Title: Finding Dorothy
Author: Elizabeth Letts
Publisher: 4th April 2019 by Quercus Books
Pages: 368 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 5 cups
A richly imagined novel that tells the story behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz , the book that inspired the iconic film, through the eyes of author L. Frank Baum's intrepid wife, Maud--from the family's hardscrabble days in South Dakota to the Hollywood film set where she first meets Judy Garland.
Maud Gage Baum, widow of the author of the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, met Judy Garland, the young actress playing the role of Dorothy on the set of The Wizard of Oz in 1939. At the time, Maud was seventy-eight and Judy was sixteen. In spite of their age difference, Maud immediately connected to Judy--especially when Maud heard her sing "Over the Rainbow," a song whose yearning brought to mind the tough years in South Dakota when Maud and her husband struggled to make a living--until Frank Baum's book became a national sensation.
This wonderfully evocative two-stranded story recreates Maud's youth as the rebellious daughter of a leading suffragette, and the prairie years of Maud and Frank's early days when they lived among the people--especially young Dorothy--who would inspire Frank's masterpiece. Woven into this past story is one set in 1939, describing the high-pressured days on The Wizard of Oz film set where Judy is being badgered by the director, producer, and her ambitious stage mother to lose weight, bind her breasts, and laugh, cry, and act terrified on command. As Maud had promised to protect the original Dorothy back in Aberdeen, she now takes on the job of protecting young Judy.
‘You need to understand that you have an obligation. To many people, Oz is a real place. . . . And not just a real place—a better place.’
‘The Wizard of Oz’ has to be one of my favorite movies, so when I heard of this book, I simply had to read it. ‘Finding Dorothy’ is the story not only behind the making of the movie, but more importantly, where the story originated from. This is the story of the books creator, L. Frank Baum and told through the voice of his wife - Maud Gage Baum - this is her story.
‘Her worn face in the mirror was telling her something. Reminding her that of all the roles she had played in her life—tomboy, student, wife, mother, widow, and steward of Frank’s legacy—the most important of these had been mother. Was she really so old that she had grown blind to the plain truth in front of her?’
It is through Maud’s story that we learn the whole origins behind this iconic tale. This is a dual time narrative that details the personal lives of firstly, Maud and then upon marrying Frank, both of them in the late 1800s. Then there is the second story of a much older Maud in her 70s at Hollywood through the making of the movie in 1939. Whilst being a wonderful tribute to all that is ‘Oz’, I fell completely under the spell of this fictionalised story of the Baum’s and the events of their lives that led to the creation of this iconic tale. The tale of a man who dreamed of a better place and I simply loved how the author foretold that certain events and people throughout the years would come to play a part in the final version. Fictionalised, but based on fact where possible, it was simply a genius move on the authors part.
“You see that rainbow?” Maud nodded miserably. “You know where I’d like to live?” Frank said. “Where, Frank?” Maud said.
“If one end of this rainbow lives on this bleak and soulless plain, then I’d like to be clear out at the far end of it. Somewhere, somewhere over there is a place that is better. I’m just sure of it...”
“But what’s it about?” Maud asked, wonderingly. “Well, it’s about a girl and her companions, and they’re on the move. It’s hard to explain, Maud, but it’s all in there.”
“What’s all in there?”
“Why—everything!” he said, grasping her hands and gazing into her eyes. “Our whole life and everything we’ve ever endured and imagined, all wrapped up and turned into make-believe.”
Which leads to Elizabeth Letts and the story she has created here. It would appear (from a fascinating ‘Afterword’) that this is incredibly rich in detailed research. Having been inspired by what she found, it was a bold move to centre the tale around Maud, but boy! Does it work! Maud in herself is quite a remarkable character - the daughter of an important suffragette, attended Cornell in one of the first co-ed classes in history; and of course, inspired in many ways, the writing of her husbands book.
‘Sometimes, when the tin woodman leaves home, when he goes on the road, leaving his family to sell his chopped wood, he feels so hollow he bangs on his chest, just to hear the echo inside. That’s what it’s like to be a man of tin. It’s very lonely.”
This is a well written tale that I was fully engaged with. A truly fascinating take providing creative interpretations into not only the lives of Frank and Maud Baum and family, but also, the people involved in the making of the movie. If you loved The Wizard of Oz then you will love this book. I encourage you to take a nostalgic journey down the yellow brick road once more - it is charming, original, enchanting and a real comfort read.
‘Maud watched anxiously. She knew, she had always known, that for the film to contain the same essence that was captured in the book, the quality that had given the book its staying power, the audience would need to believe the girl—to understand that she was trapped, and genuinely miserable, but that somehow she looked beyond, harnessed her imagination, tapped into a deep wellspring of hope, and kept going.’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.
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