The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading




L. Frank Baum never imagined the impact The Wonderful Wizard of Oz would have on children's writing or the appeal the book would have to generations of readers. Although he wrote numerous books, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is easily his most enduring. Baum wanted to write a fairy tale that was American, not European, although he introduced elements of traditional European fairy tales (witches, castles, forests) into the story. By presenting a female protagonist, casual language, characters such as the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, and settings such as Kansas, Baum created a new approach to children's writing that is distinctly American.

Before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, children's books were stilted morality tales designed to instruct or to frighten readers into behaving properly. Baum, however, presented a thrilling adventure from a child's point of view, showing the child's ability to solve her own problems and return to the security of her home.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz received praise from critics and readers alike. Critics applauded Baum's simple storytelling, his message, and his imaginative, believable characters. Readers fell in love with the wonders of Oz and demanded more books about this enchanted land. Although the book did not win any awards during Baum's lifetime, it was given the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1968.

Author Biography

Lyman Frank Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York, to Cynthia and Benjamin Ward Baum. Benjamin was a wealthy barrel-maker and sawyer who made his fortune during the Pennsylvania oil rush. The Baums' loss of four of their nine children in infancy and Frank's heart condition led the parents to indulge and shelter their young son.

As an adult, Frank Baum had a wildly varied career. Over the years, he was a newspaperman, an actor, a playwright, an axle grease maker, a dime store owner, a salesman, a Hollywood entrepreneur, and a chicken breeder. While touring with an acting troupe performing his play The Maid of Arran, Baum met and fell in love with Maud Gage, the youngest daughter of suffragette Matilda Josilyn Gage. Although the elder Gage opposed the union, Maud was determined to marry Baum. They wed in 1882 and built a strong marriage as Maud provided stability for the family while Baum pursued his varied interests. The couple had four sons and moved frequently, eventually settling in Hollywood where medical care was available for Baum's declining health.

Baum's mother-in-law was impressed with the imaginative stories she heard Baum telling the children, and she encouraged him to submit them for publication. He did and soon found success as a children's author. Father Goose: His Book (1899), a book of children's verse, earned Baum critical acclaim. The following year, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published. It was so successful that Baum's readers demanded more Oz books. This ongoing demand assured Baum of income, and although he often tired of writing about Oz, he completed a total of fourteen books in the series. After his death, his publisher commissioned other writers to continue the series.

Baum died on May 16, 1919, after complications following gall bladder surgery. His weakened condition, combined with his lifelong heart problems, brought on a twenty-four-hour coma after which the author died in his Hollywood home.

Plot Summary

Chapters One-Six

Dorothy lives on a small farm in Kansas with Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. When a cyclone hits, Dorothy and her dog, Toto, are carried away in the farmhouse. They land in a strange place where a good witch and tiny people called Munchkins greet them. Dorothy's house has landed on (and killed) the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy takes the Wicked Witch's charmed silver shoes, and the good witch gives her a protective kiss on her forehead so she can reach Oz safely. Dorothy hopes that the Wizard of Oz will be able to send her back to Kansas, so she sets off on the yellow brick road.

Soon, Dorothy and Toto meet the Scarecrow. He desperately wants a brain, so he accompanies them on their trip. Next, they meet the Tin Woodman, who tells his story of how he was once human and how he longs to have a heart again. Dorothy tells him that the Wizard of Oz can help, so the Tin Woodman joins them. As they make their way through a forest, they encounter the Cowardly Lion. Although he initially tries to frighten them, he admits that he is a coward and wishes he had the courage that the King of the Beasts should have. He joins the travelers, hoping that the Wizard of Oz can help him, too.

Chapters Seven-Twelve

The travelers meet many dangers on the yellow brick road, such as ditches, a river, and terrifying creatures. While crossing a poppy field, Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion are lulled to sleep by the scent. The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman carry Dorothy and Toto, and then call on thousands of field mice to help them carry the Lion out of the field.

Finally, the travelers arrive at the gates of the Emerald City where they are told that the Wizard of Oz will see them individually. Each traveler tells his or her wish, but the Wizard says that until the Wicked Witch of the West is dead, their wishes will not be granted. Disappointed and afraid, the group sets off to find the Wicked Witch of the West. The Witch has only one eye, but it is as powerful as a telescope so she sees the intruders in her land. She sends crows, bees, and wolves to destroy them, but each fails. When she sends the Winged Monkeys, they tear the Scarecrow apart, ruin the Tin Woodman's metal body, and retrieve the Lion, Dorothy, and Toto for the Witch. She enslaves them and tries to trick Dorothy into taking off the magical silver shoes. Dorothy becomes angry and throws a bucket of water on the Witch, who melts away to nothing.

Chapters Thirteen-Eighteen

Dorothy frees the Lion and the people (the Winkies) enslaved by the Witch. The Winkies help Dorothy restore the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, and the group heads back to the Emerald City. Before they leave, however, Dorothy finds a Golden Cap. When she realizes that it enables her to control the Winged Monkeys, she calls them to take the travelers back to the Emerald City.

Dorothy and her friends again visit the Wizard of Oz. Realizing that the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion already possess the qualities they desire, the Wizard gives them false charms that merely help them believe that they have these qualities. Dorothy and the others discover that the Wizard is a fraud; he is a man who has maintained a façade by using trickery. Then the Wizard builds a balloon to carry Dorothy and himself back home, but Dorothy misses the launch and is left behind. Unsure what to do next, Dorothy decides to visit Glinda, the Witch of the South.

Chapters Nineteen-Twenty-Four

On the way to see Glinda, the group encounters fighting trees and a small town made entirely of china. Passing through a forest, the Lion kills a giant spider that has been terrorizing the animals. Unable to get by the Hammer-Heads, Dorothy calls the Winged Monkeys, who transport the travelers safely to Glinda's land.

Dorothy gives Glinda the Golden Cap, and Glinda uses it to send the Scarecrow to rule in Oz, the Lion to be the King of the Beasts in the forest, and the Tin Woodman to rule the Winkies. Glinda explains to Dorothy that the silver shoes have the power to take the wearer anywhere in only three steps. Dorothy bids farewell to her friends, and she and Toto return to Kansas. A new farmhouse has been built, and Aunt Em runs to greet her niece.


Cowardly Lion

The Cowardly Lion is the third and final creature who joins the Oz-bound group. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman meet him when he jumps out at them as they make their way through a forest. He knocks over the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, and when he tries to bite Toto, Dorothy slaps him and calls him a coward. He is ashamed and admits that Dorothy is right. He wants to have the courage that the King of the Beasts should have. Dorothy agrees to allow him to accompany them, reasoning that he needs courage and that he could be helpful in frightening away other creatures.

Despite his belief that he lacks courage, the Lion often demonstrates bravery. He fails to understand that courage is not the absence of fear, but is taking action in the face of fear. Just as in the cases of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, the Wizard soon sees that the Cowardly Lion already possesses the courage he so desires. He gives the Lion a special potion that is supposedly liquid courage. After drinking it, the Cowardly Lion feels empowered instantly. After Dorothy leaves for Kansas, he returns to a forest where he previously killed a giant spider because the animals asked him to return as their leader.


Dorothy is the story's heroine, whose travels to see the Wizard of Oz bring her friendship and adventure. She lives with her aunt and uncle on a small farm in Kansas. Her best friend is her small dog, Toto. When a cyclone whips across Kansas, Dorothy and Toto are carried away in the small farmhouse and eventually are set down in the land of the Munchkins. When Dorothy discovers that her house has landed on (and killed) the Wicked Witch of the East, she is horrified, despite the gratitude and wonder of the Munchkins.

Dorothy only wants to return home, and she is told by the Witch of the North that she must see the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy takes the Wicked Witch of the East's silver shoes, and she and Toto head out on the yellow brick road. Dorothy is a determined child who is single-minded in her goal to get back home. She is brave, smart, compassionate, selfless, and encouraging to the other members of the traveling party. Although Dorothy is honored for killing both of the wicked witches, she never means to hurt anyone. Dorothy is an inadvertent liberator, who improves the lives of everyone (except the wicked witches) with whom she comes in contact. She feels badly about killing anyone, even a wicked witch, but she is glad that doing so will enable her to get home.

Dorothy thinks and speaks for herself. When she and the others discover that the Wizard of Oz is nothing but a "humbug" with no real powers, she expresses her anger openly. Later, when Glinda tells her how to get home, Dorothy is sympathetic to the feelings of her friends who will miss her terribly, but she follows through on her own desire to return to her aunt and uncle in Kansas. Despite the wonders and magic of the new land, she is anxious to get back to the gray setting of Kansas because it is her home, which is most important to her.

Aunt Em

Aunt Em is Dorothy's mother figure. Although she was once a vibrant woman, years on the harsh prairie have taken their toll on her appearance and spirits.


Glinda is the Witch of the South. She is a good witch and is youthful and stunningly beautiful. When Dorothy gives her the Golden Cap that allows its owner to call upon the Winged Monkeys three times, she uses it to send the Scarecrow back to the Emerald City, the Lion back to the forest, and the Tin Woodman back to the land of the Winkies (previously ruled by the Wicked Witch of the West). Glinda gives the Golden Cap to the King of the Winged Monkeys so they will no longer be at the bidding of its wearer. She tells Dorothy that she has had the power to return to Kansas all along because of the silver shoes. Glinda explains the secret charm of the shoes, which is that they will take the wearer anywhere she wants to go in three steps.

