Fairies and Fantasy: The Wizard of Oz part 1

The Wizard of Oz is the kind of movie that has been so totally absorbed by our culture, seen so many times by everyone from such a young age, that it’s easy to forget that it is, in the end, a movie, created by a team of artisans like any other movie, its basic ingredients — script, cast, costuming, scoring, editing, etc — no more magical or superior than the ingredients of tens of thousands of other movies. And yet, The Wizard of Oz endures like few other movies do, still holds audiences breathless in its narrative grip, despite the changing fashions of filmmaking, despite its stylized overacting, despite its gonzo, surreal production design. Even other tellings of The Wizard of Oz fail to enchant the way this movie does; why is this so?

Well, let’s start with the question of the day: what does the protagonist want? Yes, "to go home," we know that part, but what does Dorothy want to begin with, what is the inciting incident of the story?free stats

Toto has bitten Miss Gulch. Toto has bitten Miss Gulch, and Miss Gulch retaliates by rushing to the sheriff and obtaining an order to have Toto destroyed. That’s Dorothy’s problem — she must protect Toto.

Now then, I suppose a story about a girl protecting her dog from a mean old lady is adequate enough to sustain an audience’s interest, but is it enough to sustain an audience’s interest over a period of generations? I think not, and I think the reason Wizard still works is that there is a primal, psychological metaphor at work in its narrative, one that resonates through time and transcends fashion.

First, let’s address Bettelheim’s dictum on fairy tales. There are always fewer characters in a story than there appear to be — a storyteller divides the protagonist’s personality up into different aspects, and those different aspects become the characters of the story. In Hansel and Gretel, there is no witch, there is only a dark reflection of the stepmother — in fact, there isn’t even a stepmother, there is onlya dark reflection of the idea of "mother." Hansel and Gretel is a story about a couple of kids (or, really, "a kid" divided into two halves) who experience a nightmare fantasy of their mother, whom they believe hates them. "Mother" gets re-told as "stepmother" so that the children being told the story can experience the fear and anxiety they have about their mothers at a safe remove. The "witch" simply removes that anxiety one step further.

So how many characters are there, really, in The Wizard of Oz? At first, I suspected there were only two: Dorothy and Miss Gulch. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that it is really only Dorothy — not even Toto too — all the other characters are merely aspects of Dorothy.

Who is Toto? Toto is Dorothy’s "animal familiar," her incarnate spirit. Toto is Dorothy’s id, the way Dorothy acts when notions of social propriety are removed. When Dorothy is not bound by conventions of social interaction, she bites Miss Gulch. That is, after all, what angers Miss Gulch — not that she has been bitten by a dog, but that she has been attacked by Dorothy herself. Miss Gulch may or may not be able to abide a dog bite, but she cannot abide being shamed by a farmgirl.

If Toto is Dorothy’s id, then who is Miss Gulch? I’m going to say that Miss Gulch is Dorothy as she fears "adulthood" to be — corrupt, cantankerous, spiteful, loveless and evil. Dorothy, on some level, worries that Miss Gulch is who she will be one day. She is a child at the brink of adolescence, terrified at the prospect of adulthood.

(It’s interesting to me that Wizard is utterly devoid of sexuality. The men of the story are all broken, incomplete, sterile. Obviously Dorothy does not yet have a sense of sexuality — that’s why her parents are nonexistent, her aunt and uncle are childless and her dark fantasy of adulthood is an obviously asexual, loveless old biddy.)

Toto bites Miss Gulch, Miss Gulch threatens to have him destroyed, and Dorothy runs home to get help from her parental figures, Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry are Dorothy’s superego, her parental voices, the ones who brush off her emotional outbursts and complain about "repsonsibility." We can’t worry about Toto, Em says, we’ve got work to do around the farm. Dorothy is torn between the innocent truth of Toto, her id, and the demands of her superego. Toto sees adulthood looming and attacks like an animal, Aunt Em can’t even be bothered with Dorothy’s complaints — they’re unworthy of her consideration.

Miss Gulch arrives with her orders from the sheriff (another authority figure, another superego) and Dorothy has no choice but to surrender Toto. This is her nightmare, that she will be forced to sacrifice her id (her angry, irrational, childlike self) on the altar of adulthood, getting nothing but bitterness and ugliness in exchange.

