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Pepe Lepew On December - 4 - 2009

WonderfulWizardOfOz_01_ShanowerVariant3-236x300

This isn’t terribly political, which I hope is OK for HuffNo Friday. It’s about the power of the written word; and how I believe none of us should ever feel like we’re wasting our time writing and blogging, be it about politics, or whatever.

I’m a former journalist, now a writer and editor for a living (which is why I’m on HP way too much – avoiding writing), so the written word is very important to me.

Our family always gets together once a year, switching between Christmas and Thanksgiving every other year. This year, we got together at a vacation rental under the shadow of Mount Shasta — the biggest mountain you’ve ever laid eyes on in your life — for American Thanksgiving.

Well, some dumbkopf in *this* household, don’t ask me who, found some great deal on plane tickets from Montana to Redding, Calif., but the down side was, geesh, a 7-hour layover at Sea-Tac. Well, I got plenty of fingers wagged in my face about what kind of dumbkopf would book a flight as cheap as it was with a 7-hour layover, but the damage was done. We were committed to the trip.

We brought a portable DVD player for “Kiddo” so she wouldn’t get too bored during the layover. She brought a couple of books. The problem was, she wasn’t all that interested in watching movies or reading, because she was too sleepy and cranky after getting up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight before the crack of dawn.

The good news was, there’s LOTS of stuff to do in Sea-Tac.  The bad news is, LOTS of stuff basically burns itself out after a couple of hours.

After eating breakfast and then wandering through a bunch of stores (I got Kiddo a new Fedora hat that she wore for the whole week. She was very excited by it. Oh, yes, I’m so stylish, I’m so hip, and yet I’m still so very, very, damned bored stuck in this airport terminal and it’s all so tragic ….), we, eventually wandered into a bookstore (of course). At this point, the buzz of wandering through a giant airport was just then beginning to wear off. She was beginning to get bummed out. She’s a good kid, but it’s a little too much to expect a 9-year-old to maintain a sunny disposition cooped up in an airport for 7 hours.

Well bookstores always make a big dent in my VISA. We bought six or seven books, total. I bought “Republican Gomorrah.” I had heard lots of people talking about it on HP, so I decided to give it a try. I also got a Stephen Baxter novel, one of my favourite writers. (He writes a lot of dystopian stuff). Then, I walked past an intriguing book on a shelf in the kids’ section.

It was a very, very thick graphic novel. It was of the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by Frank Baum 109 years ago. The art was gorgeous; it was about 200 pages long and very, very expensive. I figured it might tide Kiddo over for a while and I secretly bought it for her while she wasn’t paying attention. She immediately buried her nose in it.

We found a kids’ lounge with beanbag chairs and she plunked down in a beanbag for the next four hours quietly reading her new book. No more sulking. Just curled up in a beanbag with hot cocoa, her faithful iPod and new book and new Fedora hat for four hours. She was in bliss. She kept reading it on the plane and, amazingly, managed to finish all 200 pages (OK, this was a graphic novel, but I’m still guessing more than 20,000 words of text) by the time we landed in California.

Once at the vacation rental, she read her new book to my young nephews every night (The little ones follow her around and other people in the family call her “Wendy”). When she went into town with some older cousins to see some stupid vampire movie, partly to get a break from the high-maintenance younger cousins, I decided to check out this book. Now I was intrigued by what the big deal was. To be honest, I never read any of the Oz books when I was a kid.

The book is nothing like the film, which I probably haven’t paid any attention to in 20 years. (The last time I watched it was when a bunch of us did that trick with playing “Dark Side of the Moon” to the movie. It actually works. It’s kind of creepy.).

The book is actually quite deep and existential. The plot is considerably more complicated than the movie. The part where everyone receives brains and hearts is only about the halfway point of the novel. There’s no singing and dancing of course, and Dorothy’s adventures are considerably more dark and frightening than in the movie. Her triumphs are far more inspiring, much more than just “clicking her heels together.”

So we got the original 1900 Baum book at the library the other day. They didn’t have the other 12 Oz novels, but she asked them to order them. I can’t imagine she’ll actually manage to plough her way through 13 Oz novels, but I’ve learned not to put anything past her.

And I learned again the power of the written word (with a little help from comic book artists) … to fascinate a kid for an entire week much more than a movie ever did.

Categories: News & Politics

31 Responses so far.

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  1. javaz says:

    Wow, Pepe, you put me to shame in thinking that I am a writer.

    What a marvelous story that you’ve written, and how proud you must be of your daughter.
    Aren’t children the most glorious, precious gift?

    I hope that other parents pick up on the OZ stories for their children, after the Harry Potter rage, and sadly, the Twilight series and I’ve mixed reactions on Twilight, but that’s another topic.

    The Wizard of Oz is such an exceptional written series, and it is darker, but no worse than Harry Potter.

    I applaud anything that promotes reading, especially reading for children.

    My late-stepdaughter (why is the term late used for deceased?) was a reader, and my husband and myself are avid readers, and we like to think that we inspired that in her.

