Applause recently released a book called The Wizard of Oz FAQ by David J. Hogan. Subtitled All That’s Left to Know About Life According to Oz, the book is a collection of facts and stories about the MGM film The Wizard of Oz. It begins with a bit of background on the source material and early adaptations, then moves through various aspects of the movie, such as the cast, the music, the script, costumes, the director, etc., ending up with the public impact on Oz on TV. It’s a widely sweeping book, packed into a little over 400 pages.
There is a lot of new information in The Wizard of Oz FAQ. There are many things to be learned, such as the various pictures the cast participated in together, or how Toto behaved on the set. Some of what is covered will be familiar to many, such as Judy Garland’s rampant drug use at the direction of the studio. But there are so many elements talked about that most readers will probably be enlightened on a regular basis when reading through. One such example of this is learning that Judy’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, ended up being Jack Haley’s (the Tin Woodsman) daughter-in-law, which is casually mentioned at one point. Also, Buddy Ebsen, who filmed for two weeks before being replaced by Haley, still has his voice heard in select songs in the film.
However, I am not a fan of this book. The structure is weird, and the pacing is nonexistent. It’s a random compilation of various pieces that aren’t tied together in a cohesive manner. There also is no real narrative thread. You could pick parts of each chapter and string them together to tell the tale of the popular film, but that would require much effort on your part. Every event is weighed down with side trips and things most people won’t care about. Do we need several pages on what many of the individual Munchkins or the person who wrote the score did with their lives? That type of thing may be interesting to some potential readers, but the sheer number of such occurrences really hurt the overall flow of the tome, frequently slowing it down and making it boring.
I think one major problem is that the scope of the project is too large for this volume. A lot of topics are covered, many more than I mentioned in the first paragraph, but Hogan frequently sweeps over a topic and moves on. There are a list of the official Oz books, but he doesn’t go into detail about them. He mentions many productions, only giving us scant details on how they came together, rather than telling us anything deep. It’s a thin covering of a broad spectrum.
Another issue I have with The Wizard of Oz FAQ is the amount of bias in the text. One example is when the author talks about the famously cut “Jitterbug” sequence in the movie. Hogan is definitely not a fan of the scene and is glad it was cut, which is a legitimate stance to take, and I happen to agree with the points he makes. But this is a non-fiction work, so I expect facts more than opinion, and Hogan frequently lets his own thoughts and conclusions color the text, making it less informative than I’d hoped for. This is far from the only time he does this.
What’s more, the subtitle of the book is completely inaccurate. I don’t see how Oz relates to life at all from reading this. This is about Oz itself, not how it connects to the rest of the world or the way anyone lives.
In the end, I find myself reluctant to recommend The Wizard of Oz FAQ to anyone. There are some strong parts in here that have been well researched, but the format it has been published in seems like a mistake. Instead, this should have made up several smaller volumes, more fleshed out, with some type of better organization to them.