Faced with the possibility of this, her mind revolts — she goes crazy. She flees her home (that is, she loses her equilibrium), takes to the road, and meets up with Professor Marvel, a bald-faced humbug who flim-flams her into wanting to go back home. Marvel convinces Dorothy that her Aunt Em is ill, a patent falsehood that Dorothy nonetheless easily buys into. Of course her superego is ill, her id just ran off with her entire sense of equilibrium. Dorothy knows that Aunt Em isn’t ill, it’s just that she’s lost her equilibrium, she senses it, and she knows she must do whatever she needs to to regain it.

She dashes back home as the twister rages. This twister is, of course, a product of her own imagination, it is her inner turmoil she’s caught in. Her "home," which she will spend the rest of the narrative struggling to get backto, is swept up in this emotional vortex and carried far, far away, a colorful fantasyland where Dorothy believes she will be happy, "a place where there isn’t any trouble." Oz, of course, she will find is not a place where there isn’t any trouble, far from it, and the lesson will be that there is no place where there isn’t any trouble. A place where there isn’t any trouble is one of the childish fantasies Dorothy will have to abandon as the narrative progresses to its conclusion.

The Wizard of Oz, famously, switches from black-and-white to color at around the 19-minute mark. This does not, however, I don’t think, constitute an act break. The acts of a movie are not necessarily governed by location but by the actions of the protagonist. At 19 minutes, Dorothy arrives in Munchkinland, but it isn’t until the end of the Munchkinland sequence that she actually changes direction and heads off on her journey to see the Wizard.

The Munchkins, like Dorothy, are children, and portrayed as such — they’re starting out at the same place as Dorothy. They’ve been ruled by the Wicked Witch of the East and Dorothy has freed them — that is, they projections of Dorothy’s sense of innocence — once she has killed the Witch (adulthood), her innocence will be forever free. The Munchkins have a municipal government, but there are no signs that any real form of societal order exists. Munchkinland, like the later Emerald City, seem to exist in a kind of utopic state of grace — the Munchkins are only pretending to have, or need, a government. They’re play-acting the roles of respsonsibility and society. There is a lot of pretending in The Wizard of Oz, a lot of people fronting, claiming to be one thing while behaving as quite another thing. This motif which will eventually coalesce into a pointed psychological lesson.

Glinda happens along as a notion of a benevolent God. Part of me feels that Glinda exists outside of Dorothy, but then I remember that Glinda, like the Witch and like Oz himself, will ultimately end up being no use to Dorothy at all. One of the more radical things that Wizard suggests is that there is not even a God who looks down on us and helps us along in times of need; God is merely another superego (an idealization of Aunt Em) we invent to guide our own actions, actions we’d eventually arrive at when our personalities are sufficiently integrated. The integration of Dorothy’s personality, we will see, forms the heart of the narrative of The Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy isn’t in Munchkinland for very long before trouble asserts itself there as well. The Wicked Witch of the West shows up, and Dorothy finds that she hasn’t escaped her troubles at all — they’re right here, just as they were at home, in the same person even, as the Witch is exactly Miss Gulch in green makeup.

Glinda, another Dorothy superego, gives her the dead witch’s ruby slippers. These represent Dorothy’s soul, that aspect of Dorothy which cannot be touched, cannot be taken away, cannot be corrupted by adulthood. They are not the unsocialized animal id of Toto, they are something more pure and more beautiful, and that is the thing the Witch wants more than anything. Dorothy fears that, by becoming an adult, she will lose her soul. It’s not that the witch wants it so much, it’s that Dorothy stands to lose it.

Realizing that this place is no better than the place she left, Dorothy asks to go home, to regain her equilibrium. Glinda sets her on her path to see the Wizard, who is described in quite God-like terms ("he is very good, but very mysterious") and Dorothy sets off, sure that there is some greater power than herself.


59 Responses to “Fairies and Fantasy: The Wizard of Oz part 1”
  1. Interesting! I have a few points or questions.

    1. The Wizord of Oz in question was originally filmed entirely in black and white. It was some time later when colour was introduced that they applied the technology FIRST to Wizard of Oz. They also exaggerated the colour on purpose.

    2. The Wizard of Oz is just one book among many about Oz. I haven’t read it, but I think the movie strays from the book. Would this, then, be a re-telling of Wizard of Oz of sorts?

    3. If you weren’t aware, the song “Somewhere over the rainbow” song is not only the most popular song from movies of all time, but was also written by an Atheist, Yip Harburg. Actually it was to be cut out of the movie but all the crew bugged the top guy who said, “All right, let the boys have their song.” 🙂 Learned all that from a podcast interview with Harburg’s son.

