Welcoming yet another great Aussie writer to this blog, I would like to introduce (roll of drums!) M.J. Hearle, author of the two Winter novels, who has kindly agreed to do a guest post for the Great Raven. Who would have thought all that green light in the scary lands of the Otherworld in those two novels had come from a fright the author had as a child? But I'll let Mike tell you himself...
The title did sound promising though – The Wizard of Oz. There was a wizard in my favourite show, He-Man, named Orco and he was a hoot. If this Oz wizard was anything like Orco the movie and I were going to get along just fine. I held onto this wary optimism until the opening credits began. They seemed to drag on forever. I think I may have actually nodded off waiting for the movie to start because my next memory is Dorothy arguing with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.
I was less interested in the action on screen than the colour palette. Or lack thereof. I’d never seen anything so monochromatic in my life. At first I thought the TV might be broken. My dad told me there was nothing wrong with the screen, it was just a very old movie. I wasn’t impressed. Not only was this movie not a cartoon, it also wasn’t even in colour! Dorothy seemed annoying. Always whining about stuff. The dog, Toto, was pretty funny, though. I hoped the movie would follow him around and leave the boring farm stuff behind.
And then the twister happened.
I don’t think all the computers in the world today could conjure an effect quite as powerful as that dirty smear of churning destruction. I still have no idea how the nineteen-thirties movie craftsmen achieved it? Oz’s twister is that rare Hollywood special effect that is truly special. It resonates not only on a visual level but an emotional one as well, conjuring up primal fears of the dark and the chaos it hides. Once the storm hit Kansas my attitude towards the movie changed. I was no longer bored. I was afraid.
Up until that point I don’t think I’d ever watched anything truly ‘scary’. Sure Skeletor on He-Man was a little monstrous but he had such a silly voice I was never really bothered by him. When Dorothy is running for her life, the roaring vortex bearing down on her, my heart started racing and I felt vaguely sick. Our tiny television set seemed to swell, filling my vision until I couldn’t see our living room anymore. I was in the movie, running right alongside Dorothy, trying to get into the farmhouse before the twister sucked us both up into its thunderous black depths.
Keep in mind, I was terrified out of my pre-schooler mind BEFORE the Wicked Witch of the West shows up. When that green-skinned (has a colour ever looked so evil?) cackling hag appeared in a burst of flames I actually screamed. My parents asked me if I wanted them to turn the movie off. Of course, I should have said ‘yes’ – it was traumatising me. Of course, I told them ‘no’. Dorothy’s journey in Oz had just begun. If we switched the movie off I’d never know what other horrors this strange land held. More importantly, I’d never know if Dorothy made it back home to Kansas.
By the end of the movie I was a mess. My imagination seethed with images of gnarled trees reaching with clawed hands, winged monkeys diving from the stormy heavens to wreck havoc, growling blue-skinned henchmen swarming through a castle brandishing spears and Oz’s ultimate terror – the Witch herself. She took root in my nightmares and resides there still.
I went to bed in a fever sweat. My stomach muscles were clenched with anxiety, my gaze roamed the dark corners of the room searching for green-skinned apparitions in pointy black hats.
The next day I asked my parents if I could watch The Wizard of Oz again.
And the day after that. And so on for the next year or so. I became addicted to the adrenaline rush of fear, and like any junkie my high grew less intense with every injection. Eventually, it wasn’t the frightening aspects of the movie that entranced me, but the journey Dorothy undertakes. I wanted to find my own yellow brick road and have my own adventures.
A few decades later I wrote Winter’s Shadow. It is no coincidence that the narrative includes a scene where a teenage girl travels to a magical land and glimpses an Emerald City. The Wizard of Oz casts a long shadow. I’m not sure I’ll ever escape it. I’m not sure I want to.
Parents be mindful of what your children watch. Nightmares should be the least of your concerns. You may just end up with a storyteller on your hands.
And if you want to follow Mike to his blog, here's the link:
Check it out - there's a very fine book trailer in which he has not only made the piece of jewellery mentioned in his books and filmed a real person, but even created his own music to go with it! Think I may commission him to do my own next trailer...