    This is sort of sad, maybe, but nowadays people sit down to dinner and they have twitter or whatever, whereby when we sat down for dinner, we all read.

    That’s sort of sad, I suppose, since we didn’t talk, but yet we did, because we shared what we were reading.

    We used to have actual discussions about the books we were reading and that was so awesome.

    We also shared a love of music, and we always have music in our house.

    When our daughter was with us, we used to play guitar, and she actually played better than we do, but she played using tabliture, (?) which we avoid because we consider it cheating, but she really played so much better.

    Oh and btw, we did that thing, too, with Dark Side Of The Moon, but to let you know, it actually works with several other movies, too!

    That is one of my favorite albums, especially if someone gifts us with the herb.
    (major hint for Christmas if anyone of my friends or family is reading this!)

  2. Grabamop/Obama20082012 says:

    Pepe this was an outstanding post. When I read things like this I never want to post a thing. You write so well and so effortlessly. I hope to someday come close to how well you compose!

  3. BigDogMom says:

    Pepe, what a wonderful story, there is nothing more sweet than to see a child curled up with a book.

    My fondest family memories as a child was on Sunday late afternoon in the winter, everyone in our family went to their respective corners with a book, Mom on the couch with the cat curled up beside her. Dad in “his chair”, reading about some long forgotten historical event with one of the many dogs we had at his feet.

    My big sister whom I called, still do to this day, “Sisser”, because I couldn’t pronounce her name as a child, on her bed and me in mine…I could remember saying to myself one day, this is what bliss is, true joy.

    And I don’t know if any of you do this in your families, but we give books for presents, these, as child and as a adult now, mean far more to me than any bobble or bangle.

    I still read every Sunday afternoon in the winter, me in my bed with one dog on the floor and one on the bed beside me….to me this is true bliss…you can keep your chocolate, give me a book every time!

  4. choicelady says:

    What a great story! My grand-daughter by proxy (via my step daughter) is not quite three and already takes us by hand into any available book store. She LOVES books even though she can’t read. Her grandfather has ADD, and it was agony for him to learn to read when he was a child, but once he did -- look out! He’s happiest with his nose in a book. He’s the most eclectic and voracious reader I’ve ever seen. We don’t know if he’s dyslexic, but it no longer much matters. He reads anything, and he loves it. I’m so glad you had this experience with Kiddo (what we call our grand-daughter, too!) and that she loved the book. I’m very sad to learn that Baum had this really evil side, because the Wizard IS a populist book. Sigh.

  5. Questinia says:

    What a nice story! I’ve read the original Oz and the film is a favorite. The metaphors appeal to the universal genetic of identity as gotten through, hope, fear, crisis, others and most importantly… that you have what you need to prevail.

    That your daughter should relish it is not surprising, but that you should have bought it for her is impressive and says a lot about you as a dad.

  6. Mogamboguru says:

    My now 19-year-old- daughter Justine is a clinically proven dyslexic.

    When she was a kid ad school, she abhorred reading like the plague, because it made her feel so helpless, when she was struggling with every word and with every letter of a text.

    But then, when she was 11, the first Harry Potter-novel was published.

    First, she ignored the book completely; it would only have been another guaranteed reading failure in a long line of reading failures, which had lined up in her short life, already.

    But then thefirst Harry Potter-film came out, and then the secon book.

    People were fascinated of the film, and the kids at school were talking about the adventures of Harry Potter day after day.

    Then, her big, baaaad daddy had an idea: I continued to buy my little one the Harry Potter-books, but never insisted on her reding them. Instead, I only took her to every Harry Potter-premier again year after year after year.

    One day, when I called her, to chat with her a little over the phone -- Justine is living with my divorced ex-wife -- my daughter suddenly fiercely interrupted me, before I could say anything more than “Good evening”, and claimed: “Daddy, I cannot talk to you now, I am reading Harry Potter!” -- and hung up again.

    Late my ex-wife told me, that the peer-pressure at school became so overwhelming, because everybody else was talking about harry Potter, that Justine all by herself one day took out the first Harry Potter and began to read it: First letter by letter, then word by word, line by line, until she could read it fluently, when she had arrived at the end of the book.

    Since then, she has not only read every Harry Potter, Eragon, Twilight -- you name it -- but has become a true book worm, who is hooked on books and can’t go past ANY bookstore without peeking into the door and buying at least one book.

    In fact, I have begun writing my own novel actually especially for her, too -- which has brought me close to her than a thousand visits at the zoo with one another or watching movies at the cinema could ever have achieved.

    So, yes: The power of the written word is immesurable and unfathomable.

    • bitohistory says:

      Gotta love success! Especially when it is self-induced!

    • nellie says:

      That’s wonderful, Mo.

      I am also dyslexic — although not severely. It is very frustrating when you crave information from the written word but your brain won’t let you access it. I’m glad your daughter found her way. It must be so satisfying for her to sit down and enjoy a book.

      Einstein, as you may know, was dyslexic, too.

      • monicaangela says:

        Hello Nellie !