Uncle Henry

Dorothy's father figure, Uncle Henry is a grim man with a long beard. He is a very hard worker who never laughs.


The Scarecrow is the first companion who joins Dorothy on her way to see the Wizard of Oz. He is mounted on a pole in the middle of a field where crows are not at all afraid of him. The Scarecrow is humble in appearance, and his single desire is to have a brain. His only fear is fire, and he never needs to eat or sleep. The Scarecrow is very nurturing toward Dorothy, gladly watching over her and Toto as they sleep and often finding fruit and nuts for them to eat. On the other hand, he is a bit clumsy and is not strong like the Lion, so he is not terribly helpful in physical struggles. Because he is not subject to pain, however, he often volunteers to go ahead of the group to test treacherous landscapes, such as jagged rocks.

The Scarecrow fails to realize that he does not need to be given a brain because he is already quite intelligent. He usually comes up with plans that save the travelers, and he is quick to come up with solutions to problems. The Wizard realizes that the Scarecrow is already intelligent, but to make him happy, he creates a "brain" out of bran and pins and needles, which will make him sharp. When he presents the Scarecrow with the brain, the Scarecrow is delighted and feels smart instantly. When the Wizard of Oz builds a balloon to carry him back home, he leaves the Scarecrow in charge of the Emerald City.

Tin Woodman

Dorothy and the Scarecrow discover the Tin Woodman in the woods. He is rusted in position with his axe in the air and has been stuck this way for more than a year. He explains that he was caught in the rain and has been waiting for someone to come by and save him. Once Dorothy retrieves his oil can from his nearby cottage, the Tin Woodman is oiled and able to move freely again.

The Tin Woodman tells his sad story about when he was fully human and planned to marry a Munchkin girl. She lived with an old woman, however, who relied on the girl to care for her so she had the Wicked Witch of the East put a curse on the Tin Woodman's axe. The curse caused him to chop up his own body, little by little. After each "accident," he had a local tinsmith craft a new body part out of tin for him until eventually he was made entirely of tin. He remembers how happy he was to be in love, and so his desire is to have a heart again.

The Tin Woodman is like the Scarecrow in that he already possesses the quality he hopes to be given by the Wizard. He believes that he has no heart, yet he is the most compassionate and emotional member of the group. When he sees the Wizard of Oz, he is fitted with a silk heart that is merely symbolic yet makes him feel different right away. After Dorothy returns to Kansas, he goes back to the Land of the Winkies, who have asked him to be their leader.


Toto is Dorothy's faithful canine companion. He is her best friend in Kansas and accompanies her on her adventures in Oz. He is playful, wary of strangers, and brave in certain situations.

Wicked Witch of the East

The Wicked Witch of the East is killed when Dorothy's house lands on her after being hurled through the air during a cyclone. She has a pair of silver shoes that have a secret charm. Although Dorothy does not know what the charm is, she takes the shoes.

Media Adaptations

  • The earliest adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a 1902 stage musical on which Baum collaborated. It ran very successfully on Broadway, although the play had significant revisions from the original text.
  • The most famous adaptation is the 1939 MGM musical film starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film won Academy Awards for best original score and best song. In 1989, the film won the National Film Registry Award.
  • The following companies and individuals have released film adaptations of Baum's novel: Selig Polyscope Company's (1910; silent); Ray C. Smallwood (1921; silent); Chadwick Pictures (1925; silent); J. R. Booth, Ted Eshbaugh, and Carl W. Stalling (1933; silent); Maud Gage Baum (Baum's widow) and Kenneth McLellan (1938); Teaching Resources Films (1975); Mankato Fine Arts Community Theatre (1976); Films Inc. (1976); Walker Company (1989; animated); Fuji (1991; animated); and American Film Investment Corporation (1991; animated).
  • The following companies and individuals have produced television movie adaptations: Burr Tillstrom (1950); Sharon Statz (1964); Gene London & Company (1967); British Broadcasting Corporation (1977; British, musical); Turner Broadcasting Systems (1995; starring Jackson Browne, Roger Daltrey, Natalie Cole, Joel Grey, Nathan Lane, Debra Winger, and Lucy Arnaz); and Unitel Mobile Video (1996; ice skating adaptation starring Oksana Baiul, Bobby Mc-Ferrin, and Victor Petrenko).
  • Saban Productions (1986; animated), Cinar Films (1987; animated), and Hyperion Entertainment (1993) have released video adaptations.
  • Television series adaptations were made by Videocraft Incorporated (1961; animated) and DiC Productions (1990; animated).
  • Audio adaptations have been produced by the following: Blackstone Audio Books (1980); Recorded Books (1987); Radio Yesteryear Audio (1988); Books on Tape (1996); Penguin Audiobooks (1997); Monterey Soundworks (1998); and Naxos Audio Books (2001).

Wicked Witch of the West

The Wicked Witch of the West is ugly and has only one eye although her one eye is as powerful as a telescope. When Toto bites her, she does not bleed because she is so evil that her blood has dried up in her veins. When she is unable to kill the trav-elers as they make their way to her castle, she has the Scarecrow dismantled and the Tin Woodman seriously dented. Then she enslaves the Lion and Dorothy. The Lion refuses to submit to the witch, so she decides to starve him, but Dorothy secretly feeds him at night. The witch makes Dorothy a kitchen servant.

The witch wants the silver shoes that Dorothy wears. She trips Dorothy and is able to get one shoe, but Dorothy becomes so angry that she throws a bucket of water on the witch. To Dorothy's surprise, the witch melts before her eyes. Dorothy retrieves her shoe, frees the Lion, and keeps the witch's Golden Cap although she has no idea it allows her to control the Winged Monkeys. The Winkies, who had been enslaved by the witch, are so grateful that they gladly obey Dorothy when she asks them to put the Scarecrow back together and hammer the Tin Woodman back into shape.

Witch of the North

The Witch of the North is the good witch who is a friend of the Munchkins. She is an old woman who believes that Dorothy must also be a witch because her house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East. She tells Dorothy that to return to Kansas, she will have to see the Wizard of Oz. She insists that Dorothy take the Wicked Witch of the East's silver shoes, which possess a secret charm. To protect the girl on her journey, she gives her a kiss on her forehead, which serves as a sign to others not to harm the girl.

Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz is reported to be "great and terrible" and able to appear in any form he pleases. For Dorothy's visit, he is a giant head; for the Scarecrow's visit, he is a beautiful lady; for the Tin Woodman, he appears as a frightening beast; and for the Lion, he appears as a ball of fire. He promises each that he will grant his or her wish once they have all killed the Wicked Witch of the West. After they have done so, however, they discover that he is not really a wizard at all and cannot grant their wishes with magical powers. He admits that he is a "humbug" who should not have deceived the good people of the Emerald City for so long but says that he means no harm. He tells Dorothy that he is not a bad man, just a bad wizard.

The Wizard explains that he originally came from Omaha where he was a circus balloonist. One day, his balloon was caught in a great wind, and he landed in Oz, where his descent from the sky made everyone believe he was a wizard. He decided to let them believe this, and so he created a persona for himself. He commanded the people to build the great city and made them believe everything was made of emeralds by making everyone wear green glasses. With the help of gadgets and illusions, he was able to pretend to be a great wizard. He feared the witches, however, because he knew they had real powers, which is why he sent the group to kill the Wicked Witch of the West after Dorothy inadvertently killed the Wicked Witch of the East.

The Wizard knows that he can grant the wishes of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Lion with false charms because they already possess the qualities they want. He comes up with a plan to build another balloon to take Dorothy and himself home, but when it is time to go, Dorothy misses the launch by seconds and is left behind. They never hear from the false wizard again.



The predominant theme of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is self-sufficiency. The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion all seek external magic to give them qualities they already possess but fail to recognize. When the travelers come to a wide ditch (chapter seven), the Cowardly Lion volunteers to try jumping over it. If he can make it, he reasons, he can carry each of his friends across safely. Discussing the possibility of falling into the ditch, the Cowardly Lion responds, "'I am terribly afraid of falling, myself … but I suppose there is nothing to do but try it.'" The Lion does not realize that courage is acting despite fear, not acting in the absence of fear. In a scene at the end of chapter six, the reader sees both the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow demonstrating the very qualities they feel they are lacking. The Tin Woodman accidentally steps on a beetle and begins to weep. When his tears rust his jaw shut, no one is able to figure out what his gestures for the oil can mean except for the Scarecrow, who immediately loosens the Tin Woodman's jaws with the oil. This scene shows how emotional the Tin Woodman is and how quick thinking the Scarecrow is. A more mature reader can then recognize that with the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Woodman, Baum is using irony to portray the theme of self-sufficiency.

Dorothy's situation is somewhat different because she needs a magical object (the silver shoes) to help her get back home to Kansas. Still, she fails to understand that she has had what she needs all along while continuing to seek it from others. Another important point about the silver shoes is that Dorothy earned them by killing the Wicked Witch of the East. While she did so unintentionally, her actions resulted in the freedom of the Munchkins, which in turn resulted in her being given the magical shoes that will allow her to get home. She was not given a way home simply because she asked for one; she was given a way home because she improved the lives of the Munchkins.

Dorothy's resolve and decisiveness throughout the book also attest to her self-sufficiency. She is independent and determined, and these qualities ultimately enable her to get back home. Rather than resign herself to life in a strange land, she refuses to give up on the idea that there is a way for her to get home.

