superman’s Kryptonite. The Nome King’s favorite torture involves turning his enemies into inanimate objects and letting them slowly lose consciousness and die.

    In other aspects of his dynamic personality, he has business ties to Santa Claus and spends his time collecting earth minerals. Because, you know, everyone loves a character with layers.

  • Tinman Cuts Off The Heads Of 40 Wolves
    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.

  • Jack Pumpkinhead's Head Constantly Rots
    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.