Featured Image: Danielle Bowen, Kevin Cahoon, PJ Benjamin, Nicholas Rodriguez and Stephen Wallem in The Wizard of Oz at The Muny in 2016. By Meetmeatthemuny, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
L. Frank Baum (1856 – 1916) whose birth anniversary we mark on 15 May is largely forgotten as a writer while his 1899 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz lives on through the 1939 film with Judy Garland as Dorothy and references in essays to the Tin Woodman without a heart or Toto, Dorothy’s faithful dog.
The story begins as Dorothy and Toto are picked up from their farm in Kansas by a cyclone and carried into another world − the land of Oz. Dorothy wants to return to Kansas and is advised to consult the Wizard who lives in the Emerald City at the center of the Land of Oz. Dorothy and Toto set out on the Yellow Brick Road for the Emerald City. On the way they meet three companions, each of whom joins her in the hope that the Wizard of Oz will be able to give him what he lacks.
The first is the Scarecrow whose head is of straw and wants some brains so he can think. The second is the Tin Woodman who wants a heart so he can love. The third is the Cowardly Lion, who should be the king of the forest, but this lion is afraid of everything. He wants courage so that he can act.
When they finally meet the Wizard of Oz, he turns out to be a human like Dorothy. He was a balloonist in Nebraska who worked in a circus, going up in the balloon to attract a crowd. One day a strong wind blew him all the way to Oz where the inhabitants took him to be a great wizard.
Portrait of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. By University of California, Los Angeles Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Wizard of Oz has all the essentials of a myth.
It is set in a perilous, enchanted land where the human protagonist is engaged in a quest. She faces great difficulties but is helped by extraordinary friends who are also on a quest. The three friendly helpers represent what they think they lack: intelligence, love, courage.
At the end, each finds within himself the qualities they are seeking. We each have within ourselves the qualities we seek. The myth is a metaphor for balancing energies at all levels. Just as the spiritual transformation of a person must be initiated from within, so too collective bodies such as the Emerald City must discover the inner power to balance their energies and transform themselves into more humane systems.
The Adventures and Crises of the Oz myth.
Both individuals and organizations can become whole only if they can balance intellect, emotions, and courage. Through this balance, individuals and organizations develop a sense of purpose, a direction for their quest. Many spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of balancing one’s energies as a means for spiritual growth, such as the Taoist Yin and Yang, thought of as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies. The balance must occur within each person who has both masculine and feminine qualities within. The balance must be initiated from within the person, but this inner response comes from contact with external forces − thus the adventures and crises of the Oz myth.
Dorothy as the central character of the story.
Frank Baum as a newspaper editor was a strong advocate of the rights of women, and his wife was very active in efforts for the right of women to vote. Thus, it is not surprising to find Dorothy as the central character of the story. She symbolizes all the various energies and forces of the story. She finds her personal balance resulting in her spiritual transformation and her ability to achieve her quest − to return ‘home’.
As with all myths, the story can be read at different levels. However, Frank Baum had a strong interest in Asian thought, and a spiritual reading of the myth is not adding something that was not consciously there.
The MGM film with its songs sung by Judy Garland is out as a CD and merits seeing or re-seeing.
For a biography see: Katharine M. Rogers L. Frank Baum. Creator of Oz. A Biography (New York: St Martins Press, 2002)
To place Oz in the broader context of US myth making see Brian Attebery The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980)
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.