The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

From Academic Kids

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a children's story written by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by W.W. Denslow, and first published in 1900. The story chronicles the adventures of a girl named Dorothy in the land of Oz. It is well regarded in popular culture and has been widely translated as the first American fairy tale due to its setting. Its initial success led to Baum writing and having published thirteen more Oz books.

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Readers of the first edition of the book, published in 1900, considered it to be a simple fairy tale, but some have suggested that Baum was employing political allegory in his story.


Dorothy Gale is a little girl who lives on a Kansas farm with her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, and her little dog Toto. On her way inside one day, a tornado appears and Dorothy is unable to reach the storm cellar in time, so she takes shelter with Toto in the farmhouse. It's caught up in the tornado, and deposited in a grassy field in the country of the Munchkins, killing the Wicked Witch of the East, who had established a reign of terror over the Munchkins.

The Good Witch of the North comes with the Munchkins to greet Dorothy, and gives her the Silver Shoes the Wicked Witch of the East had been wearing when she was killed (her death is explained in The Tin Woodman of Oz as due to her being old and dried up before Oz became a fairyland). In order to return to Kansas, the Good Witch of the North recommends: "Let Dorothy go to the City of Emeralds" and ask the Wizard of Oz to help her. The Good Witch of the North also kisses Dorothy on the forehead, stating that no one will harm a person who has been kissed by her. On her way down the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy meets some remarkable characters: she liberates the Scarecrow from the pole he's hanging on, restores the mobility of the Tin Woodman, and encourages the Cowardly Lion to journey with her and Toto to the Emerald City. The Scarecrow wants to get a brain, the Tin Woodman a heart, and the Cowardly Lion courage; and they're convinced by Dorothy that the Wizard can help them too.

When they arrive at the Emerald City, the companions must wear special spectacles to keep the brilliance of the Emerald City from blinding them; wearing them, everything appears in different shades of green. They are told that the Wizard will only see one of them a day, and that the guard himself has never seen him! When each traveler meets the Wizard, he appears each time as someone or something different. To Dorothy, the Wizard is a giant head; the Scarecrow sees a beautiful woman; the Tin Woodman sees a ravenous beast; the Cowardly Lion sees a ball of fire. The Wizard agrees to help each of them, but his help is conditional; one of them must kill the Wicked Witch of the West, who rules over the Winkie Country.

Once Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion arrive in the Winkie Country, the Wicked Witch sends wolves, crows, bees, and then her Winkie soldiers to attack them; but each threat is dispatched by the travelers. Then, using the power of the Golden Cap, the Witch summons the Winged Monkeys to destroy the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman but to bring her Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion alive. The Winged Monkeys can't attack Dorothy anyway due to the Witch of the North's kiss, so they succeed in their mission; the final one the Wicked Witch can command due to the Cap's enchantment.

Dorothy is forced to work as a maid to the Wicked Witch, while the Lion is pressed into service to pull her chariot. But the Lion refuses to do so, because Dorothy sneaks him food every night. Dorothy is also left unharmed because she wears the Silver Shoes that have undefined magic powers. When the Wicked Witch gains one of the shoes by trickery, Dorothy in anger grabs a bucket of water and throws it on the Wicked Witch, who begins to melt. The Winkies rejoice at being freed of her tyranny, and they help to reassemble the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman. So enamored are the Winkies of the Tin Woodman that they ask him to become their ruler, which he agrees to do after helping Dorothy return to Kansas.

The long walk from the Wicked Witch's former palace to the Emerald City is alleviated by Dorothy's use of the Golden Cap, which summons the Winged Monkeys to carry her and her companions to the Emerald City. The King of the Monkeys relates how he and his mischievous people were forced to choose between submission or annihilation; through the Cap, they obeyed first Quelala, then the Wicked Witch, and now Dorothy herself.

When Dorothy and her friends meet the Wizard of Oz again, he tries to put them off. Only under threat of seeing the Winged Monkeys again (who under the Wicked Witch's command attacked him in the past) is the Wizard convinced to allow the travelers in to his throne room. Toto discovers a curtained side room away from the Wizard's throne. Pulling the curtain back, Toto reveals a wizened old man who had journeyed here himself long ago from Omaha. He once rose high in a balloon and then landed in Oz; when the people saw the letters "OZ" on the balloon (in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, we find they're his initials), they presumed he was their ruler and began building the Emerald City. Finding himself in a country of witches, the soon-to-be-designated Wizard saw the need to maintain anonymity—hence his appearances to Dorothy and the others, which are revealed as clever (for the dawn of the 20th century) special effects.

The Wizard tries to persuade the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion that what they lack are not brains or a heart or courage, but faith in themselves. But he still agrees to meet each of them and to give them (without their knowledge) a placebo which brings out the qualities they had all along. In order to help Dorothy and Toto get home, the Wizard realizes that he'll have to take them home with him in the same hot air balloon in which he arrived. Revealing himself to the people of the Emerald City one last time, the Wizard appoints the Scarecrow, by virtue of his brains, to rule in his stead. Just as they're rising into the air, however, Toto leaps from the basket after a cat and Dorothy goes after him, leaving the Wizard to rise and float away.