    • quantumduck says:

      The film wasn’t shot entirely in B&W, and the colors you see were actually shot using the technicolor process. There had been a number of color films before 1939. “The Wizard of Oz” did use brand new Technicolor technologies, but all that did was allow for fuller, brighter colors on film.

      Color was still a bit of a novelty, in the way 3D films are today, but it’s wrong to assert that the film was groundbreaking on this front.

      The book was a hugely popular classic, which has only faded in popularity in recent times. The book was so popular that numerous sequels were written. It was the Harry Potter of its day. The film changes Dorothy from a blonde to a brunette, changes diamond slippers to ruby (to show off the Technicolor process), and makes numerous other changes to the plot.

      • The slippers in the book are silver, actually, changed for color, but if you’ve ever run into the politicized-reading Oz scholars, that kills a HUGE chunk of the supposed original message, which is that the book a Bryan-esque Populist metaphor about the gold standard. Which, reading the book as an adult, isn’t actually that far a stretch.

        But this is the movie we’re talking about which has very little to do with the book, probably for the better because while the book is rich and a good read, it would be hard to adapt chapter by chapter. (And frankly book-Dorothy is such a cutesy goody-goody at times I wanted to smack her silly, but that may be just me and my issues with cutesy blonde children.)

      • ooo I was mistaken then. I thought when they started the technocolour that it was the first time colour was used. My bad!

        Have you read the book? I haven’t seen it around, but it’s something I’d like to pick up sometime.

        • ndgmtlcd says:

          I’ve read the first Oz book and several of the sequels and in my opinion they have nearly nothing to do with the film Todd Alcott is now dissecting. It’s not just the color changes or plot differences, it’s a completely different philosphy.

          Return to Oz (1985) is much closer to the original Oz books.

          • Yeh, I just wasn’t too sure how the story from the book differs, but I’ll find the book eventually to read.

            I think I had heard about the second movie being closer. I hadn’t even known there WAS a second!

            • rennameeks says:

              Return to Oz takes a completely different view on the world of Oz and does bring the story back to its roots quite a bit.

              Stars a young Fairuza Balk as Dorothy.

              • Todd says:

                I haven’t seen Return to Oz, but I wonder if its fidelity to the source material accounts for its lack of popularity — meaning, if the musical’s popularity isn’t at least in part due to its transmutation of the material.

                • ndgmtlcd says:

                  Yes, that and the fact that it was perfectly suited for TV broadcasting in general and the birth of US colour TV in particular.

                  • Todd says:

                    It is true that The Wizard of Oz was not a hit in its original release and that a great deal of its popularity dates back to its yearly Easter-weekend broadcast on TV — I can still remember the bumpers for the broadcast.

                • rennameeks says:

                  That’s entirely possible. But the Harry Potter movies are considered successful and they’re quite faithful. The same can be said for Gone With the Wind. I guess like anything else, there’s no set formula for what works and doesn’t work.

                  I suppose the transmutation in the musical might be considered standing the concept on its head, so it seems fresh and new? I personally can’t comment on it; the premise of the musical doesn’t intrigue me in the slightest, regardless of my (mixed) feelings toward the original series.

          • rennameeks says:

            Completely agreed on all counts.

            There’s 14 books by Baum, then countless sequels by other authors. What always annoyed me about the Oz books is that there were inconsistencies between them, even the ones written by Baum. That’s one of the reasons I respect J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series; she cared enough to make sure that all of the little details fit together. Her story has a complete overall structure. The Oz books are heavily episodic and disjointed from one another. Some of the original books don’t even take place in Oz; the hook is knowing that at some point in the story, the characters will make it to Oz.

            There’s at least 3-4 little girls in the books, including Dorothy, but the others tend to be Dorothy stand-ins. They don’t really have strong personalities of their own.

            • rennameeks says:

              There’s at least 3-4 little girls in the books, including Dorothy, but the others tend to be Dorothy stand-ins. They don’t really have strong personalities of their own.

              I worded that poorly. Ozma is an exception, but the rest are fairly bland.

              • misterseth says:

                Inconsistencies or not, some are worth reading. ‘Marvelous land of oz ‘ being an example, and, IMHO, a far superior book than it’s predecessor.

                • rennameeks says:

                  I have a few favorites myself, like Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (#4) and Rinkitink in Oz (#10). I just don’t like the overall inconsistencies, cause I’m like that.