Good versus Evil

The struggle between good and evil is evident throughout The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. There are two good witches and two wicked witches. The wicked witches are unable to protect themselves against Dorothy, who is so good that she feels remorse at killing them. To make the good/evil dichotomy perfectly clear to young readers, Baum places the good witches in the north and the south, and the wicked witches in the east and the west.

Topics For Further Study

  • Consider why Baum chose a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a Cowardly Lion as characters desiring a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively. Recast these characters with new creatures or people without changing what each one desires. Draft a character sketch for each of your new characters, complete with background and outcome.
  • Watch the film classic (made in 1939, starring Judy Garland) based on this novel. Write a movie review in which you argue that Baum would or would not have approved of this adaptation. Think about the differences between the film and the novel and try to imagine how Baum would react to them. Be as specific as possible in your analysis.
  • Look in your library or online for W. W. Denslow's illustrations that originally accompanied The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Why do you think so much is made of these illustrations among critics? Do you believe they have artistic merit? Do you see why they appealed to children in 1900? Do you think they have the same appeal today? Write a letter to a fictitious publisher in which you make a case for or against including these illustrations in an upcoming edition of the novel.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been subject to a wide variety of interpretations. Scholars with various frames of reference, including politics, feminism, and psychology, have interpreted the novel. Choose a unique point of view from which you can at least partly interpret the events and/or characters of the novel. You might choose a certain discipline (such as economics, technology, or history) or you might choose an ideology or philosophy (such as democracy, a certain religion, or environmentalism). It is not necessary to make every point of the novel fit, but see if you can devise a new way of interpreting certain aspects of the story.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, good always triumphs over evil, and evil respects the power of good. The Witch of the North gives Dorothy a kiss on the forehead, and this kiss protects her from harm by the Wicked Witch of the West. When the Winged Monkeys are sent to destroy Dorothy and her friends, one of them positions himself to attack her but sees the kiss. He tells the others, "'We dare not harm this little girl … for she is protected by the Power of Good, and that is greater than the Power of Evil.'"

Baum also demonstrates that there are cases in which a person is not entirely good or evil, as in the character of the Wizard of Oz. As the Wizard admits to Dorothy, he is not a bad man, just a bad wizard. Although Dorothy deeply disapproves of his willingness to deceive people, she forgives him because she realizes that he is not truly evil. Baum teaches young readers that it is not possible to label real people good or evil because in reality, everybody has a little of both in them.



Baum interjects highly descriptive passages into his text, which bring the fictitious world of Oz alive in the imagination of the reader. Lush descriptions of landscapes are appealing to children, who enjoy getting lost in the fantastic story. In chapter two, Dorothy and her house land among the Munchkins. Baum describes the rich land:

There were lovely patches of greensward [grassy turf] all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits. Banks of gorgeous flowers were on every hand, and birds with rare and brilliant plumage sang and fluttered in the trees and bushes. A little way off was a small brook, rushing and sparkling along between green banks, and murmuring in a voice very grateful to a little girl who had lived so long on the dry, gray prairies.

In describing the poppy field, Baum not only uses visual and auditory images, but he also introduces the very important smell of the poppy field. He writes:

They walked along listening to the singing of the bright colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. They were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy's eyes.

"Aren't they beautiful?" the girl asked, as she breathed in the spicy scent of the flowers.

Some of Baum's descriptions are not only helpful in understanding the story, but also reflect the author's penchant for wordplay. In chapter two, for example, he describes the Scarecrow's voice as "husky," a clear reference to cornhusks.


Baum's use of foreshadowing is an indication of a tightly woven story. In some cases, the reader is surprised to find that a piece of information given early in the story becomes relevant later. In chapter one, Baum explains that as the cyclone is carrying Dorothy away in her farmhouse, she "felt as if she were going up in a balloon." Later the Wizard builds a balloon in which to carry Dorothy and himself back home. (Dorothy misses the balloon's launch, however, and must find another way to get home.)

At other times, the reader suspects foreshadowing and waits curiously to see how a bit of information will add to the story. Baum tells the reader that the silver shoes hold an unknown magical power. Although Dorothy does not know that the shoes have the power to take her back home, she keeps them throughout the story, and readers wonder what purpose the shoes will serve. The author similarly makes a special effort to tell the reader that the Wicked Witch of the West fears water more than anything. He writes, "Indeed, the old Witch never touched water, nor ever let water touch her in any way." This information becomes very important later when Dorothy throws a bucket of water on the Witch and she melts.

Historical Context

The Gold Standard Debate

The gold standard is a monetary system in which the value of gold determines the value of money. Each unit of currency represents a certain amount of gold. In the United States, the gold standard was adopted during the 1870s. Although a bimetallic (gold and silver) system had been used before the Civil War, this system changed when the silver dollar was dropped in 1873. Laws allowed for free and unlimited coinage of gold, meaning that people could take their gold and have it made into coins based on its weight and value. The Gold Standard Act of 1900 made the gold standard official.

Not everyone was content with the gold standard. Many groups, such as farmers and other rural workers, believed that the gold standard was a means for maintaining the division between the "haves" and the "have-nots." After the Civil War, farmers struggled as the country focused on industrial advancements such as railroads and telegraphs. From this discontent emerged the Populist Party, a political party that was determined to regain control of the economy by returning to a bimetallic system. They called for free coinage of silver, which would enable them to reclaim the value of their now-worthless silver.

The debate over the gold standard took place directly before and after the publication of The Wizard of Oz. Many historians interpret the book as a commentary on the gold standard because of the yellow brick road and the magical silver shoes. These interpretations also maintain that Dorothy's farmhouse killing the Wicked Witch of the East is symbolic of the eventual demise of rich easterners at the hands of rural farmers.

Crossroads of Two Literary Periods

Published in 1900, The Wizard of Oz was introduced to the public at a time when one literary period was ending (the Realistic Period, 1865–1900) and another was beginning (the Naturalistic and Symbolistic Period, 1900–1930). The Realistic Period followed the Civil War, an era marked by struggle and opposition. While the North enjoyed an economic boom, the South faced great difficulty in repairing and restoring its land, buildings, and economy. New points of view emerged in the intellectual world, as the works of Darwin, Marx, and others offered scientific arguments that challenged existing religious beliefs. This skepticism is reflected in much of the fiction of the period; the dominant writers were Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and Henry James. The Realistic Period contrasted with the melodramatic Romantic Period that preceded it as writers began focusing on disillusionment and pragmatism (in which value is based on utility). Although fanciful, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reflects some of the tendencies of the Realistic Period. Dorothy is a realistic child who comes from a humble home, her friends are not grandiose but ordinary, and she is steadfast in her goal to get home despite the wonders of Oz.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1900s: Children's books are predominantly morality tales that teach heavy-handed lessons. Many of these stories are purposely frightening to intimidate children into behaving properly.

    Today: Many forms and styles of children's books are popular. While many children's books teach lessons, they do so in subtle and appealing ways. Books are generally written to engage children's imaginations so that they will be enjoyable.
  • 1900: Industrial and technological innovations are on the rise. Although the railroad, telephone, and telegraph are changing the face of travel, communication, and trade, domestic life remains simple. The American fascination with technology is seen in The Wizard of Oz when the Wizard uses gadgets and special effects to maintain the farce that he is a wizard. He makes his exit in a balloon.

    Today: The technological revolution that began a century ago has radically altered everyday life. The Internet affects business, family life, personal relationships, and education. In science, a map of the human genome (the collective genetic material of the human species) is successfully completed.

Around 1900, however, a new literary movement began to overshadow the Realistic Period. The Naturalistic and Symbolistic Period witnessed a rise in journalistic writing styles, and the realism introduced during the Realistic Period became harsher. Prominent writers were Theodore Dreiser and Jack London. After World War I, the Lost Generation, a group of writers disgruntled by American idealism, emerged. They longed for innovation and admired French symbolists like Marcel Proust. They rejected many aspects of American culture by creating a new, polished style of writing, by writing satire and by recalling simpler times in American history when society was more structured and had a sense of tradition.

Because 1900 was a year of change in American literature, it was the perfect time for innovative twists on existing genres. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reflects this openness to change in its new interpretation of the traditional fairy tale.

Critical Overview

When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, it immediately caught the attention of readers and critics. Baum had already enjoyed success with a previous children's book, Father Goose: His Book, so the release of Baum's new book was much anticipated. There were a few critics who dismissed the book as lacking style and real substance, and, over the years, the book has come under scrutiny by certain religious groups for its inclusion of witches and magic. Still, the novel continues to be regarded as a classic of children's literature.

What set The Wonderful Wizard of Oz apart from other children's books was its imaginative story line, its elaborate illustrations (created by W. W. Denslow), its characterization, and its departure from the typical style of children's writing. In a 1900 review, a critic writes in the New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art that the story's humor and philosophy will surely appeal to children's minds. The critic adds that the "bright and joyous atmosphere" gives the story excitement and optimism. Leading Oz scholar Michael Patrick Hearn asserts in Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Writers for Children, 1900–1960, "Children's books have just not been the same since Dorothy first went to the Emerald City." He adds, "The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion have entered the collective consciousness of childhood."

Critics often credit Baum's characterization for the ongoing success of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Although the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion are not human, Baum makes them seem so with their desires for human qualities. In Reference Guide to American Literature, Philip Jose Farmer remarks, "The quest of the Scarecrow for brains, the Woodman for a heart, and the Lion for courage, qualities they already possessed but did not know how to use, is the stuff of which classics are made." On the subject of secondary characters, Hearn writes,

Like Dickens and Twain, Baum had that rare gift of memorable character invention. While really only a suit stuffed with straw and an odd collection of junk, Baum's Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are among the most beloved personalities in all of juvenile literature.