Dorothy turns to the Winged Monkeys to carry her and Toto home, but they cannot cross the desert surrounding Oz. The citizens of the Emerald City advise that Glinda, the Good Witch of the South, may be able to send Dorothy and Toto home. They, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion journey to Glinda's palace in the Quadling Country. Together they escape the Fighting Trees, dodge the Hammerheads, and tread carefully through the China Country. The Cowardly Lion kills a giant spider which is terrorizing the animals in a forest, and he agrees to return there to rule them after Dorothy returns to Kansas.

At Glinda's palace, the travelers are greeted warmly, and it's revealed by Glinda that Dorothy had the power to go home all along. The Silver Shoes she wears can take her anywhere she wishes to go. She tearfully embraces her friends—all of whom will be returned, through Glinda's use of the Golden Cap, to their respective sovereignties: the Scarecrow to the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman to the Winkie Country, and the Cowardly Lion to the forest. Then she'll give the Cap to the king of the Winged Monkeys, so they'll never be under its spell again. Dorothy and Toto return to Kansas and a joyful family reunion.


Baum rejected the idea that his story was an allegory for anything; however, many see it as a political or spiritual allegory. Psychologist Shelden Kopp demonstrated in a 1970 article to Psychology Today that the story has parallels to the processes individuals undergo during psychological therapy; Madonna Kolbenschlag later took up this idea in her non-fiction book Lost in the Land of Oz. In his book The Zen of Oz: Ten Spiritual Lessons from Over the Rainbow, Joey Green explores the parallels between The Wizard of Oz and Zen Buddhism (this is not as far-fetched as it may first seem, as Frank Baum was greatly influenced by his mother-in-law, who took an interest in eastern mysticism). Others have written about parallels between the book and the situation in Europe on the eve of World War II, despite the fact that the book was published nearly 40 years before the war.

For additional interpretations, see:

The book as a parallel on populism

But the most persistent theory is that Baum's story was written as an allegorical commentary on U.S. politics at the end of the 19th century, notably the Bimetallic system. The seed for this theory was planted in 1963, when a school teacher named Henry Littlefield decided to spice up his history classes by using the characters and events of The Wizard of Oz as metaphors to teach historical concepts. Together with his students, Littlefield drew parallels between historical events and events in the book, and eventually published these parallels in an article in the 1964 American Quarterly magazine. Littlefield never claimed that Baum had purposefully planted these themes in his book, but he did point out that the book was written at about the same time these events were taking place.

Over the years, the idea captured the attention of various writers and journalists, and took wing. Several writers expanded upon Littlefield's parallels, and soon the allegory was being printed not only in literary essays but in several economics and history textbooks.

For a more detailed history of this debate, see the following external articles:

And the book: The Historian's Wizard of Oz - Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory, edited by Ranjit S. Dighe, Praegur Publishers, Westport, Connecticut 2002.

An outline of the allegory

Many of the events and characters of the book can be seen to stand for political events and ideas. Even the title has been interpreted as alluding to a political reality: oz. is an abbreviation for ounce, a unit familiar to those who fought for a 16 to 1 ounce ratio of silver to gold in the name of bimetallism.

The Kansas of the book depicts the hardship of rural life in America at the turn of the 20th century, right after the Panic of 1893. Dorothy is swept away to a fantasy version of America that represents the country's potential. Dorothy's silver slippers (they were changed to ruby only in the film) and their relationship to the yellow brick road represents the potential of a bimetallic, gold-and-silver system to better the US.

Other allegorical aspects of the book include:

  • Dorothy, nave and simple yet sweet at heart, represents the American people.
  • Toto, a play on the word teetotalers, represents the Prohibitionists of the era.
  • The Wicked Witch of the East represents Eastern money power, the big banks and businesses of the East; her oppression of the Munchkins stands for the oppression of the average American at the hands of these financial forces.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West represents Western political influence, particularly the power exerted by the growing railroad industries.
  • The Emerald City represents a greenback version of Washington D.C..
  • The Scarecrow represents the American farmer—although thought to be unintelligent, he possesses a strong common sense.
  • The Tin Man represents the American industrial labor force—as with the erroneous image of the farmer, he is perceived as heartless, but in reality has a strong sense of cooperation and love.
  • The Cowardly Lion represents reformers, particularly William Jennings Bryan.
  • The Wizard of Oz, like the Wicked Witch of the East, symbolizes the political and economic power that runs the country. Although he has immense power and prestige, in the end he is exposed as a charlatan, more pathetic than awe-inspiring. This depiction is a reflection of Baum's belief that the spirit of America lies in its working classes and their values. Specifically, many see the wizard as representing the President (at the time, William McKinley).
  • The poppy fields represent Americans' fear of Asian countries and "the Orient".
  • The name Oz is also an abbreviation for "ounces," which was a rallying cry for those reformers in favor of changing to the silver standard.