                  There are elements of certain books that appeal to me as well, but I still wasn’t a huge fan of those books in particular. Scraps was a good addition, IMO, but the world could live without Button-Bright. -_-

      • rennameeks says:

        Dorothy was also much younger in the book (around 8-10, IIRC).

        Completely agreed on where the actual act break is; it’s funny that most audiences would divide the film into its beginning/middle/end based on the film’s appearance/setting rather than its narrative structure.

        • Todd says:

          I wonder if Dorothy is supposed to be 8 in the movie as well. It would account for the narrative’s total lack of sexuality (Emerald Citizen with Siamese Cat notwithstanding).

          • rennameeks says:

            Well, she doesn’t LOOK eight, but she does kind of act like she is. It could just be the whole naive mentality from the source material and mainstream society at the time.

    • marydell says:

      2. The movie does stray from the book somewhat, because the Oz of the books isn’t a dream, it’s real. There are also more random adventures in the book after meeting the wizard, before getting to go home. Dorothy eventually relocates to Oz with her aunt & uncle, in the later books.

      The books are wonderful, fun adventures, with some seriously crazy happenings and characters, but they’re not mythic in the way the movie is.

    • wldrose says:

      I think you may be mistaken about the colour thing the 1939 musical version was shot in Technicolor even the “black and white” wasnt tru black and white it was a croma downed version of techicolor
      the color wasnt exegrated persay the film and the process produce those super saturated colors. look at a restored version of gone with the wind

      the first Oz movie in I think 1911 was done in black and white and had hand colored bits (the dance of the butteflys is one)


      • Yeah, I was completely mistaken. I’ve been told so many times while growing up that it was the first to use technicolour that I just assumed that was added, or that it was the first movie to use colour.

        • rennameeks says:

          Another myth is that the entire film was intended to be shot in black and white, but just as the filming of the Oz scenes began, Technicolor was “discovered” and voila, movie magic.

          This is one of those myths that’s too unbelievable to be believed, IMO, but I guess people do.

          • Well there are many movies that WERE black and white which were later coloured. So it’s not an unreasonable assumption.

            • rennameeks says:

              They look nothing like Technicolor, though. They just look tinted.

              That myth bothers me because it’s a little too “pat.”

              • Yeh, I know what you mean with them looking different. It could also be just a misunderstanding based on information passing from person to person (like the “telephone” game) coupled with a lack of knowledge of film technology.

  2. robjmiller says:


    Oz buys into the tried and true fantasy formula.
    Step 1: introduce highly relateable character that has some minor conflict which serves to make character even more relateable (boring life, mean parents, etc.)
    Step 2: unexpected event that introduces character to a world he/she did not know exists
    Step 3: stumble blindly through bizarro world and discover its mysteries
    Step 4: resolve by either returning to normal life or saving bizarro world, or both.

    This is the basic plot of: Alice in Wonderland, The Matrix, Harry Potter, Narnia, and too many other films/books to list here. Really, it all boils down to escapism. Everyone thinks their life is too simple and boring, and are just waiting for something to come along and show them that the world is really a place of magic and wonder where they are truly important.

    • Re: Formula

      So Todd can stop his well-thought-out and expertly-articulated analysis of why The Wizard of Oz has endured when a multitude of other stories that follow that same formula have been rejected or forgotten?

      Thanks for the simplification.

      • robjmiller says:

        Re: Formula

        I didn’t say that. My post was supposed to be about how this type of film works well initially due to the element of escapism. Obviously Oz has to do something extra to have endured for so long.

        • Todd says:

          Re: Formula

          I was hanging out with a couple of screenwriters the other day. The conversation went like this:

          1. I pitched a fantasy movie over at Studio X the other day.

          2. Let me guess: an orphan child discovers a magical land full of fantastical creatures, which he then must save from an evil presence.

          (Since I myself have a project just like this in development, I held my tongue.)

          • robjmiller says:

            Re: Formula

            On the plus side, everyone loves that formula, just look at Neil Gaiman books/films (Mirrormask, Neverwhere, Stardust, Coraline, American Gods, Anansi Boys). I actually look for movies with that formula because it works for me every time.

            But hey, you could always go the Kipling route and just start the kid off in fantasyland.

    • sheherazahde says:

      Re: Formula

      The thing about dismissing Fantasy as escapism is that one could argue that all narratives (even non-fictional ones) are escapist because they allow the audience to escape their lives for the duration of the narrative.

