Last night, I was discussing The Wizard of Oz with a dear friend and decided it was high time I post about one of my favorite illustrators, beginning with her version of that classic story. I’m guessing most people are familiar with the 1939 film version, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland. It has garnered a lot of love, references, and little girls wearing ruby slippers over the years. It is a lovely film and I dare not criticize it as many, including myself, enjoy it heartily (except that the real slippers were silver, not ruby!). The original story however was published in 1900 and is quite different from the Hollywoodified version the public at large has come to know. Written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated (masterfully!) by W. W. Denslow, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a great success and brought thirteen sequels over the course of Baum’s life. The book has been recreated many times with various illustrators, but none have captured my imagination so deeply as this version. So here we have The Wizard of Oz, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger in 1996.
Let’s begin by clarifying that this is an illustrated storybook, not technically a picture book. I’m fully aware of that; but as I continue to have, love and want to share an occasional storybook, I’m going to. And Lisbeth Zwerger’s art is something I will always gladly pore over.
The Wizard of Oz is about a young orphaned girl named Dorothy, who lives with her Aunt and Uncle in a dry, gray prairie of Kansas. It is a story that chronicles her adventures with her little dog Toto when her home is swept away by a tornado and she is deposited into the Land of Oz. And that is all I’m going to tell you, for you must read the full story for yourself.
I love Zwerger’s illustrated version as the characters are nothing like any I’ve ever seen before. In the back of the book, Ms. Zwerger shares how she was new to the story and had never even seen the movie so she could approach it with no preconceived ideas. Marvelous! Her characters are so original and fantastical. Her painting style is delicate and filled with stunningly, deep color. Throughout this edition there are a combination of full page illustrations and then little characters and scenes sprinkled amongst the text.
Another unique piece of this book is her inclusion of green tinted glasses to be used in the Emerald City portion of the story. A note in the beginning of the story details the decree from the Great Wizard Oz that you must wear the glasses when you see the symbol by the page number. What a fun solution to a green land. Unfortunately, my used copy of the book is missing the glasses so I have not yet experienced it in full. It works fine without, although I hope to someday track down the green glasses and complete my viewing.
Whatever version of The Wizard of Oz you hold dear, it is a charming story. Although he admired Grimm and Andersen’s works and the happiness they brought to childish hearts; Baum wanted to create a series of newer “wonder tales” that eliminated the “horrible and blood-curdling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale.” As Baum wrote of it: “The Wizard of Oz was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left-out.” (Quotes from Baum’s introduction to the story.)
Lisbeth Zwerger is a brilliantly talented illustrator. I’m on a slow journey to collect all her illustrated copies of beloved stories and I’m continually enchanted and enamored with her work. Tales From the Brothers Grimm is her latest release in 2012 and I am biding the time until I stumble upon it. I hope you enjoy the introduction to her intriguing characters. I don’t think you can encounter her work and leave the same.