Wizard of Oz

views updated May 14 2018

Wizard of Oz


The book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) and its film adaptation The Wizard of Oz (1939) quickly became a foundational element in American popular culture with countless idiomatic allusions, cultural references, and pervasive merchandizing. Lyman Frank Baum wrote seventeen sequels comprising the Oz series, though none repeated or surpassed the popularity of the first book. The film launched actress Judy Garlands stardom; she won an Academy Award and made the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow popular and famous, earning it recognition as the number one song of the twentieth century. Since the 1950s, the film has aired continuously on network and cable television. These airings, with few exceptions, became an annual tradition and continued through 2002. Sidney Lumet directed an African American stage version in 1978; The Wiz starred pop-music icons Diana Ross and Michael Jackson as Dorothy and the Scarecrow, respectively. In 1998 The Wizard of Oz ranked sixth out of one hundred in an American Film Institute poll; it was the highest ranked musical in the genre of fantasy and family movies. Through the first half decade of the 2000s, it continued to generate academic and mainstream books, journal articles, CD music releases, videocassette releases, websites, blogs, merchandizing, and a remastered digital DVD release.

Baum was born on May 15, 1856, in Chittenango, New York. He suffered a stroke and died on May 5, 1919. Many biographies exist detailing his life and work. The success of the Oz books prompted a musical adaptation for the stage. Oz (1902) became very popular and toured for nine years. The film The Wizard of Oz was adapted from Baums first book, other books in the series, and stage scripts.

The basic storyline details the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy as a tornado transports her and her dog to the magical land of Oz, where she encounters and befriends interesting characters and experiences a range of adventures, some of which are frightening, even gruesome, and others humorous. The characters most remembered are Dorothy; her dog Toto; the Munchkins; the Scarecrow; the Tin Man; the Cowardly Lion; the Wizard of Oz; Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Glinda is from the South in the book); and the main villain, the Wicked Witch of the West. The film is mostly true to the original books, though one key difference is that the land of Oz and the Emerald City are real places in the books, but the film indicates that these places are fantasy and only exist in Dorothys dream, which occurs as a result of a bump on the head. This notion is portrayed through the contrast of the dual-tone sepia segments, which depict real-life Kansas, and the Technicolor® segments, which depict the land of Oz. Also, the same actors who play the role of the farm hands play the roles of the major land of Oz characters.

The most noted dialogue that has worked its way into American popular culture includes the sayings: Toto, Ive got a feeling were not in Kansas anymore, Follow the yellow brick road, and Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The first line has appeared in many variations in movies, television sitcoms, and skits. One of the most famous yellow brick road references is pop singer Elton Johns 1973 album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. The man behind the curtain has been used in reference to conspiracy theories and political scandals, including the Kennedy assassinations, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and suspicions of voter fraud in the 2000 U.S. presidential election.

There have been several scholarly interpretations of the story and film, including Daniel Dervins 1978 Freudian interpretation, in which Dorothys journey is symbolic of a sexual coming of age; Darren John Mains 2000 Jungian interpretation, in which Dorothys journey is emblematic of archetypal spiritual journeys; and Lynette Carpenters 1985 analysis, which presents the film as embodying U.S. isolationist tendencies during the dawn of World War II. The most acclaimed interpretation is Henry M. Littlefields 1964 view of the story as allegory for the gold versus silver standard debate, political populism, and William Jennings Bryans presidential run. For Littlefield, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has provided unknowing generations with a gentle and friendly Midwestern critique of the Populist rationale. [L]ed by naive innocence [Dorothy] and protected by good will [Glinda], the farmer [Scarecrow], the labourer [Tin Man] and the politician [Bryan in particular] approach the mystic holder of national power [the Wizard] to ask for personal fulfilment (pp. 5758).

Another Populist perspective exists between the film and the New Deal. The lyricist for all the songs in the film was E. Y. Yip Harburg (18961981), who wrote the Great Depression anthem Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? He also helped shape most of the story. Harburg claimed that the Emerald City represented the New Deal. In 1990 Francis MacDonnell extended this interpretation, stating that the Wizard represents New Deal president Franklin D. Roosevelt. In the same way that the Wizard shows Dorothy and her friends that they always had the qualities they were in search of, President Roosevelt demonstrated that the American people held the solutions to their problems and restored their self-confidence.


Carpenter, Lynette. 1985. Theres No Place Like Home: The Wizard of Oz and American Isolationism. Film and History 15 (5): 3745.

Dervin, Daniel. 1978. Over the Rainbow and Under the Twister: A Drama of the Girls Passage through the Phallic Phase. Bulletin of the Meninger Clinic 42: 5157.

Dighe, Ranjit S. 2002. The Historians Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baums Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory. Westport, CT: Praeger.

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

Littlefield, Henry M. 1964. The Wizard of Oz: A Parable on Populism. American Quarterly 16 (Spring): 4758.