      Someone once told me that all stories can be reduced to “Someone comes to town”, “Someone Leaves town”, or both.

      The problem with your formula is that it could describe “Saving Private Ryan”

      • Todd says:

        Re: Formula

        I think it was John Gardner who came up with the “Someone comes to town, someone leaves town” formulation, but I may be mistaken. The way he put it was “A man goes on a journey” and “A stranger comes to town.”

        They are, of course, the same story, told from different perspectives.

  3. stormwyvern says:

    This is going to be fun and I already can’t wait for installment number two.

    I don’t know if The Wizard of Oz is the first film to employ the formula, but it’s certainly one in a long line of films in which a fantasy world is presented not as an escape from the characters problems, but as a chance to work out those problems on a grander scale. It’s in everything from “Pan’s Labyrinth” (which really works the idea that the fantasy world is not a place of safety and comfort) to the less fantasy based “Pleasantville.” The odd thing is that many films with this concept in them (though not the two I just mentioned) are aimed at children, yet children frequently have a hard time accepting the almost inevitable ending of such films. To a kid, beautiful, colorful, magical Oz just seems so much more appealing than dull, dreary, monochromatic Kansas where people are trying to kill your dog. I don’t know if there are many kids who don’t feel let down when Dorothy ends up going home and feel that, in her place, they would have stayed.

    I think it’s worth noting that Dorothy’s encounter with Professor Marvel the humbug is pretty important for her development. In his mind, he’s just trying to convince a confused little runaway girl to go back home, using trickery to do so. He spots a picture of Dorothy’s home and her aunt that she has brought with her and uses it to create a “vision” that will send Dorothy back home. He doesn’t merely suggest that Auntie Em is ill; he concocts a narrative where the poor woman is totally distraught over Dorothy having run away and is having a heart attack brought on by her emotional state. In the context of the story, it serves to show Dorothy that her actions have consequences to other people, people she cares about and who have been very good to her. This connection to the folks back home is central to every escape to a fantasy world story. Dorothy cannot remain in Oz because she knows that her disappearance would devastate Aunite Em and Uncle Henry. In the context of the metaphor, Dorothy is realizing that she can’t attempt to protect her id and abandon her superego in the process. Where Toto is strong and protective and unbound by the conventions of society, Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are weak and totally hamstrung by societies dictates. Superego is so caught up in morals and self-sacrifice that it can easily be taken advantage of and walked all over. Look at Auntie Em’s feeble attempt to stand up to Miss Gulch when the nasty old crone arrives to take Toto away. She is completely incapable of even chewing out this horrible person in the way she so richly deserves.

    On the subject of witches: If “witch” is actually a stand-in for “adult woman,” then Glinda also represents Dorothy’s realization that growing up doesn’t have to mean becoming a spiteful, nasty dog-hater. When confronted with Glinda’s question of whether she is a good witch or a bad one, she tells the stranger that she’s not a witch, as witches are old and ugly. Learning that Glinda is a witch, Dorothy comes to the realization that witches (and women) can be good and beautiful as well and needn’t go down the Miss Gulch/Witch of the West path.

    • Todd says:

      I was interested in Aunt Em’s confrontation with Miss Gulch because of its thematic relationship to Dorothy’s later adventures. Everyone in the movie is “pretending” on one level or another, and gains strength from their pretense. The Scarecrow, for instance, pretends to be intelligent and thus becomes intelligent. Aunt Em, on the other hand, has been pretending to tolerate Miss Gulch for so long that, now that it’s actually come down to a life-or-death confrontation, she can’t actually bring herself to express her true feelings. Uncle Henry, on the other hand, does express his feelings, but only in these very sideways, ineffective ways (like when he closes the gate on Gulch’s ass, or intentionally mishears her complaint).

  4. johnnycrulez says:

    Alan Moore, one of the best comic book writers around, recently wrote a highly sexually charged version of Dorothy’s adventures through Oz entitled Lost Girls. It was a pornographic comic detailing the sexual liberation of Dorothy, Wendi, and Alice. Moore was in top form, as is usually the case, and it is worth reading to any fan of the Wizard of Oz who also likes pornography. One of the primary goals was to create a literary piece of erotica, which is a genre that has been dead and replaced totally with smut for years.

  5. swan_tower says:

    You should be aware that most folklorists consider Bettelheim’s work to be a load of bunk. He’s terrifyingly reductionist, and wilfully made up psychological anecdotes to support his theories. And that’s before you take a step back to all the critiques of Freudian psychology in general.