American author James Thurber remarks in New Republic in 1934 that he has been told that Baum wrote the book "to see if he could animate, and make real, creatures never alive before on sea or land." Thurber concludes, "He succeeded, emi-nently, with the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman." Commenting on the character of Dorothy, Hearn comments,

She is a practical, clear-sighted, modern child; she is an American child, full of mother wit and grit…. She thinks and reacts like a real child. When she lands in Oz, she does not go off to seek her fortune; she wants to go home.

Many critics note that the book's appeal extends beyond its intended audience of young children. As Farmer observes: "The Oz books have also been popular with adults, who recognize subtleties which escaped them as children." A reviewer for the New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art in 1900 makes a similar observation:

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz the fact is clearly recognized that the young as well as their elders love novelty. They are pleased with dashes of color and something new in the place of the old, familiar, and winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen.

A contributor to St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers notes that the book should be embraced by all readers of fantasy because it "is surely the most famous American fantasy ever written" and "remains one of its most memorable and fully developed fantasy worlds."

Modern critics agree that for all the books Baum wrote in his prolific career, his reputation is secured by The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Farmer calls the novel Baum's masterpiece, noting that it not only made him famous at the time of its publication but elevated him into the ranks of classic children's writers. In U. S. News & World Report, Amanda Spake declares, "One hundred years after its publication, it remains the most significant children's book in American history: No other fantasy is more beloved, hated, cited, imitated, interpreted, adapted, or marketed."


Jennifer Bussey

Bussey holds a master's degree in interdisciplinary studies and a bachelor's degree in English literature. She is an independent writer specializing in literature. In the following essay, she considers the elements of Baum's novel that open it up to so many lines of interpretation.

Over the years, L. Frank Baum's children's classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has been interpreted from virtually every angle. Feminists, populists, Marxists, historians, economists, political scientists, and Freudians and other psychologists have all interpreted the characters and events of the novel in terms of their particular points of view. The book has been looked at as a commentary on American life and as a statement about New World ways replacing Old World ways. Presidential scholars have considered the possibility that the Wizard of Oz represents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, or a combination of the three. Still other scholars interpret the novel as a fable about substitutions: Dorothy lives with substitute parents; she returns to a substitute farmhouse; a common man has substituted the identity of the Wizard for his own; and the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion are all made happy with substitute charms. Baum himself never lent credence to any of these interpretations, and Oz scholars generally dismiss claims that the story is any kind of social or political commentary. So, what is it about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that compels academics to seek out subtexts in the novel?

When The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, it was a dramatic departure from existing children's literature. Other children's books were morality tales written in lofty language meant to instruct and guide young minds; Baum's novel was a flight of fancy for the imagination. It presented a child protagonist (a female one, which was particularly unusual) who spoke and acted like a real child. The story was told from her point of view, and she turned out to be an independent child who embodied many of the qualities Americans admire. Add to this innovative protagonist the wildly imaginative places, fantastic people, and non-human creatures, and this book was very different from others in its genre. This brought the book a lot of attention and scrutiny. While most critics embraced it, others did not; but above all the book grabbed the reading public's attention. This led to a wider readership than was originally intended, and many of those readers began looking to interpret the story as symbolic of some larger reality.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz contains numerous elements that open it up for interpretation. For example, the book has a dominant good versus evil theme, and it is presented in a straightforward manner that is easy for children to understand. From an adult's point of view, however, the places and characters representing good (a child, the North, the South) and those representing evil (the East, the West) can be fitted into ideological categories. Populists' interpretation, for example, viewed the East as the enemy of the West. They believed that wealthy eastern politicians were destroying the hard-working farmers of the West; so when Dorothy's house comes from Kansas and kills the Wicked Witch of the East, they viewed this as a symbol of retribution and justice. From a political perspective, the wicked witches are powerful leaders who enslave and oppress people. They rule like tyrants, having no regard for the happiness or well being of the common people. When Dorothy frees them, they choose kinder leaders and different forms of government that allow them to have a say in the way their lands are governed. The Winkies, for example, choose the Tin Woodman as their ruler after Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch of the West. An analogy to real-life rulers and political systems can easily be drawn.

Baum's use of opposites also engenders multiple interpretations of the novel. He has the land of Oz divided into the North, South, East, and West. Dorothy arrives from the dull familiarity of the Kansas plains to the colorful and unfamiliar land of the Munchkins. The beauty of Glinda contrasts sharply with the ugliness of the one-eyed Wicked Witch of the West. Readers can easily associate the colorful and beautiful with whatever people and ideas they favor, and vice versa.

Many readers in 1900 were taken with the silver (the witch's shoes) and the gold (the yellow brick road) in the novel. The gold standard was the subject of much debate at the time, and those who opposed it saw the book as a statement that Dorothy would have to follow the gold to get what she wanted but that ultimately applying silver to gold (walking the road in her silver shoes) would take her home. Opposites are very often a literary clue that the author is using symbolism. Although Baum seems to have intended only to draw clear lines for children to better understand his story, these clear lines can easily be followed to many different conclusions.

Landscapes are often symbolic in literature, and scholars are accustomed to investigating an author's presentations of environments when seeking out the meaning of a novel. In Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, for example, the author uses mountains to represent safety and plains to represent danger. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her new friends encounter forests, rivers, and chasms. Forests are common imagery in fairy tales and symbolize fear, danger, and the unknown. As for rivers, psychologists look for water imagery in dream interpretation, and Freudians, especially, identify water with sexual symbolism. Rivers in literature often represent the means for a journey, as in Huckleberry Finn. Chasms and valleys symbolize seemingly insurmountable difficulties. In addition, Dorothy and the other travelers hear about the great desert that surrounds the entire land of Oz. It is dangerous and mysterious, and it seems to be the only way to get out of Oz and back to Kansas. This can easily be interpreted from a psychological point of view as referring to Dorothy's journey to maturity, as well as to her journey home.

In fact, Dorothy's journey lies at the center of the novel. In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, psychologists see a journey taken by an innocent who wants to restore order in her life. She seeks familiarity and security, and along the way, she grows into a more mature individual. Feminists see the journey of a young girl who, by thinking and acting for herself, is able to achieve her goals and better the lives of those she meets along the way. Because of the rich symbolism associated with travels, there are as many ways to interpret the journey as there are points of view. For this reason, the journey has been symbolic in literature from as far back as classical times and Homer's The Odyssey.

Baum's use of anthropomorphism (giving non-human characters human characteristics) also opens the book to interpretation. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Lion, the Winged Monkeys, the Queen of the Field Mice, and the Stork are all nonhuman characters that possess human qualities. Satirists often use this technique, as do writers wishing to make social commentary (as in George Orwell's Animal Farm). Anthropomorphism encourages the reader to broaden his or her view of the character because the character could represent anyone or anything, person or idea, man or woman, famous or not, past or present, individual or collective. The Scarecrow, in other words, could symbolize a certain person, a movement, an event, a piece of legislation, or a phase of personal growth. He can be viewed as an individual or as an extension of Dorothy's experience. To a lesser degree, other characters (such as the china people and the fighting trees) in the novel can be scrutinized in the same manner. These secondary characters are intriguing to scholars looking to find their ideology in Baum's novel.

Although Oz scholars and Baum biographers agree that Baum only intended to write an imaginative story that would engage young children's minds, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz continues to be placed under interpretive microscopes. The simple elements that make up the story, the unusual characters and places, and the flow of the story line all give the story the appearance of having a deeper meaning. The book can be made to fit almost any interpretation, and the author's intentions (or lack thereof) do not discourage those who would argue that the book buttresses their point of view. While the book is interesting on its own, the mystique surrounding it as a result of these many interpretations only adds to its popularity among modern readers.

Source: Jennifer Bussey, Critical Essay on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Edward Hudlin

In the following essay, Hudlin argues that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz follows the structure of Joseph Campbell's heroic myth.

L. Frank Baum's masterpiece, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, has been the subject of psychoanalytical, sociological, political, and even economic analyses. Few critics, however, have attempted to examine it from a truly mythological or philosophical perspective. Lacking such a perspective, some critics have found Baum's writings too episodic, while others have been more concerned with what Oz reveals about Baum himself, than with the aesthetic dimensions of the story qua story. While these psycho-social aspects are important, they do not demonstrate how the incidents of the story contribute to its unity, binding it together and driving the plot forward. They do not explain why the book provides such satisfaction to readers of all ages. The value of the interpretation which follows is that it does attempt to satisfy all these concerns.

The thesis of the present essay is that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz follows very closely the structure of the heroic myth as defined by Joseph Campbell. The adoption of Campbell's perspective has an immediate heuristic value since, as a result, it becomes possible to demonstrate that Oz is not episodic at all, but a highly unified work of art, and, hence, formally satisfying on a purely aesthetic level. Simultaneously, it becomes possible to show that the implicit theme of the work—touching as it does upon eternally recurring problems and values such as love and sacrifice, the conflict of generations, life and death—provides an even deeper satisfaction for the reader on psychic and spiritual levels insofar as these concerns are shared by people of all ages and temperaments. Finally, the use of Campbell's model provides the basis for a more comprehensive, coherent, and sensitive reading of the tale.

