Everyone remembers 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, starring a young, beautiful 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. For decades, the popularity of the movie has spawned all manner of spinoffs, merchandise, and even a creepy Wizard of Oz theme park (let’s not speak about that).
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 Frank L. 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.
After reading these short, creepy summaries by Ranker, you may never watch the Judy Garland version of the story the same ever again…
1) 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 was originally 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, he would replace the body part with a tin replica until he was made entirely out of tin. Except his heart, of course. The movie, of course, skipped this gruesome origin story.
2) 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 is an entirely see-through cat and her heart and brains are visible through the glass. Bungle is cool and aloof but serves as an ally to Dorothy and her friends on multiple occasions. The Wizard himself takes issue with how conceited Bungle is and 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.
3) Forget The Wicked Witch, The Books Have A Princess Who Steals Heads
Like any spoiled royal, Princess Langwidere has her choice of accessories. She has beautiful jewels and dresses but she doesn’t care too much about them. Her pride and joy is her cabinet of severed heads. When she’s bored of one head she takes it off her body and switches it out for a 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!
4) The Scarecrow Is Great At Snapping Necks
In movie when Dorothy first meets Scarecrow they dance off together down the yellow brick road. In the book, Scarecrow takes his newly found freedom after Dorothy cuts him down as a chance to mercilessly seek revenge on the crows that tormented him during his active duty as a scarecrow. In front of Dorothy, he proceeds to snap the necks of hundreds of crows and is described as standing in a pile of black feathers and blood. Dorothy then realizes he’s going to be a great road trip partner and invites him along on the adventure.
5) The Main Villain Is Half Gnome, Half Rock, And Is Allergic To Chicken Eggs
The Wicked Witch of the West is basically a blip on Dorothy’s radar in the books. She’s just a villain of the week, quickly vanquished. The real archnemesis of Dorothy and the gang is the Nome King. The Nome King is half rock and half stone. He 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 is to turn his enemies into inanimate objects and let 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.
6) 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 are terrified 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.
7) The Scarecrow’s Head Is Constantly Rotting
Baum picks and chooses when he wants his world of The Wizard of Oz books to reflect real life. In the books, the Scarecrow looks more 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. In the Scarecrow’s case his head rots just like a real pumpkin. As he adventures with Dorothy, 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.
8) 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 have viciously fast spinning wheels attached to their limbs. Cute!
9) The Scarecrow Has A Haunting Love Interest Called The Patchwork Girl
One of the scariest illustrations is that 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 is taken with her beauty and the two became an item. When Patchwork Girl is first brought 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.
10) There Is A Village Where People Are Made Of Eerie Porcelain Dolls
One of the many scenes that didn’t make it to the film adaptation of first book in the series, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), was the Dainty China Country. In the southern quadrant of Oz deep within an enchanted forest is a creepy little place full of sentient porcelain dolls. While some dolls are in pristine condition, others are cracked and misshapen. Once a porcelain person is cracked, they are very difficult to fix. The book describes large numbers of cracked clowns who have permanently scared their bodies from doing head stands. Their faces are misshapen and their necks are bent. And they’re clowns. And dolls. It’s overkill in the creepy department.
11) The Kalidahs Are Vicious Predators Roaming Around Oz
The Kalidahs are creatures who “are described to have bodies like bears, heads like tigers, and claws long and sharp enough to tear a lion in two. The Cowardly Lion, like most creatures in Oz, is afraid of the Kalidahs.” W. W. Denslow’s original illustrations, however, do make them seem more like straight-up tigers.
At one point, the Tin Woodman has to chop down a tree so that Dorothy’s group can safely cross a cliff and escape their attack, and this is one of several violence instances in which the Kalidahs appear throughout the Oz books.
One of the most violent stories is whe the Glass Cat character has a run-in with Kalidahs in the woods. She staved them off for a while, but while she was recounting the story to Cap’n Bill and Trot, the Kalidahs once again sprang on them. This time, Cap’n Bill used his peg leg to spike one of the beasts into the earth.
12) Toto Devours Some Edible Townsfolk, And One Of The Survivors Threatens To Bake The Group In His ‘Great Ovens’
In chapter 17 of Emerald City, the group encounters Bunbury — a delicious-smelling village where the ground is made of flour and the houses are made of crackers and breadsticks. The people of Bubury are edible, and they attempt to hide themselves so they won’t be eaten — nonetheless, Toto manages to eat some, which is rather graphic if you think about it. Later, the town tries to retaliate against the group, and “Mr. Bunn threatens to bake Dorothy and her friends in ‘the great ovens.'”
13) Violent Accidents Are Casually Mentioned, And Often
According to Oz Wikia, the source for all things Oz if you don’t have an out-of-print hard copy of the original tomes on your hands:
“The indications are that violent death is still possible in Oz. In The Road to Oz, Chapter 17, the Tin Woodman states that ‘A while ago the crooked sorcerer who invented the Magic Powder fell down a precipice and was killed.’ In the same chapter, a blue bear chokes to death on a fishbone. In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, Chapter 19, Eureka the kitten faces execution by beheading. In The Patchwork Girl of Oz, Chapter 20, the Yoop is caged to prevent him from eating people. (He last ate a monkey.) The enchantment of Oz does not negate the risk of pain, suffering, and violent death for its inhabitants.”
There are so many casual instances of violence that, when you stop and think about it, are very graphic and gruesome, yet are often just accepted at face value by both Dorothy’s traveling group and, supposedly, the average reader of the early 1900s. In addition,
“In The Scarecrow of Oz, Chapter 10, King Phearse is entombed under heavy stones at the bottom of a pond. In this state, ‘he was of no more use to himself or the world than if he had died.'”