The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Tin Man in the Wizard of OzLately I’ve been thinking a lot about The Wizard of Oz.  It all started in February when I went to the Brick Lego event at the EMP Museum with Miles and friends.  There were tons of people there and Miles was a maniac running around with his buddies, but as the evening was winding down I panicked.  Slightly.  I couldn’t find Miles anywhere.  He wasn’t with any of his friends and the museum was emptying out.  So I took a deep breath and thought, “If I were Miles, where would I be?”  Of course!  In the gift shop…

So I made my way over there, and there he was, all excited about the Star Wars stuff they had for sale, asking me to buy him all sorts of things.  “No, no, no, and please don’t ask me again!”  Then I started browsing.  A t-shirt caught my eye.  It was light grey and had a picture of the Tin Man on it, with a big pink heart.  I loved it, and it was on sale for $10, but it was a kid’s shirt.  I rummaged through the stack looking for an adult size, but the best I could find was a Youth XL.  Good enough I thought, so I bought it quickly and stuffed it into my jacket, not wanting Miles to see it and use it as leverage. ( “How come you can get something and I can’t?”)

tin man t-shirt

My t-shirt

I wore it the next day, and started thinking about the Wizard of Oz:  How the Tin Man wanted a heart, the Scarecrow wanted a brain, the Lion wanted courage, and Dorothy wanted to go home.  Was there deeper meaning to this?  Was there some message about following your heart, using your brain, and being courageous that I never knew about?  What was the meaning behind Dorothy wanting to go home?  Following the Yellow Brick Road?  The fake wizard?  Hmmmm…

So of course I turned to the internet to find out, and wow, there’s a heck of a lot of information out there about this topic.  Sometimes it’s hard to discern if they’re talking about the movie or the book.  There are actually quite a lot of differences between the two.  Did you know that in the book Dorothy’s shoes are silver, and not ruby slippers?  That in the book everyone has to wear green glasses in the Emerald City?  That the book is called “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” while this movie is called “The Wizard of Oz”?  Those are just a few of the many many differences.  And there are lots of theories out there about the meaning behind both the book and the movie.

cowardly lionOne popular theory is that the story is about politics and the Populist movement predominant in the 1890s.  This theory suggests that Dorothy represents the average citizen, the Tin Man represents industry, the Scare Crow represents agriculture, the Lion represents politics, the yellow brick road represents the gold standard and the silver shoes represent the desire to move to a silver and gold standard.

This theory was made popular by Henry Littlefield, a high-school teacher who wrote an essay for his students about his ideas which was published in the American Quarterly in 1964.  (You can read it here.)  He also thought that Oz was the abbreviation for ounce – the standard for measuring gold, the Wicked Witch of the East represented bankers, and the Wicked Witch of the West, who gets killed by water, was drought.  Not bad.  But I also read that when someone asked Frank Baum how he came up with the name Oz he said that when he was thinking of a name he looked at his filing cabinet and it said O-Z.

I also read about religious theories, and about atheist theories.  Does the wizard represent following a false god?  Are citizens of Oz forced to wear green glasses to make them believe the city is emerald, just like religion is way of fooling the masses?  Does the yellow brick road represent the path to enlightenment?  Or is this a classic story about the battle between good and evil?  Reading about these theories is a lot of fun, but what I love about them the most is that they demonstrate the power of this book.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a great story despite whatever meaning might be behind it.  But the fact that so many people looked for meaning in it, and came up with elaborate theories to support their beliefs, is really incredible.  How many books do you know that have done that?

So after buying the t-shirt and doing my research, I decided it was time for me to read the actual book.  I had watched the movie a hundred times, but never even thought to read the book.  So I bought the 100th year anniversary edition from Amazon.com and read it in a few days.  Now I could put my own spin on it, and develop my own theory.  I think the message is pretty straight forward, and not religious, or political.  It’s just some basic life lessons.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Book Cover

The Tin Man thought he needed a heart because he thought that would bring him love.  He tells the Scarecrow that he would rather have a heart than brains because “brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”  The Scarecrow thought he needed a brain, and the wizard reluctantly says he’ll give him one, but tells him that to get more knowledge what he really needs is experience.  The Lion said he wanted courage.  The wizard tells him that everyone experiences fear, but that courage is the ability to face those fears.  Dorothy, in my opinion, got randomly thrown into this situation, so she makes the best of it, is kind to everyone, and becomes a natural leader.  She follows the path in front of her, and is happy to help others along.  Going it alone is harder anyway – there is strength in numbers.  So, to boil it all down to it’s simplest level, this is what I think the Wonderful Wizard of Oz is about:

  • Follow your heart.
  • Your experiences will make you smarter.
  • Be courageous and face your fears.
  • Support each other down life’s path, because we’re all in this together.

What do you think?  I like it.  I like it so much I feel the need to do something with it.

It was some time before the cowardly lion awakenedWhile I was doing my research I found out that the words and images from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are all in the public domain and can be used for free.  How cool is that?  The images in the book are fantastic.  Not only are they great because they help you visualize all of the crazy characters and places in the book, but they are so typical of that era, and are incorporated so nicely into the book.  Text doesn’t wrap around the pictures, it works together with them, hugging and overlapping the pictures in such a beautiful way.

So now I’m trying to think of how I might use these images and ideas in a fabric or pillow design.  Hopefully I’ll have more to share on this sometime soon.  In the meantime I will leave you with some quotes from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz:

“A heart is not judged by how much you love; but by how much you are loved by others”

“Can’t you give me brains?” asked the Scarecrow.
“You don’t need them. You are learning something every day. A baby has brains, but it doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.

“My world, my world… How can such a good little girl like you destroy all of my beautiful wickedness.

I highly recommend that you read the book.  You’ll love it.

The Scarecrow

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