Campbell divides mythic stories into three major parts: departure-initiation-return. This pattern is Campbell's abstract of the world-wide nature myths concerning the dying and resurrected savior god: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Campbell divides each part of the mythic structure into further elements. The subdivisions of the departure have to do with the crossing of the threshold between the two worlds: the ordinary world and the magical world of the adventure. Sometimes the hero or heroine crosses this threshold willingly; sometimes, as in the case with Dorothy, the hero is taken or carried across by an external force. At the threshold, the hero encounters a guardian whom he must either defeat or conciliate. In Dorothy's case it is the Wicked Witch of the East who is defeated when Dorothy's house, carried by a tornado, drops on her. Either before or after the crossing of the first threshold, the hero receives supernatural aid in the form of a magical helper, usually a goddess or an old woman. For Dorothy it is the Good Witch of the North, who acts as her fairy godmother and provides amulets against the forces of darkness Dorothy will encounter. In myth, other helpers, who embody the destiny of the hero, join the quest as well. Dorothy's helpers are the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, whose subplots adumbrate the main plot of Dorothy's adventures.

Beyond the threshold, as part of the initiation, the mythic hero is put to various tests and threatened by various forces. Dorothy must deal with an extraordinary number of natural and supernatural opponents, including fighting trees, killer wolves, deadly bees, hammer-headed creatures who strike out with their heads, poisonous poppy fields, and fierce Kalidahs (tiger-bears).

Next, the hero undergoes a supreme ordeal and wins his reward. The quest is not complete unless the hero returns, with or without the blessing of the powers he has encountered, and brings the boon that restores the world. Dorothy, having redeemed the land of Oz, returns to Kansas and brings to it her life-renewing magic, redeeming both the land and the spiritual lives of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. In fact, in Baum's sequels (The Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz), Dorothy is enthroned as a princess of Oz and a mistress of both worlds, traveling back and forth at will.


The mythic hero, as Campbell points out, is a person possessing unusual gifts, which enable him to overcome deficiencies either in himself or in the world. In the beginning of Oz, Dorothy's whole world is in a fallen state and cries out for redemption. Dorothy represents its only hope for salvation:

When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side … Even the grass was not green for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray color to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint, and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else …

When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a somber gray; they had taken the red from her lips and cheeks, and they were gray also. When Dorothy, who was an orphan, first came to her, Aunt Em had been so startled by the child's laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy's merry voice reached her ears; and she still looked at the little girl with wonder that she could find anything to laugh at.

Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.

It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing as gray as her surroundings … Toto played all day long, and Dorothy played with him, and loved him dearly.

The fact that Dorothy is an orphan whose parentage and origins are obscure and mysterious is essential to the further development of the story, as it prepares the reader for Dorothy's future apotheosis. The mythic hero or heroine is frequently a person of mystery, and the very puzzlement as to the hero's origins prepares the reader for a later claim of divine or semi-divine parentage. Dorothy is described as an orphan, and no other facts about her past are given except that she came to Aunt Em from somewhere else.

Brian Attebery misses the mythic symbolism of this opening largely because he relies on the fairy tale structure outlined by Vladimir Propp in his Morphology of the Folk Tale. According to Propp, the fairy tale always begins with an idyllic situation followed by a profound loss and a subsequent act of rebellion or disobedience. Hence, in Oz, Attebery projects an implied beginning in which Dorothy is living happily with her natural parents, loses them, and is then swallowed up by the prairie twister after disobeying the injunction of Aunt Em to stay in the cyclone cellar. However, the text does not support the conjecture that Dorothy ever lived with her natural parents. In the text, Dorothy's origins are totally mysterious, and this mystery is quite appropriate because it prepares the reader for Dorothy's future development. Attebery's mistake is to construe the story purely on the fairy tale level and to ignore its mythic elements. The fairy tale hero(ine) is always an ordinary person, whereas the mythic hero or heroine is someone who stands apart. By attempting to reduce the mystery to something commonplace, Attebery destroys the coherence of the story. The logic of the opening passages in Oz is that those who are part and parcel of the ordinary world (Aunt Em and Uncle Henry) cannot transcend it without outside help. If Dorothy can rescue them as Toto has rescued her, it is because she is not wholly of the everyday world. This is consistent with her magic flight to Oz in order to discover her powers as well as the necessity of her return to rejuvenate her foster parents.

In Munchkin Land, Dorothy is immediately recognized as a great sorceress, and this incident prepares the reader for further revelations of a similar kind. Baum also emphasizes that Dorothy came to her (Aunt Em), as opposed to saying that Dorothy came to them. This emphasis not only focuses the story on the relationship between Dorothy and Aunt Em, but underscores the idea, reinforced later in the tale, that Dorothy comes as a "gift" to Aunt Em from some mysterious source. Ultimately, both Dorothy and Aunt Em experience crises. Dorothy's laughter awakens Aunt Em from the hypnotic spell of Kansas, but the transformation remains incomplete. Meanwhile, Toto saves Dorothy from the danger of falling under the very spell that has transformed Aunt Em from a pretty young wife to a grim reflection of her surroundings. (The name "Toto" is symbolically appropriate, of course, since it implies that he is everything, the catalyst that determines the destinies of all.)

In the Belly of the Cyclone

Dorothy's mythic adventure begins with a magic flight inside a tornado. The psychic need for the life-renewing voyage inside the cyclone can only be understood in reference to the gray, symbolically deficient world of Dorothy's Kansas. Like Jonah in the belly of the whale, Dorothy's transit to Oz is to a world of rebirth symbolized, not only by the whale image, but also by the ambience of the voyage itself. She is carried gently and peace-fully—not bludgeoned into unconsciousness as in the movie, but rocked to sleep by the gentle swaying of the house. The journey continues in this way for many hours. At one point, Toto falls through the trap door that used to serve as the entrance to the storm cellar, but Dorothy manages to rescue him by grasping his ears and pulling him back through the door into the safety of her bed. For a moment Dorothy realizes that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry will think she is dead; but, after a few anxious moments, she is peaceful and serene. Her composure is such that she is even able to rescue Toto, whose passing in and out of the door is yet another image of rebirth. The ultimate sign of this transfiguration is that Dorothy is christened only after the tornado: Her name becomes Dorothy Gale.

The cyclone lands Dorothy, Toto, and the house "very gently—for a cyclone" in the land of Oz. It simultaneously crushes the Wicked Witch of the East, who represents the guardian of the threshold between the two worlds. The crossing of this first magical boundary automatically implies danger, just as the notions of trespass and violation do in ordinary life; therefore, the threshold guardian is a shadowy presence whom Dorothy must defeat or conciliate. In Dorothy's case, the fateful killing of this first guardian by the falling house eliminates any need for conciliation. In classical myth such guardians bound the world in four directions and define as well as confine the hero in his present sphere. So in Oz there are four witches: the Good Witch of the North rules the red land of the Gilligans; the Wicked Witch of the East rules the blue land of the Munchkins; the Good Witch of the South rules the purple land of the Quadlings; and the Wicked Witch of the West rules the yellow land of the Winkies. The navel of this magical realm is the Emerald City itself, ruled by the Great Wizard.

Some critics regard the killing of the Witch of the East as a suggestion that Dorothy commits matricide: the old witch whom Dorothy kills symbolizes her mother. However, mythic symbolism suggests a broader meaning. In Greek myths the guardians of the threshold and the avenging forces of nature are often feminine (for example, the harpies, Medusa). But these forces do not simply represent death; they also represent renewal and rebirth. Mythic symbolism is largely taken from the cycles of nature: the killing of the Winter Witch is necessary for the coming of Spring; the death of the body is necessary for the resurrection of the soul. If we suppose that the meaning of the death of the Witch of the East is that Dorothy killed her mother—and, since Dorothy is only six or seven, that would imply, perhaps, that Dorothy's mother dies in childbirth—then that death must have been necessary for the attainment of a greater object. Given the spiritually impoverished lives of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry, the greater object in Dorothy's world of Kansas would be to redeem them with her love. That is, if the matricidal theme is an acceptable interpretation, the fuller meaning would be that Dorothy is a "gift" from the natural mother to the adoptive parents. However, the opening passages show that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry do not yet understand Dorothy's gift to them. They are too much under the spell of Kansas; hence the need for the magic flight to destroy the witch that has enchanted them. Just as Hansel and Gretel recover their parents by killing the witch in the Gingerbread House, breaking the spell of the stepmother, so Dorothy takes on the forces that have enslaved her step-parents—the wild, destructive forces of nature controlled by the Wicked Witch of the West.


After the departure of magic flight, the next stage of the mythic adventure, according to Campbell, is the initiation of the hero: "Once the hero has entered the mythic realm, he encounters strange though intimate forces who may threaten him or offer him supernatural aid. Typically it is an old crone (a fairy godmother) who initiates the hero into the new world, offers him charms and amulets against its dangers, and starts him in his adventures."

The first person that Dorothy encounters in Oz is the Good Witch of the North—an elderly, maternal, kindly protectress. She bears a striking resemblance to Aunt Em: her skin is wrinkled, her hair is nearly white, and she walks stiffly. The Munchkins accompanying the North Witch, Dorothy notices, are "as old as Uncle Henry."

The reference to Uncle Henry reinforces the impression that the Good Witch is the benign alter ego of Aunt Em. Since she appears immediately after the old East Witch has died and resembles the East Witch, it is possible that both witches represent Aunt Em's double aspect: as both nuturing and destroying. Also, the North Witch walks "stiffly," as if the killing of the East Witch has affected her, as if in fact she is dying too. Interestingly, she never appears in the story again or in any of the sequels. If the witches do represent Aunt Em, there may be a hidden Freudian pun in the death of the East Witch: the house(work) is killing Em. Later in the story Dorothy is made to do housework in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West and to share (temporarily) Aunt Em's dreary existence.