    I wouldn’t recommend using him for the starting point of any analysis of a fantasy story.

    • mimitabu says:

      even so, there’s validity to the basic ideas that: a) 1 character is often split into many “characters” in fantasy (or hell, in stories) and b) that characters or events often deal with ideas like “growing up,” “self-control,” etc that freud provided us with, at least (and probably at most) a shorthand with which to talk about them.

      i don’t know anything about bettelheim, but i know enough about freud and freudian looks at literature to know that starting an analysis with the “basics” (read: most superficial points with their easiest, most superficial interpretations) of freud can be quite fruitful and convincing. this is, of course, really just looking at those same “basics” (read: greek mythology, classical literature) that freud used to construct and validate (in the eyes of the establishment) psychoanalysis in the first place.

      don’t want to throw the baby (human truth found in ancient mythology) out with the bathwater (freud; freudians).

      • swan_tower says:

        I doubt anybody’s chucking out the “human truth found in ancient mythology” baby. But Freudian analysis, whether by its nature or just by force of habit in how it’s applied, tends to lead one in directions both reductionist — this is what the text means, everything boils down to id and superego and so on, and all other meanings are secondary — and prescriptivist. I detest it when you can tell the writer decided what the various characters in their story represent, rather than just writing the damn story and then letting analysis happen later.

        This isn’t particularly relevant for The Wizard of Oz, but I’m also deeply skeptical of Freudian analysis of non-Western texts, or those that predate Freud’s own work. He’s had a big influence on culture since his time, but prior to it? Things he thought were universal, most notably the Oedipal complex, aren’t nearly so much as Freudian analysts would like to believe. (This is me with my anthropologist hat on; fieldworkers trotted off to the far corners of the world, Freudian tools in hand, and only gradually figured out they don’t work so well in Fiji.)

        • mimitabu says:

          i’m not disagreeing, i just think it can supply a very good base and vocabulary for analysis.

          i also think, and pardon the relatively pedestrian point, that you can make distinct assertions like “the ruby slippers are her soul,” without making the far stronger and less tenable claim that “the ruby slippers are just her soul.” or even, “X is first and foremost Y” beyond “X is first and foremost Y, in this analysis.” going that strong, general route seems to lead to the bad things you’re warning about, but not doing so can avoid those traps (and i admit that todd is locating oz‘s timelessness in a place of id/ego/superego–but again, this could be talking about timeless psychological relations instead of raw psychoanalysis). i also think you can say “THIS makes oz persevere!” and mean “THIS (along with the great songs and blablablabla) makes oz persevere!” and hell, even if ‘THIS’ isn’t what makes oz persevere, i respect the attempt to find what does (even if in the end there is no uniform thing that accounts for the movie’s staying power).

          all that said, i agree with you that a text where the freudian influence is obvious and obviously intentional can be pretty offputting. as for anthropologist hats, they always put me in mind to wayyyyyy premature claims and my weird, sexist, uneducated anthropology prof in college. i’m not a “relativist”, but i also think the human behavior principles people feel they’ve found are, in the end, half baked.

  6. malsperanza says:

    World’s Best Road Movie

    what does the protagonist want? Yes, “to go home,” we know that part, but what does Dorothy want to begin with, what is the inciting incident of the story?

    In The Wizard of Oz, I think “to go home” really is the fundamental thing the protagonist wants. It’s the Odyssey-idea (as the Coen Bros pointed out in their retelling of The Odyssey, O Brother Where Art Thou?, which borrows several Oz scenes). The Odyssey idea is that no matter how marvelous the adventure, the protagonist is really looking to stop traveling and sit down. Hero’s journey, rescue of the innocents, vengeance, picaresque visits to nifty places, sentimental education–all those things that happen while you’re On the Road–end up bringing you back where you need to be, and are ready to be. Which is why the Yellow Brick Road is a spiral shape. The Odyssey idea is always a kind of circle or spiral: ending where it began. Same principle as baseball, whose aim is to Get Home.

    You might enjoy this: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0851703003/ref=nosim/rambles

    Despite the general discrediting of Bettelheim’s main research on autism and psychology, I think he gets a lot of things right in “The Uses of Enchantment” & makes some useful observations, especially about how fairy tales respond to children’s fears and anxieties.

    Not that children are the only people with a longing to find their way home, and to discover where they belong.