MacDonnell, Francis. 1990. The Emerald City was the New Deal: E. Y. Harburg and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Journal of American Culture 13 (Winter): 7175.

Main, Darren John. 2000. Spiritual Journeys along the Yellow Brick Road. Tallahassee, FL: Findhorn Press.

Nathanson, Paul. 1991. Over the Rainbow : The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Jeff Williams

Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum

views updated Jun 08 2018

Wizard of Oz and L. Frank Baum

Lyman Frank Baum found his stride with just his third major book for children The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). His narrative style, direct and unadorned, and the tale of a simple Kansas farm girl whisked by cyclone to a magical country inhabited by small adults, animated mannequins, and talking animals, captured the public's fancy. The whimsical main characters, who longed for qualities they manifestly already possessed, became American classics. William Wallace Denslow's profuse colored illustrations made the book one of the most elaborate of its era.

Oz proved to be Baum's most enduring work, which he was slow to recognizeperhaps not surprising, for between 1897 and 1903 he produced more than a dozen popular books for children. Baum's books were unusually lavish in design and production. Striking bindings, illustrations by prominent book artists of the era (Denslow, Maxfield Parrish, Frank Ver Beck, Fanny Cory, Frederick Richardson, John R. Neill), novel characters, and magical lands (Oz, Ev, Yew, Ix, Mo) enhanced demand.

Only in 1904 did Baum return to Oz with The Marvelous Land of Oz. This sequel offered further adventures of the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman and introduced a boy protagonist, Tip, who helped provide humor and action. Even so, Baum still did not envision Oz as part of an extended fantasy cycle. His subsequent book-length fantasies, Queen Zixiof Ix (1905) and John Dough and the Cherub (1906), exploredother realms.

Finally in 1907, acknowledging popular demand, Baum began writing an Oz book a year, reintroducing Dorothy and the Wizard as well as other American and fantasy characters to share her adventures inside and outside the borders of Oz. His 1909 Oz book, The Road to Oz, incorporated figures from his earlier non-Oz fantasies, suggesting that Oz was part of a larger magical realm and preparing readers for books about new places and characters. In 1910 Baum ended the Oz series with The Emerald City of Oz, in which he relocated Dorothy, Aunt Em, and Uncle Henry permanently to the land of Oz.

Baum's next two fantasy novels, The Sea Fairies (1911) and Sky Island (1912), did not enjoy the success of the Oz books, so Baum resumed the series, expanding his sense of Oz as part of a larger fantasy world. Colorful maps in the 1914 book Tik-Tok of Oz showed places not yet described, and some of these appeared in later books, but Baum's death in 1919 cut short his exploration and development of America's first major extended fantasy series. From 1897 to 1919 he had written more than sixty books, fourteen of them about the land of Oz.

The Baum family and the publisher contracted with other authors to continue the Oz series until it totaled forty titles. Authors of the series include Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote nineteen books between 1921 and 1939; John R. Neill, who wrote three books between 1940 and 1942; Jack Snow, who wrote two books in 1946 and 1949; Rachel Cosgrove, who wrote one book in 1951; and Eloise Jarvis McGraw and Lauren Lynn McGraw, who together authored one book in 1963.

Oz on Stage and Screen

In 1902 The Wizard of Oz, a musical extravaganza, enjoyed unprecedented success in New York. Baum's efforts from 1905 to 1914 to mount another major Oz hit on stage or screen proved disappointing. However, the Metro- Goldwyn-Mayer movie version in 1939 enjoyed such popularity (especially after 1956 when it was shown regularly on television) that the main characters became worldwide icons. Indeed, several aspects of the book have largely been over-shadowed by those of the movie: Dorothy's magical silver shoes became ruby slippers in Technicolor; the book's straightforward fantasy became only a dream; and the final resolution of the book, confirming how Dorothy's companions would employ their special talents, was eliminated when she awoke from her dream.

In 1975 The Wiz, a Broadway musical that reinterpreted the story in urban, African-American terms, enjoyed great success. Later Oz-related movies and television shows failed to achieve the popularity of the 1939 classic.

See also: Children's Literature; Movies; Series Books.


Baum, Frank Joslyn, and Russell P. MacFall. 1961. To Please a Child. Chicago: Reilly and Lee.

Baum, L. Frank. 1996. Our Landlady, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Baum, L. Frank. 2000. The Annotated Wizard of Oz: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, ed. Michael Patrick Hearn. New York: Norton.

The Baum Bugle. (1957). Journal dedicated to L. Frank Baum and Wizard of Oz scholarship.

Greene, Douglas G., and Peter E. Hanff. 1988. Bibliographia Oziana: A Concise Bibliographical Checklist of the Oz Books by L. Frank Baum and His Successors. Kinderhook, IL: International Wizard of Oz Club.

Riley, Michael O'Neal. 1997. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Rogers, Katharine M. 2002. L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz. New York: St. Martin's Press.

internet resource

International Wizard of Oz Club. Available from <www.ozclub.org>.

Peter E. Hanff