The Wicked Witch of the East was also very old, the North Witch explains; advanced age made her legs dry up quickly, leaving only the silver shoes behind as a legacy. The silver slippers are like Gygel's ring in Plato's Republic or the ring of power and invisibility in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. They are the legacy of evil, yet their proper use (or rather avoidance) can bring ultimate good. Like the hair of the Good Witch and Aunt Em, they are silver, and hence represent projected destinies with which Dorothy must cope. They suggest death and the necessity that Dorothy must be freed from them—as she ultimately is, during her return to Kansas, dropping the slippers into the Deadly Desert which surrounds Oz.

In Oz white is the color of sorcery and witchcraft, hence the color of the magic shoes. Because Dorothy is wearing her blue-and-white checked dress, she is immediately taken for a good witch devoted to the protection of the Munchkins, since blue is the color of the Munchkins and white of the witches. Thus the Munchkins are unafraid of Dorothy and offer her assistance whenever she encounters them. It is clear from the incidents which follow in the story that the Munchkins are right in thinking that Dorothy is a good witch or sorceress; they give the first intimations of her "true" origins: her semi-divine nature or parentage. From this point on, Dorothy will travel through Oz armed with magic, soon to be accompanied by magical attendants.

While some critics, such as Osmond Beckwith, argue that the East and/or North witches are symbolic repesentations of Dorothy's missing, and, hence, mysterious mother, this does not seem a likely interpretation. They are too old; the North Witch is maternal, but more like a fairy godmother than a mother. Moreover, the imputation of a natural mother runs counter to Dorothy's apotheosis as a semi-divine being. Aunt Em seems a more likely model for the East and North witches, though there certainly seems to be an indirect reference to the mother in the cyclone/killing sequence.

Dorothy's quest begins when she expresses the wish to go home to Kansas, thinking that Aunt Em and Uncle Henry must be worrying about her. Getting home will be difficult, the witch explains, since Oz is cut off from the rest of the world by a deadly, impassable desert that surrounds it. The North Witch divines that Dorothy must go to Oz and seek the assistance of the powerful Wizard. It appears she must travel alone, since each witch is confined to her own corner of Oz, but the North Witch gives her a protective magical kiss to safeguard her travels. The kiss becomes a visible halo on Dorothy's forehead and acts as an amulet against all evil.

Before Dorothy's departure the Good Witch of the North explains why witches and sorcerers are so prevalent in Oz; Oz is uncivilized. In civilized places, like Kansas, the sorcerers and witches are long dead; hence, there is no longer any magic there. (Before Dorothy's arrival in Oz, there were four witches: two good and two bad. Once the East Witch has been killed, only one wicked witch remains: the Witch of the West.) The fact that Oz is uncivilized is important, for it prepares the reader for the amoral actions of Oz's inhabitants. It puts aside the moral censorship of conscience in the events to follow: the Wizard's murderous schemes, the cruelty of the Wicked Witch, the attacks of nightmarish creatures, and further killing by Dorothy herself. On this new plane, the meaning of events transcends conventional, civilized understanding. The only assurance is that Dorothy will be protected throughout her adventures by a benign presence symbolized by the magic kiss.

If Dorothy cannot be harmed by the Wicked Witch, what is her encounter with the Witch all about? Mythically, it is the slaying of the forces of darkness as a prelude to transfiguration. The question is not whether the Wicked Witch can slay Dorothy, but whether Dorothy can slay the witch. In the movie the witch is made Dorothy's one and only antagonist; in the book Dorothy must overcome many obstacles, and the witch is only one, although the greatest, opponent. In Baum's story it is not the witch who seeks out Dorothy; rather, Dorothy seeks out the witch, even though the witch has never harmed her. Baum's plot turns on how the killing will be justified, how Dorothy's innocence will be maintained. Mythically, Dorothy's innocence is preserved because her act goes "beyond good and evil." She is dealing with cosmic forces, not individual egos. Moreover, the forces are essentially immortal. What she kills is a symbol, not a human being.

Psychoanalytic interpretations of these opening passages miss much of the nature and magical symbolism of these events. The old Witch of the East dries up in the sun, like the Kansas prairies, with which she is somehow connected to Dorothy's past. The power and status of the East Witch passes to Dorothy with her possession of the silver shoes, which she puts on after the Good Witch of the North has left. She wears them ostensibly to replace her worn-out shoes from Kansas, and in ignorance of their great power. Finally, the last act of the Good Witch of the North is to point out the direction of Oz via the Yellow Brick Road. Yellow is the color of the Winkle country which lies beyond Oz so—though the witch does not mention it—the way to Oz is also the path to the Wicked Witch. In the sequels Dorothy becomes the bridge by which one gets to Oz; she becomes the new guardian of the magic threshold.

At the end of the story the last witch Dorothy encounters is Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, who is said to be very old but looks the same age as Dorothy. Glinda seems an amalgam of Dorothy and the North Witch, the old witch rejuvenated by Dorothy's power and with her magic and fertility restored. When Dorothy returns to Kansas, taking her own life-renewing mana, she has already received the powers of two witches and much more.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a classic children's novel. Because of its highly imaginative story, its unusual characters, and its young heroine, it is often compared to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950) begins C. S. Lewis's series, The Chronicles of Narnia. This highly acclaimed series has been loved by children for generations and, like Baum's work, features children protagonists, wondrous settings and characters, a well-paced story, and subtle lessons along the way.
  • Treasure Island (1883), Robert Louis Stevenson's classic tale of piracy and adventure, presents a young hero facing dangerous and thrilling experiences. This classic is satisfying for readers interested in an exciting and suspenseful story with a young male protagonist.
  • Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726) relates the curious journey of Gulliver as he passes through a series of strange lands populated with equally strange citizens. This book is symbolic and satirical and has been the subject of much interpretation.

The Road of Trials

In Campbell's monomyth the trials begin when, "once beyond the threshold, the hero of the mythic cycle encounters not only threatening forces but supernatural helpers overtly or secretly sent by the patron god or goddess." Dorothy receives further supernatural aid and protection from three future kings of Oz: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. In addition, their destinies become inexplicably bound up with her own.

Nothing in the Baum books has aroused as much controversy as these non-human and semihuman characterizations. The major controversy is a moral one, namely, whether these characterizations represent healthy role-models for the child reader. Some regard Baum's inventions as sterile, castrated, semi-masculine figures, revealing the author's own psycho-sexual abnormalities. This seems an interesting, but simple view, for even if figures like the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the other Ozian "automata" reveal something about Baum himself, that does not necessarily imply they carry these meanings in the story itself.

Rather, the subplots concerning these characters develop the major mythic themes of the work. The Scarecrow resembles nothing so much as the dying and resurrected Corn God. Though he was born yesterday (the day Dorothy was reborn in the cyclone), he is immortal. As guardian of the fields he is a symbol of fertility, not infertility. He gains his throne, but not before he is torn to bits by the Winged Monkeys and then resurrected by Dorothy. As Dorothy is a symbol of fertility, he is her symbolic consort—the Osiris to her Isis. Like Dorothy he seeks wisdom to restore the fallen world, symbolized by his inability to guard the grain from his nemesis, the Killer Crows who attack by command of the Wicked Witch of the West. His desire for a brain is, as the Wizard points out later, a desire for experience. He has intelligence, but he wishes to gain wisdom. His destiny is to win the throne of Oz itself, but not before confronting the images of death and destruction symbolized by the crows and the Witch of the West.

The Tin Man is a much more mystical and enigmatic figure than the Scarecrow. Like him, he is immortal; but while the Scarecrow is a thing magically transformed into a person, the Tin Woodman is a person all but transformed into a thing. An ordinary man, working as a woodcutter, he fell in love with a Munchkin girl and desired to marry her; but, under an evil spell cast by the East Witch, he chopped himself to pieces with his own axe. Undaunted, he had the parts of his body replaced by a master tinsmith until, finally, he was all tin; but with the removal of his heart, he lost all love for the girl, and, hence, had to acknowledge temporary defeat. His rescue by Dorothy and the Scarecrow, however, gives him new hope that his love can be restored. Like the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman can be associated with death, but in a more positive way than Beckwith suggests when he refers to him as the ineffectual "chopper who chops off your head."

The Tin Man, as a result of his mutilation, is pure spirit. He complains that he has lost his heart, but, in fact, his humanity is all that is left of the original man. He is literally a ghost in a machine, a spirit-power. As a woodcutter, he is a gardener who prunes away all that is dead to make way for new life; hence, he is an image of fertility. As a spiritual being, he has pruned himself, cutting away everything inessential to his own persona. Consumed completely by love and sympathy, he wants, he says, to feel all that is to be felt, whether of joy or sorrow. He weeps when he accidentally steps on a beetle, but he kills when confronted by the hatred of the West Witch. Since Dorothy is a goddess of love, he is her perfect protector against all evil intent. Like the Scarecrow, he is ultimately slain only to reach an even higher plane of being. His destiny is to rule the kingdom of the Wicked Witch herself, and there to remain guardian against the forces of darkness and evil.