    I like your view of the other characters as facets of Dorothy. Since they are all adults, and she the only child, one might look at them as facets of her adult future self. None of them is a whole person (including Aunty Em and Uncle Henry). So they may be seen as all the various components that go into making an adult person–including Miss Gulch as the vindictive, disappointed adult.

    Toto may be Dorothy’s familiar (nice!) but I don’t see the pup as her id. I’d give that role to Miss Gulch/Witch of the West, and to the impulsive, disorganized Wizard/Prof. Marvel. I think of Toto as defenseless innocence itself–Dorothy’s most childish self. Animals in the movie have a number of different roles–the cruel flying monkeys, the whimsical Horse of a Different Color, and most importantly the pigs into whose sty she falls at the beginning. The pigs are vicious and feral–they will kill her if she’s not rescued. That hard reality about nature begins the story and sets its tone before anything magical happens at all.

    I also think it’s interesting that when Dorothy returns to Kansas/wakes up, the movie doesn’t revert to BW. I sort of wish it did.

    • swan_tower says:

      Re: World’s Best Road Movie

      I think he gets a lot of things right in “The Uses of Enchantment” & makes some useful observations, especially about how fairy tales respond to children’s fears and anxieties.

      But how useful are those observations when the evidence cited in support of them is fabricated? They may sound nice, but Bettelheim seemed to believe the ideas were good enough that his evidence should exist, and proceeded as if it did. Which is not how it’s supposed to work.

      Not all of his case examples were made up, mind you. But enough of them were, or were massaged into fitting, that it calls into question all of his conclusions.

      • malsperanza says:

        Re: World’s Best Road Movie

        But how useful are those observations when the evidence cited in support of them is fabricated? They may sound nice, but Bettelheim seemed to believe the ideas were good enough that his evidence should exist, and proceeded as if it did. Which is not how it’s supposed to work.

        If you read The Uses of Enchantment as literary theory, case studies are irrelevant.

        Not all of his case examples were made up, mind you. But enough of them were, or were massaged into fitting, that it calls into question all of his conclusions.

        Only as science. 🙂 Bettelheim was a crap medical researcher and his work on autism and child development was atrocious, but he was pretty brilliant on the psychology of fairy tales. Wendy Doniger and Marina Warner and all those guys owe him a lot.

        • swan_tower says:

          Re: World’s Best Road Movie

          I’m a little boggled by the pairing of: “only as science” with “brilliant on the psychology of fairy tales.” Do you not consider that to be a scientific subject? He’s making claims that fairy tales carry a particular meaning that is efficacious for children and people with unresolved childhood issues, and that this meaning is the “reason” for fairy tales and their popularity, but a non-trivial amount of his evidence for this theory is invented. Take that evidence away, and what you have is a pretty little house of cards, but hardly brilliant scholarship. I will totally grant that he may have inspired a lot of other psychologically-oriented scholars; his actual work, however, is widely considered (at least in the folklore community) to be bunk. And I find his pretty little house of cards less convincing than, say, Zipes’ Marxist readings, which are supported by more substantial evidence. (I mention that because Marxism is another theoretical model I find to be frequently reductionist and annoying; that doesn’t mean, though, that I think it’s automatically full of crap.)

          • malsperanza says:

            Re: World’s Best Road Movie

            I’m a little boggled by the pairing of: “only as science” with “brilliant on the psychology of fairy tales.” Do you not consider that to be a scientific subject?

            Yes, I don’t.

            • swan_tower says:

              Re: World’s Best Road Movie

              Ah. See, I consider psychology to be a science, and psychological literary theory to not be; but Bettelheim’s theory is built on a foundation of his supposed case work — i.e. science. So if the science is bad, I think it calls the theory into severe question. Which is why I made my original comment: I don’t think Todd is wrong to look at fairy-tale scholarship for The Wizard of Oz, or even psychoanalytical scholarship, but I would not use Bettelheim as my starting point. He made up the stuff he wrote about, which is enough to strike him out all on its own.

    • jvowles says:

      Re: World’s Best Road Movie

      It does, actually. Or rather, the same sepia the rest of the film in Kansas is.

