The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: Summary & Characters

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

In this lesson, we will learn about L. Frank Baum's children's book, 'The Wonderful Wizard of Oz'. After a brief introduction, we will go over a summary of the plot and a list of the characters. We will wrap up the lesson with a short quiz.

Story Background

You have probably seen the 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, but you might be less familiar with the children's book on which the film is based. American author L. Frank Baum wrote the classic story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900. The book was very popular and spawned a Broadway musical, the 1939 movie, and thirteen sequels. By the time the novel entered the public domain, over five million copies were sold.

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  • 0:01 Story Background
  • 0:29 Main Characters
  • 3:30 Plot Summary
  • 8:58 Lesson Summary
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Main Characters

Baum's story follows a little girl and her dog on an epic adventure of supernatural proportions.

  • Dorothy is the main character of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She is an orphan and lives with her aunt and uncle on their farm in Kansas, along with her dog, Toto.
  • Toto is Dorothy's dog and her constant companion. When he runs away right before the hot air balloon is supposed to take off from Emerald City, Toto costs Dorothy her chance to go home.

There are several witches in the story, all women who are either firmly good or firmly bad in character.

  • The Wicked Witch of the East is the former ruler of the Munchkins. After Dorothy's house lands on her, the Wicked Witch of the East dies.
  • The Good Witch of the North welcomes and gives Dorothy the magical silver shoes after she arrives in Munchkin Country. She is old and not very powerful, but she gives Dorothy a protective kiss on the forehead before Dorothy heads to the Emerald City.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West is an evil, conniving witch, and the Wizard of Oz orders Dorothy and her friends to kill her if they want his help. He makes this request because he does not believe anyone will actually be able to accomplish the task due to the Wicked Witch of the West's extreme power.
  • Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, is a benevolent soul, and after Dorothy misses her chance to go back to Kansas with the Wizard, Dorothy asks Glinda for help. Glinda is very nice. She helps Dorothy and also frees the Winged Monkeys from their enchantment.

Dorothy makes friends while she is in Oz, and they follow her on her journey. Every character has his own unique personality and quirks.

  • The Scarecrow wishes he was smarter. The Wizard gives him bran to put into his head, which he calls 'bran-new brains.'
  • The Tin Woodman wants a heart. To fix this, the Wizard gives the Tin Woodman a stuffed silk pouch resembling a heart.
  • The Cowardly Lion desires courage. In the end of the novel, the Wizard gives him a potion of 'courage.'

There are other characters in Oz who, while not as central to Dorothy's experience as the three friends listed above, all have great relevancy to the plot.

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz rules the Emerald City until he goes back to the United States. He is originally from Nebraska. He does not have any real magical powers but uses technology to manipulate how people see him.
  • The Munchkins are a race of little people who are very grateful to Dorothy after she kills their cruel ruler, the Wicked Witch of the East.
  • The Winkies are also very grateful to Dorothy and her friends after they kill the Wicked Witch of the West, who was enslaving them.
  • The Winged Monkeys were put under an enchantment when they played a trick on the fiancé of a witch. The witch wanted to kill them, but she decided to just force them to do the bidding of the owner of the magical Golden Cap. They have been enchanted for generations. Glinda frees them after Dorothy gives her the Golden Cap.

Plot Summary

The novel, like the movie, follows the story of Dorothy, a young girl who lives with her aunt, uncle, and dog, Toto, on a farm in Kansas. One day a cyclone sweeps up the farmhouse. Dorothy and Toto are caught inside the house, but they survive the storm. When the house is set down again, Dorothy and Toto find themselves in Munchkin Country, located in Oz. The house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her.

The Munchkins are delighted to be freed from their evil ruler. The Good Witch of the North gifts Dorothy the Wicked Witch of the East's silver shoes. While the Munchkins are very hospitable, Dorothy wants to return home. In order to do so, the Good Witch of the North tells her that she has to go to Emerald City and ask the Wizard of Oz for help.

As Dorothy follows the yellow brick road, she meets a handful of people all suffering from lack of confidence: a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a Cowardly Lion. The Scarecrow wants a brain so he will be smarter, the Tin Woodman wants a heart so he will be more empathetic, and the Cowardly Lion wants courage so he will be more brave. The four of them continue to the Emerald City to ask the Wizard to solve their problems, but the path is not without obstacles. They have to go through a forest filled with Kalidahs (bear-tigers), a field of poppies that cause Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion to fall asleep, and a river.

Eventually they arrive at the Emerald City, where the Wizard of Oz appears differently to each of them. To Dorothy, the Wizard appears to be a giant floating head, which is how he is portrayed in the film. But the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion see the Wizard as a beautiful woman, a beast, and a ball of fire. Before the Wizard will help any of them, he insists that they kill the Wicked Witch of the West.

Dorothy and her friends travel to Winkie Country, which the Wicked Witch of the West rules. On the way, the Wicked Witch tries to kill them. She sends wolves, crows, bees, and Winkie soldiers, but when all these fail, she turns to the Winged Monkeys to do her bidding. The Winged Monkeys were enchanted a long time ago by a sorceress they offended. Now they have to grant anyone who wears the enchanted Golden Cap three wishes. Unfortunately for Dorothy and her friends, the Wicked Witch possesses the Golden Cap. The Winged Monkeys, under the Wicked Witch's control, capture Dorothy, Toto, and the Cowardly Lion, and they disassemble both the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow.

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