The Cowardly Lion is also a symbol of latent and overt power. Unlike the other companions, he is already a king, since his very roar has been enough to frighten all the other animals into submission. Though the symbol of courage, he says he wants to learn real courage: to know real fear and overcome it. That test would provide the occasion for the unleashing of his great strength, which at the moment is quite useless to him, since all creatures bow to him without a fight. Symbolically he must lose his throne in order to regain it, to give meaning to the symbol he represents. More simply put, to test and know his courage, he needs an opponent. At the same time, he is frightened because he does not know what form the challenger will assume, and so he fears everything, even the most insignificant insect. For the moment, he has forsworn any use of force in his own interest; hence, all his power is available to Dorothy. Later, when his challenger appears, a giant spider, he defeats him and regains the throne he deliberately left vacant. He wins the battle because he has found something in his adventures with Dorothy more important than fear itself: love and devotion. When the animals come to him for protection, he can transfer his de-votion to them and, on their behalf, find the courage to slay the monster and win his throne.

Beckwith's argument that the companions of Dorothy are impotent and castrated figures ignores their functions in the story. His reaction is largely to the images of mutilation and defeat which the companions suffer, but this is to ignore the themes they represent and how these serve to support Dorothy's quest. The companions' defeats and mutilations are all redeemed before the story ends. Interestingly, Beckwith does not comment on the interpretation of the spider monster—which is a striking lapse, for a Freudian. One immediate conclusion is to see it as a negative female image. But how does it fit into the Lion's own story? The spider seems to be everything the Lion originally wanted to be: fearless, terrifying, capable of destroying every animal (except the lion) in its path. But the spider has no courage because it has no feelings. It is an indifferent power. The Lion cannot meet the spider monster on the field and defeat it in fair combat; his strength is no match for its strength, so he defeats it by cunning. His knightly ambition, to defeat a worthy adversary in open combat, is not realized—at least on one level. He does, however, find his courage in moral ascendancy over his enemy. On a Jungian level, the spider may represent the Lion's repressed alter ego, the repressed violence that is only restrained by his superego.

The three "kingly" companions are presented to Dorothy in forms which Dorothy and Baum's child-readers find nonthreatening, although their hidden aspects represent overwhelming powers—powers summoned perhaps by the silver shoes. The fact that they appear to Dorothy as automata, or toys, does not mitigate their status. Their apparent impotence is merely to reassure and befriend their charge. The toys of children are not just their playthings and playmates, but, like temple gargoyles, their protectors against all the terrors of the external world. Symbolically, the toys are harmless only to the children they protect. Accompanied by these protectors, Dorothy proceeds with confidence to the Emerald city. The trials encountered on the way, such as the attack of the Kalidahs or the deadly Poppy Field, all reveal the character and nature of her companions.

The Emerald City

The Emerald City represents the mythic "World Navel" of Oz: the source of all power and/or illusion, and the dispenser of both good and evil. As Campbell explains, only from the World Navel can the successful hero bring the life-renewing energy, whether an abundant harvest or a manifestation of grace. Hence, Emerald City is green, the color of life and also that of magic. However, since the World Navel is the source of all existence and issues in all the paradoxes of existence, the ruler of the World Navel is sometimes a trickster like the Wizard of Oz—"to God, all things are fair and good and right, while men hold some things wrong and some right." The World Navel is, therefore, as much a seat of illusion as it is of reality: the reality of God appears as an illusion to man; opposites become like to each other. The World Navel, in short, is a fountain of impersonal cosmic forces and energies. For these reasons, the one who is responsible for dispensing the gifts (or curses) that emerge from the fountain may seem to the naive and uninitiated to be a trickster, especially since he does it even-handedly and impersonally. The World Navel, then, represents fate or chance.

All the paradoxes of the World Navel are reflected in the adventures of the Wizard. He is not of Oz, but a carnival illusionist from Omaha. While piloting his balloon during an exhibition, he was blown off course and landed in Oz. Like Dorothy, he was immediately taken to be a sorcerer, and, as a result, was declared ruler of Oz. (Actually, the original ruler of Oz was named "Oz" and the wizard was taken to be his reincarnation.) The Wizard kept the people busy by ordering them to build the Emerald City. In order to reinforce the people's belief that the city is really made of emeralds, he commands them to wear green spectacles whenever they are within its precincts. As it turns out, the Emerald City really is made of emeralds, precious stones being common in Oz, but the people feel no resentment about wearing the glasses because once they become accustomed to them, they prefer to wear them.

The Wizard has made himself a prisoner in the Emerald City, secluded from everyone, including his subjects, to avoid detection by the witches. Although the destruction of the East Witch has left only one potential adversary, when the Wizard hears of Dorothy's arrival in the Emerald City, he is shaken—especially since she comes armed both with magic and guardians. Ultimately he decides to grant her an audience with a view to redirecting her powers against his one potential adversary, the Wicked Witch of the West.

When Dorothy and her companions visit the Wizard to ask for their boons, each is permitted a separate audience with the Wizard and encounters a different image. Altogether there are four, which suggests that they are the threshold guardians of the Navel itself. The Scarecrow sees a winged fairy; the Tin Man sees a gigantic monster resembling a cross between a rhinoceros and elephant, with five arms, eyes, and legs; the Cowardly Lion sees a ball of fire; and Dorothy sees a giant, disembodied head. While the meaning of these images is unclear, they evoke interesting psychological associations.

The beast spied by the Tin Woodman appears as a creature from the id, primitive and sexual. Inasmuch as the Woodman has two bodies (one mortal, one immortal) and an axe, the five-limbed creature he sees may well be a repressed image of himself. He has transcended the flesh and reached an ethereal plane, yet the beast still represents an obstacle to him. Analogously, the five limbs and eyes may represent the five senses, and hence the fleshly experience which he lacks. The beautiful lady of the Scarecrow seems a fairy or sprite (Psyche?), perhaps a symbol of his goal (wisdom, spirituality), while the ball of fire (the sun) represents for the Lion the fiery courage which he wishes to acquire. The giant head which Dorothy sees is awesome, but not fierce. Beckwith contends that it is a father figure, a plausible idea, because it is disembodied and phallic and perhaps prefigures the Wizard's real impotence. However, according to Campbell, it is inevitable that the hero who is about to transform the world should encounter the symbol of authority (in patriarchal myths, the father) of that world. The hero's quest amounts to his supplanting that very authority. As with the threshold guardians, the father must be conciliated or defeated. He may demand that the contender show his worthiness by performing some wondrous or perilous act, or he may simply acknowledge the contender's status and abdicate. The interaction between the hero and the authority figure is complicated by the fact that the father/ruler possesses the power to transform himself, to create endless illusions to confuse the knight-errant.

Dorothy goes to the Wizard because he is identified as the supreme ruler of Oz. When she asks the Wizard to send her back to Kansas, the Wizard demands that she do something for him in return: kill the Wicked Witch of the West. His demand implies that he must abdicate if Dorothy succeeds in the quest, for he has no power to keep his promise; his impotence will be apparent to everyone. But if Dorothy fails, he will maintain his position and authority.

The complications of the sequences concerning the Wizard have to do with Baum's playfulness in exploiting the implications of the "World Navel": what is real appears to be illusion; what is illusory appears to be real. The Wizard thinks that he is tricking Dorothy by sending her to the Wicked Witch; but the killing of the witch, ironically, permits Dorothy's return home. With the uncritical acceptance of a child, Dorothy believes the illusions the Wizard creates, and because she believes in them, she discovers the realities they represent. The self-deceits of the Wizard are a constant source of amusement in the story—for example, when Dorothy returns from her quest, he escapes from the Emerald City at the very moment he is safe.

Some critics deplore what they take to be the immortality of the Wizard. The Wizard, according to Beckwith, is a "horrible" man, a father figure who attempts to immolate his daughter: like the god Baal or Moloch, sacrificing children to placate the elements. However, this interpretation ignores the mythic theme that the Wizard represents impersonal forces. The cosmic hero is the one who ultimately identifies with the World Navel itself and thereby transcends ego-related notions of right and wrong. As with the mystic sage, the hero's self dissolves and becomes one with the cosmic process, a process that contains both good and evil, both Being and Becoming. As a symbol of fertility, Dorothy inevitably must journey to the opposite: the place of death and sterility. The two are, in fact, simply different aspects of the same thing.

The Wicked Witch of the West

In the Land of the Winkies, Dorothy and her friends encounter the threshold guardians of the Wicked Witch's domain and face the first real test of their powers. After Dorothy leaves the Emerald City, she discovers that her clothes, and even Toto's collar, have changed to white: the visit to the Emerald City has increased her magical powers, and the color change foreshadows her success. The land of the Wicked Witch is the only part of Oz that resembles Kansas: the land is treeless, hot, and deserted. There are no roads, because no one in Oz ever wanted to go there. The Witch's power rests on her control of otherwise wild and untamed natural forces: the Winged Monkeys, the Killer Wolves and Crows, and the Deadly Bees. Like the Wizard, she is a usurper of another's throne, but unlike him, she has real power. Her ultimate weapon is the golden cap that controls the Winged Monkeys. Whoever has the golden cap can command the monkeys three times, and only three. When Dorothy approaches, the witch has already used up two wishes: one to enslave the Winkies and one to drive the Great Oz (not the Wizard, but the ancient ruler of Oz) out of the land of the West. By implication, it is the absence of the Great Oz which has left the land barren and infertile.

