I’m a huge fan of classic literature. So I’m always a little surprised when I pick up a book that turns out to be bland. In the last few weeks, three well-known titles have left me cold.
I remember reading the Classics Illustrated comic book of Two Years Before The Mast when I was growing up in Taiwan. I have since discovered that I prefer the comic book since it highlighted the adventurous moments in the book and left out the gazillions of sailing details. I can see why the book was a huge success in its time (1830’s) since it gave a vivid picture of life at sea to those who could never experience it. Richard Henry Dana, a Harvard grad, was an above average writer, but his prose is nothing to write home about.
Then there is Gulliver's Travels, a very long book that begins to wear on you about half way through. I thought the recent movie version was slightly vulgar thanks to Jack Black, but now I find that the book is bawdy enough without any help from Hollywood. It’s interesting, but, again, not beautifully written.
My foray into The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a disappointment as well. I liked this book a lot when I first read it 20 years ago, so maybe I’m just getting too old for this stuff. (That doesn’t really make sense considering how much I enjoyed Wind in the Willows recently.) Anyway, the book had its moments of charm. The Tin Woodman is endearing: He knew very well he had no heart and therefore he took great care never to be cruel or unkind to anything. “You people with hearts,” he said, “have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful. When Oz gives me a heart of course I needn’t mind so much.” (p. 37)
I was amazed at the book’s introduction that said, The story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and all the heartaches and nightmares are left out. The book has several scary and gruesome scenes which negate that final statement.
The Wizard of Oz will always be considered a classic because of the movie. Film critic, John Howard Reid, wrote, The magical qualities of Wizard of Oz are so imaginative that the movie appeals even more to adults than children. In many respects, it is an American Alice in Wonderland with wonderfully way-out characters engaged in a Through the Looking Glass quest for various holy grails. These characters and their desires are more than just faithfully transcribed from Baum’s book. They are actually improved. (p. 255 in 140 All-Time, Must-See Movies for Film Lovers)
Well, it’s no use whining over semi-interesting books when there are still hundreds of worthwhile books to be discovered. Onward and upward!