In addition, a number of developments in later books in the Oz series are sometimes given as further evidence. The primary example of this is in the sixth book in the series, The Emerald City of Oz. In this story, Dorothy's aunt and uncle, who have never financially recovered from the tornado, lose their farm to the bank. Dorothy takes them to live in Oz where, it is explained, there are no poor people because there is no money. All property is effectively owned by the Queen of Oz and distributed fairly, and everyone works autonomously (without "cruel overseers") for the good of the community and in turn the community provides everyone with what they desire.

In refutation of the allegory

Baum's family and researchers of Oz and Baum have rejected the idea that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was purposefully written as an allegory. When reviewed by those with a greater familiarity with Baum's known political views and his writing style, the idea of an intentional pro-silverite allegory seems highly unlikely.

  • Baum seldom mixed politics into his stories, and when he did, he did not tend to do so subtly. His digs against Standard Oil in The Sea Fairies, for example, are heavy handed to the point of crassness.
  • No contemporary reviews of the book alluded to politics. The first time the parallels were drawn was well over 50 years after the events the book supposedly represents.
  • Baum's political opinions do not fit neatly with the pro-silverites. Neither was he a classic republican, though there is more evidence to support his republican leanings. In 1890, he bought the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, a staunchly Republican newspaper. One of his editorials shows his Republican sympathies:
We are all members of one great family, the family which saved the Union, the family which stands together as the emblem of prosperity among the nations--Republicanism!
  • As for being anti-McKinley, Michael Patrick Hearn, author of The Annotated Wizard of Oz and many important scholarly works on Oz and Baum, unearthed the following poem by Frank Baum, published in a Chicago newspaper in 1896, at the height of populism:

When McKinley gets the chair, boys,
There'll be a jollification
Throughout our happy nation
And contentment everywhere!
Great will be our satisfaction
When the "honest money" faction
Seats McKinley in the chair!
No more the ample crops of grain
That in our granaries have lain
Will seek a purchaser in vain
Or be at mercy of the "bull" or "bear";
Our merchants won't be trembling
At the silverites' dissembling
When McKinley gets the chair!
When McKinley gets the chair, boys,
The magic word "protection"
Will banish all dejection
And free the workingman from every care;
We will gain the world's respect
When it knows our coin's "correct"
And McKinley's in the chair!

If this poem is taken at face value it indicates clear support for McKinley. It is hard to believe Baum would change his politics so drastically by the time he sat down to write The Wizard of Oz, four years later.

The strongest point in opposition to Littlefield's original essay is that he, himself, later amended it. Following Hearn's publishing of the poem above, Littlefield responded in the New York Times that the poem was proof that "there is no basis in fact to consider Baum a supporter of turn-of-the-century Populist ideology".


The Wizard of Oz has been translated into well over 40 different languages. In some cases, the story proved so popular in other countries that it was co-opted as a local classic. For instance, in some countries where the Hindu religion is practiced, abridged versions of the book were published in which the Tin Woodman was replaced with a snake for religious reasons.

The Wizard of Oz was very successfully introduced in the Soviet Union in 1939. Translator Alexander M. Volkov took liberties with his translation, editing as he saw fit, and adding a chapter in which Ellie (his name for Dorothy) is kidnapped by a man-eating Ogre and rescued by her friends. Volkov went on to write his own independent series of sequels to the book, including: Urfin Djus and His Wooden Soldiers, Seven Underground Kings, The Fire God of the Marranes, The Yellow Fog, and The Mystery of the Forgotten Castle. Russian illustrator Leonid Vladimirsky drew the Scarecrow short, round and tubby; his influence is evident in illustrations for translations across the Soviet bloc, where the Scarecrow is almost always portrayed as short, round and tubby. Leonid Vladimirsky has written at least two additional sequels to Alexander Volkov's alternative Oz, or "Magic Land" as it is called in Russian; additional sequels to this alternative Oz have been written by two more authors in Russian, and a third German author.

Stage and screen adaptations

Several stage and screen interpretations were made of the book. Most famous among them today is the 1939 film featuring Judy Garland as Dorothy, but the earliest musical version of the book was in fact produced in 1902, and was highly successful at the time. Early film versions of the book include a 1917 film produced by Baum himself, and a 1925 film featuring Oliver Hardy as the Tin Woodsman. The Wiz was a hit musical with an all-black cast produced in the 1970s on Broadway; it was later made into a 1978 movie directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow. The most recent musical adaptation of an Oz-related book is the musical Wicked, based on the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire.

The novel was parodied in Futurama.

External links

The world of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The books | The authors (Baum | Thompson | McGraw | Volkov) | The illustrators (Denslow | Neill)
The film adaptations (The Wizard of Oz | The Wiz | Return to Oz)
de:Der Zauberer von Oz

sv:Den underbara trollkarlen frn Oz zh:綠野仙蹤 (童话)


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