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Dorothy Must Die!

By Drew Rowsome

"There's no place like home." 

"Lions and tigers and bears. Oh my." 

"Follow the yellow brick road."

"Somewhere over the rainbow."

"I'll get you, my pretty. And your little dog, too."

"Begone, before someone drops a house on you too." 

"I have a feeling we're not in Kansas any more." 

All of the quotes above, from the classic film The Wizard of Oz, are undoubtedly familiar. Many of us, especially us friends of Dorothy, use some of those quotes on an almost daily basis, in fact Peter Filichia, author of Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks claims the population at large cannot go 48 hours without hearing a Wizard of Oz reference. They are inextricably part of the contemporary lexicon.

When a film, and the language it uses, become so much a part of our culture, it is inevitable that the characters, setting and themes will be used by other artists. In literature there are masterpieces like Geoff Ryman's Was and almost-masterpieces like Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the WestWicked and The Wizard of Oz were used as the source material for the Broadway musical Wicked that spawned its own catchphrase, the song, "Defying Gravity."

ABC/CTV's Once Upon a Time is in the midst of an extensive and tasty story arc featuring the Wicked Witch of the West and other characters that riff on the film. Mirvish presented a reasonably faithful stage adaptation and Ross Petty presented a raucous pantomime version.

Films have fared less well with 1985's Return to Oz being a complete flop and 2013's Oz: The Great and Powerful a critical disaster despite the presence of James Franco and a green Mila Kunis. The jury is still out on the upcoming animated Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, but it is notable that even children are assumed to be fluent in the plot of a film from 1939.
And now the rapidly expanding library of young adult fiction has a wonderful entry in the inspired-by-The Wizard of Oz genre. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige is a fast and fun read that is respectful to the source but feels free to move in unexpected, adult and action-packed directions. Because it is a young adult novel there is an overbearing theme of 'believe in yourself' and that one must learn that magic comes from within oneself. Fortunately the obligatory love triangle, featuring guys with omg-gorgeous eyes, is cuter than it is Twilight icky.

Paige has created an upside-down, bizarro-world version of the Oz we know and love. An Oz where Dorothy has returned but, due to magic addiction issues, has become an evil dictator. The heroine, the plain but spunky trailer park-dwelling Amy, has a mother with addiction problems and though the theme is not subtle, it is deftly done. A tornado scoops up Amy and her mother's pet rat (while the mother is at a bar drinking away her sorrows) and deposits them in Oz. And then the action begins. That the book itself is addictive is not, I think, a conceptual theme but rather a result of energetic plotting and zippy prose.

To disclose more of the plot would ruin the fun of discovery, but a Goth girl, flying monkeys, evil versions of characters we love, and a truly delightful group of counter-revolutionary witches come into play. Dorothy Gale makes a shockingly scary villain and I hope no-one ever gives a copy of this book to Liza, Judy's last vestige of innocent potential is completely trashed. For the first time I was concerned about being a card-carrying friend of Dorothy.

Amy is a thoroughly contemporary heroine and her dilemmas and adventures make for an entertaining read. Good and evil are debated and, like the moment in the film where black and white transform into Technicolor, Dorothy Must Die reveals the many different shades and hues that make up a great fantasy novel based on the vagaries of life.

Like a true fairy tale, Dorothy Must Die does not stint on the violence or consequences. The flying monkeys in particular suffer while the three companions (remember they are no corrupted and evil) are quite horrifying. The only downside to Dorothy Must Die is that it appears to be the first in a trilogy or more-ogy. Just as the novel reaches a breathtaking climax, the rug is pulled out from under the reader and we realize we have to wait for the next installment. Despite my fears of succumbing to the Hunger Games law of diminishing returns, I will read the novel that follows Dorothy Must Die: I have to find out what happens to the flying monkeys.

Dorothy Must Die is available at Glad Book Bookshop, 598 Yonge St. gladdaybookshop.com


Wicked runs Wed, Sept 3 to Sun, Nov 2 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria St. mirvish.com


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