The Winged Monkeys themselves are primordial inhabitants of Oz, dating back to the most ancient days of the wonderland. They are amoral, mischievous forces, like Pan and his satyrs. The golden cap studded with diamonds and rubies is the crown of their king. Because of a prank they once pulled in the land of the North, they were enslaved to the cap, which passed from one ruler to another. In time the cap fell into the hands of the Wicked Witch, who used its power to seize the land of the West.

The episode of the Wicked Witch repeats the theme of the World Navel. The ultimate powers are indifferent to human notions of good and evil. The balance of nature requires the release of opposing forces; the Winter Witch is as necessary to the ultimate good as the zephyrs of spring. By implication the enslavement of these forces upsets the balance and brings about the opposite: the apocalypse. The moral passions of the ancient rulers of Oz caused them to enslave the Winged Monkeys to bring about moral harmony. But once the monkeys were enslaved, their powers were no longer truly neutral, since they were bound to do the bidding of their owners. We are not told how the witch got the cap, but her possession of it upset the equilibrium. She overthrew the original rulers and enslaved the people at large.

The West Witch is limited in resources; she has only one wish left from the golden cap, and only the wild things (wolves, crows, and bees) to guard her kingdom. When Dorothy arrives at her border, the situation becomes even more desperate for her: the Tin Woodman decapitates the forty wolves with his axe, while the deadly bees kill themselves attacking his armor; meanwhile the Scarecrow wrings the necks of the forty crows, and the Lion frightens away the Winkie slaves with his terrifying roars. These calamities force the witch to use her final wish of the golden cap. Summoning the monkeys for the last time, she orders them to destroy Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man, but to bring the lion to her so that she can enslave him and make him draw her carriage. With her real powers gone, she desires the symbols of those powers, just as Dorothy's companions seek the symbols of their virtues.

The Winged Monkeys proceed to do as they are told, but, seeing the protective kiss on Dorothy's forehead, they realize they cannot harm her. They take both Dorothy and the lion to the Witch's castle and bid the Witch farewell.

Seeing the silver shoes and magic amulet Dorothy wears, the witch realizes that Dorothy cannot be harmed and becomes frightened for herself. Noticing Dorothy's innocence and her ignorance of the power of the silver shoes, she decides to frighten Dorothy into submission, convincing her that she is helpless. The witch makes Dorothy do housework around the castle, thus reenacting the life of Aunt Em in Kansas—the young, pretty wife who turned gray from overwork. This is the prelude to the killing of the witch: the reminder of the original motivation that brought Dorothy to Oz. Simultaneously there is a Hansel-and-Gretel motif to reinforce the point. The witch puts the lion in a cage in order to starve him into submission; Dorothy plays Gretel by sneaking food out to the Lion. The Hansel-and-Gretel motif again plays on the theme of killing the surrogate parent to recover the original idyllic parent.

The witch's attempts to steal Dorothy's silver shoes are pathetic. She cannot enter Dorothy's room at night because she is afraid of the dark, a fear that prefigures her own death. At another point, when Toto bites the Wicked Witch on the leg, she does not bleed, since her blood had dried up years before (like that of the East Witch). Thus another image of death points to the means of killing the witch: the water (the wet) opposes the dry as the rains transform the parched land of Kansas into a fertile plain. When the witch finally manages to steal one of the shoes by tripping Dorothy and grabbing the shoe that falls off, Dorothy picks up a nearby bucket of water and dissolves her. The witch melts down to a brownish mass. Dorothy then empties the rest of the bucket over the remains of the witch and sweeps it all out the door. The symbolic meaning of this cleansing is obvious. The purification ritual is complete and Dorothy achieves a kind of poetic justice by literally sweeping away the one who condemned her to a life of housework. She then frees the lion and the Winkies, and in gratitude, the Winkies help Dorothy resurrect the Scarecrow and the Tin Man.

The Atonement of the Wizard

When Dorothy returns to the Wizard, bringing the news of the witch's death, she discovers that he is a humbug. To make amends, he promises to take Dorothy back to Kansas by non-magical means, his balloon. He wants to escape, fearful that the people of Oz will, like Dorothy, discover what a humbug he is and take revenge. As in the cyclone sequence, when Dorothy pursues a runaway Toto and so fails to heed parental injunction, the Wizard floats off alone to parts unknown. The disappearance of the Wizard leaves the throne of Oz vacant and brings about a transition of power and authority. By unmasking the false wizard, Dorothy dethrones the usurper and, symbolically, gains the throne herself. She names the Scarecrow as regent, appropriately, given his relationship to her and the fertility he represents. Symbolically she becomes her own father and assumes the offices of the father-figure. What remains, to complete the mythic tale, is marriage with the goddess and the return home.

The Meeting with the Goddess

The journey to the Good Witch of the South is essentially a triumphal march, a celebration and demonstration of newly discovered powers. The Cowardly Lion defeats his rival, a giant five-legged Spider, and is enthroned as King of the Beasts. The Tin Woodman cuts a path through the fighting trees. Dorothy and her friends tiptoe through the China country where people are made of porcelain. They are frustrated only at the final approach to the Good Witch's territory by the clever defenses of the Hammerheads—Jack-in-the-box creatures—who use their heads as battering rams to force the party back. Since they cannot pass the Hammerhead country, Dorothy uses a wish from the golden cap to summon the Winged Monkeys and have herself and her companions carried through the air over the heads of their adversaries to Glinda, the Good Witch.

Though she is supposed to be very old, Glinda looks like a beautiful young girl about Dorothy's age. She asks Dorothy for the golden cap, uses her three wishes to send Dorothy's companions back to their thrones, restores the cap to the king of the Winged Monkeys, and instructs Dorothy how to use the silver shoes to return home. By her actions Glinda even-handedly frees both the moral and amoral (mischievous) forces. She begins, in fact, the work of restoration of Oz to return it to what it was in the ancient days and sets in motion the next mythic cycle.

In the usual heroic myth, a marriage would be indicated here (a union of the hero with the King's daughter after his victory—Jason, for example. Baum's unusual twist avoids the romantic theme and keeps the relationship asexual—a "marriage" then is indicated by other means: Glinda is an amalgam of the Good Witch of the North and Dorothy herself, as if the elderly witch were reborn. At the same time, Glinda is Dorothy's alter ego.


In the final part of the myth, the return, the hero may be blessed and returns under the protection of the powers that be, or unfriendly powers may pursue him. During her adventures Dorothy has conquered or conciliated all, and so returns without obstacle. The magic shoes, like Frodo's ring, are lost forever; they fall off in the Deadly Desert. Dorothy finds herself rolling over and over in the Kansas prairies, home at last. Immediately, she sees the transformation that has taken place. A new house replaces the one destroyed by the cyclone; Uncle Henry is milking the cows, Aunt Em is watering the cabbages. When Aunt Em sees Dorothy, she runs over to her, and taking Dorothy in her arms, smothers her with real kisses. The desert of Kansas is beginning to bloom once again.

The real magic of Oz lies in its "deep" structure and its psychic unity. If critics have sometimes failed to appreciate the story, it is because they have missed the classical allusions and associations embedded in it. Baum's genius lay in his playfulness and his ability to juxtapose themes so as to please the adult imagination as well as the child's. What critics sometimes suppose to be lack of unity is really Baum's three-dimensionality: his ability to take us into the world of imagination through the open-endedness and the inexhaustibility of his analogies and metaphors.

Source: Edward Hudlin, "The Mythology of Oz: An Interpretation," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 25, No. 4, Fall 1989, pp. 443-63.


Farmer, Philip Jose, "Baum, L(yman) Frank," in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3d ed., St. James Press, 1994.

Greene, David L., and Dick Martin, The Oz Scrapbook, Random House, 1977.

Hearn, Michael Patrick, "L(yman) Frank Baum," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 22: American Writers for Children, 1900–1960, Gale Research, 1983, pp. 13-36.

McQuade, Molly, "Baumisms," in Booklist, Vol. 96, No. 15, April 1, 2000, p. 1464.

"A New Book for Children," in New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art, September 8, 1900, p. 605.

Spake, Amanda, "A Century Later, Still No Place Like Oz," in U. S. News & World Report, Vol. 129, No. 18, November 6, 2000, p. 50.

Thurber, James, "The Wizard of Chittenango," in New Republic, Vol. 81, No. 1045, December 12, 1934, pp. 141-42.

Westfahl, Gary, "Baum, L(yman) Frank," in St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers, St. James Press, 1996, pp. 44-48.

Further Reading

Baum, Frank Joslyn, and Russell P. MacFall, To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz, Reilly & Lee Co., 1961.

Written by Baum's oldest son and a collaborator, this biography contains their personal memories of the author. It is among the most authoritative sources of biographical information on Baum.

Carpenter, Angelica Shirley, and Jean Shirley, L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz, Lerner Publications, 1991.

Carpenter and Shirley have compiled biographical information about Baum from a wide variety of sources to create this book. What makes it especially interesting is its inclusion of many photographs and illustrations.

Hearn, Michael Patrick, The Annotated Wizard of Oz: The Centennial Edition, Norton, 2000.

Hearn, the preeminent Oz scholar, updates his 1973 annotated version of Baum's classic novel. This book contains a reproduction of the 1900 edition, complete with Denslow's illustrations, in addition to extensive notes and related materials.

Swartz, Mark Evans, Oz before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" on Stage and Screen to 1939, Johns Hopkins Press, 2000.

Swartz reviews the many stage and film adaptations of Baum's novel, up to the classic 1939 musical produced by MGM. His analysis includes commentary on why and how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has become a part of American culture.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

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