        I’m happy to see you have overcome your problem with dyslexia and are open enough to discuss it here. Many people are ashamed of anything they consider to be different from others. As you said, Einstein was dyslexic, so it has nothing to do with what you are able to accomplish, it only means you have to find a different method of mastering the labyrinth that leads to that part of your brain that holds the key to your being able to construct and deconstruct words and sentences. Congratulations !!

      • PepeLepew says:

        Really?
        I can’t decide if I’m left-handed or right-handed. Most of the people in my family are like that. It’s apparently hereditary.

        • nellie says:

          That would make sense. My mother was that way. I do some things better with my left hand — like throwing a softball — but I write w my left.

          My piano teacher thought I was ambidextrous because I could play either hand independently.

          • PepeLepew says:

            I write right-handed, play hockey left-handed, throw a football left-handed, bat left-handed, but throw a baseball right-handed. I kick a soccer ball right-footed. I use a camera with my left eye. My whole family is like that.

            • BigDogMom says:

              Hey Pepe, I too am ambidextrous, write with my right hand, but do everything else with my left.

              I always thought it was because my Mother, Father and older sister were left handed and from being with them, then I realized that two of my nieces and several cousins were also this way.

              Just think, those of us who are, use both sides of our brains!

    • escribacat says:

      Wonderful story, Mo. JK Rowling has almost single-handedly jump-started a new generation of readers. She should get the Nobel Prize for Literature just for that.

    • PepeLepew says:

      That’s great. My mum is dyxlexic. She just doesn’t read much. It’s too hard for her.
      My kid has all the Harry Potter books, but I think she’s only read the first two.

  7. Suzanne525 says:

    What a great story! In particular, I noticed how you understand how difficult a 7 hour layover would be for a nine year old. Great parenting!

    I’ve never read any of Baum’s work, nor did I care much for the Wizard of Oz movie, but I just might rent it and play the Pink Floyd Album with it.

  8. PatsyT says:

    My girls loved that book too, you have a treasure if you have a child that loves to read.
    We have a copy of the Wonderful Wizard of OZ signed by the great granddaughter of L. Frank Baum.
    I was disappointed in “Wicked, the book”.

  9. Tom_Joad says:

    Thanks for a wonderful story! L. Frank Baum, while he was a wonderful storyteller himself, was a person who advocated for annihilation of Native Americans. I suppose Oz is the Yin to his sociocultural Yang, or something like that. I read the WoOz when I was in HS, and like you, marveled at how different it was from the movie version (and, may I say, more to my liking?).

    Cheers!

    • PepeLepew says:

      Yeah, this is from Wikipedia, not the best source, I know:
      “During the period surrounding the 1890 Ghost Dance movement and Wounded Knee Massacre, Baum wrote two editorials about Native Americans for the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer which have provoked great controversy in recent times because of his suggestion that the safety of White settlers depended on the ‘extermination’ of the remaining Indians.”

      That’s too bad. I guess his grandkids apologized to the Indians for it. Racial attitudes were different back then. Doesn’t really excuse it, though.

      The irony is a lot of people thought his books were populist.

      • nellie says:

        What an Orwellian view — considering the genocide of 150 million native people on this continent. I don’t recall any Indians sending out blankets laced with smallpox.

    • escribacat says:

      Tom, I am very sorry to hear that about L. Frank Baum. I wonder what went wrong.

  10. escribacat says:

    Your story gives me hope that the future generation might turn out okay. With all the easier alternatives to books nowadays, I worry that the coming generations will be illiterate and see no value in good writing and literature. Although I am a great lover of the internet, I also see its failings — the explosion of “junk” info, lack of quality, lack of standards, lack of reliability. Quick turnaround and the flashy headline seems to be the order of the day. Anything that can slow down that pace and inspire people to develop an attention span beyond a few seconds is a good thing.

    I read all those Oz books when I was a kid but none were as good as the first.

  11. nellie says:

    I love that she shared her love for her new book with her nephews.

    A great read, Pepe. Thank you. And look what I found, thanks to your inspiration.
    http://www.online-literature.com/baum/
    I’m going to do some delving this weekend.

    And, what’s this about playing Dark Side of the Moon to the Wizard of Oz?

    • PepeLepew says:

      PS — I goofed up the story a bit. Those were MY nephews, not hers. They were her cousins. I edited it to make it correct. Your comment made me realize I had a typo.

    • PepeLepew says:

      If you play the album to the movie, the music matches the movie, just like a soundtrack.
      It’s uncanny. The guys in Pink Floyd have always been very coy about it. I think it’s absolutely an accident. But, try it sometime. You have to start the album with the roar of the MGM Lion for it to work.

      • escribacat says:

        I imagine this works better if you’re high too. Years ago I remember watching the 10 o’clock B flick on Friday nights with the sound turned down, listening to the Firesign theater provide the dialogue. With the right combination of dope and booze, you soon forget you’re not listening to the movie’s sound track and somehow it all makes sense.

      • nellie says:

        I guess the Wizard of Oz is going to end up on my Netflix list in the near future!


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