  7. sewsweet says:

    i just want to say that i love reading these things you do, and i was recently thinking of the dorothy character in terms of sexual development. however my thoughts were revolving around costumes, and whether a dorothy-inspired pregnancy dress would go over well 😉

  8. swan_tower says:

    Re: World’s Best Road Movie

    I should drop this, because it’s starting to go around in circles. But I would accept that point a lot more if the theory had been constructed as a literary theory. Unfortunately, he built it on a different foundation, and when you take that away it has no foundation at all. I have enough respect for literary theory to believe it’s more than just a bunch of hand-waving; there are criteria for what makes a good theory, different from those used in science, but still valid. Saying you can rip the foundation out from under Bettelheim’s pseudo-science and still have a good literary theory is like saying you can pull the broken engine out of a car and still have a good house. They were built for different purposes.

    • Todd says:

      Re: World’s Best Road Movie

      I was, up to this point, blissfully unaware of Bettelheim’s reputation among folklorists as a bad scientist and maker-up-of-stuff. I read The Uses of Enchantment because David Mamet told me I should.

      • sheherazahde says:

        Re: World’s Best Road Movie

        When I read “The Uses of Enchantment” my impression was that his basic theory (that stories help children resolve internal conflicts) was sound. But he seemed to also be saying that each story was read in exactly one way, which I think is unlikely.

        Critics tend to throw out all of a persons work when any part of it is flawed. Which seems like a bad idea to me.

  9. rennameeks says:

    That seems like a good theory, although in my personal opinion, it’s because the concept of a wizard in some made-up land tells more about what the reader/viewer can expect to see in the adventures, as opposed to some no-name girl having adventures in said land. Note that character names don’t start appearing in the titles until Oz as a concept has been firmly defined in the public’s collective mind.

    In fact, looking at all of the Baum-written book titles, Dorothy’s name only appears in one of them – and it’s with the wizard! (His presence in the title counters hers because whether he was an actual wizard or not, his title still sounds good.) Dorothy herself is considered ordinary. These stories are not about Dorothy herself, but about the characters she meets and the lands she visits. Dorothy’s just there to keep the plot moving and to give us an uninformed magical person’s perspective (since we, the audience, are neither informed about these places nor magical). It’s not just Dorothy either – none of the non-exotic-sounding characters appears in these book titles.* They’re just there to showcase Oz and the other magical lands.

    * An aside about the book titles: the above statements actually apply to the rest of the “official” books as well, not just the ones by Baum. However, because Grampa in Oz sounds rather ordinary and I haven’t read it to verify whether his soldiering background is enough to warrant being in a book title, I’ve excluded them from consideration in this post. Still, it bears mentioning that except for this book and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, all 40 of the Oz series stick to the same guidelines.

    And on another note entirely, your icon makes me grin.

  10. Went straight over my head in the movie–but there are people who get very upset when you deny the whole Oz thing might be a political statement.

  11. sheherazahde says:


    Well, why is “The Maltese Falcon” called “The Maltese Falcon” and not “Sam Spade, Private Dick”?

    Come to think of it the Wizard of Oz is a lot like the Maltese Falcon. Everyone says he is important but he is really a fake.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Titles

      If Baum’s intent is a political allegory, it makes sense to me that the title is The Wizard of Oz and not Dorothy Gale and the Yellow Brick Road (or, for that matter, Dorothy Gale, Private Dick). His point is that the wizard (ie the president) is a charlatan, not that Dorothy has a psychological journey to embark upon. The notion of which would probably be alien to him in 1900 in any case.

      • sheherazahde says:

        Re: Titles

        I don’t think there is any evidence that Baum’s intent was political allegory.

        I always thought that story about the yellow brick road representing the gold standard was a joke.

  12. mimitabu says:

    Re: World’s Best Road Movie

    the criticism is not that his bad science ipso facto makes his lit crit bad.

    the criticism is that he’s making empirical claims about *why* this or that story works, or is powerful, or is received in X, Y, or Z ways. if you cut out the justification for *that* claim, you end up with a bald claim that fantasy works “this way”, with no evidence at all. you can’t do science OR lit crit that way.

    what i was arguing earlier was simply that you can take vocabulary and some concepts from an analysis such as his, as long as they’re informed by more than “bettelheim says” or “freud says.” if a story is about animal urges vs conscience, or a child entering “the adult world”, freudian vocab is going to fit, regardless of the status of freud’s work.

    • Todd says:

      Re: World’s Best Road Movie

      A friend of mine once complained that the problem with Freud is that his influence is so pervasive that you can’t even criticize him without using his own terminology.

  13. dougo says:

    Toto is Dorothy’s id

    This reminds me of my theory that “Two and a Half Men” is simply about id, ego, and superego.