Sunday, April 3, 2011

We're Off To See The Volshyebnik (Wizard)

As I have mentioned before, I'm studying Russian for my job. I'm at a level where I can read children's stories and books in Russian with a little help from my dictionary. The language level in children's books is easier than in books for adults. Children's books also have pictures, which help to make the text easier to understand.

I just started reading Volshyebnik Izmurdnovo Goroda, or The Wizard of the Emerald City. When I ordered it, I thought that it would be a direct translation of L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The illustration of the book's cover on Amazon had a picture of a girl holding a little dog, a scarecrow, a tin woodsman, and a lion. It turns out that VIG is a Soviet imitation of the Wizard of Oz story. VIG was not written by L. Frank Baum; the author is Alexander Volkov. It was first published in 1939.

The first clue that I got that VIG would be different was that the girl on the cover was blonde and her dog was black. My vision of Dorothy is Judy Garland with her dark hair and Toto should be brown instead of black. The girl in VIG is Ellie and not Dorothy. Ellie lives with her parents, and not her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry, in an isolated village in Kansas. Her uncle Robert and his sons Bob and Dick are the only people who live nearby. Ellie has a dog named Totoshka, which is a diminutive form of Toto. Instead of a tornado in Kansas, there is a hurricane. The hurricane is not caused by nature, but by an evil wizard named Gingema who wants to destroy the world.

After the hurricane Ellie ends up in a different land and meets a couple of midgets and a good fairy named Villina. Villina explains to Ellie that there are 4 main cities in her land, which is called Magic Land instead of Oz: a yellow city, a pink one, a blue one, and a purple one. There is also an Emerald City, where the wizard Gudrin lives. Gudrin is the person who can help Ellie get back home to Kansas. Nobody has ever seen Gudrin. Villina gives Ellie silver shoes (not ruby slippers) and tells her to follow the yellow brick road, which will take her to Gudrin.

Another thing that is different about VIG is that Totoshka can talk when he's in Magic Land. Ellie is surpised when she first hears Totoshka speak, but Villina explains that animals can talk in Magic Land. Villina tells Ellie to watch Totoshka carefully because people in Magic Land have never seen dogs before and would be frightened by him. Totoshka offers to go ahead of Ellie and scout out the land.

I'm now at the point where Ellie and Totoshka come to a crossroads by a field and are about to meet the scarecrow. I bet that the scarecrow in VIG won't dance like Ray Bolger in the movie and sing, "If I Only Had a Brain." I'm sure that there will be more differences from the original Oz story as Ellie and Totoshka continue their journey along the Yellow Brick Road on their way to the Emerald City and the great wizard Gudrin.

It's obvious that Alexander Volkov either saw The Wizard of Oz or read the book because there are so many similarities to the original, at least in the little bit that I've read so far. I read the title page looking for any references to L. Frank Baum, but didn't find any.  I find it amazing that someone in the Soviet Union was allowed to plagiarize a classic story, make some minor changes, and then call it his own. Volkov wrote several more stories about Magic Land. His Magic Land stories were actually more well-known in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and other Communist countries than Baum's originals. Here is Volkov's Wikipedia entry:

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness! I OWN THIS BOOK!!!! I bought it when I was an exchange student in Tula (and yes, I did speak Russian with relative fluency, now I speak a tiny bit and understand a bit more). So funny!