The Wizard of Oz as American Myth: A Critical Study of Six Versions of the Story, 1900-2007
by Alissa Burger
Cover Artist: Detail of The Wizard of Oz cover design,
illustrated by W.W. Denslow.
Review by Mel Jacob
McFarland & Company Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780786466436
Date: July 2012 List Price $35.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Most American are familiar with the Wizard of Oz though the 1939 film and have never read Frank Baumís books. This scholarly study examines four aspects of Baumís beloved childrenís book and its various incarnations in films, novels by others, and stage plays. The themes are gender, race, the meaning of home, and magic. She links these to the changing mores of American society. Some of Baumís later books on Oz offered a darker tone.
In Alissa Burgerís view, Frank Baum reflected his attitudes on the changing of America from a western frontier to a nation. She states he saw the role of women in a supportive, submissive role and not as a leader. Yet Dorothy begins the journey alone except for Toto and takes the initiative to slay the witch and confront the wizard.
As to race, there are the witches and the wizard, the munchkins, a scarecrow, the tin man, and a talking lion as well as the flying monkeys. Later, other authors examine the green evil witch and her legacy offering a very different view from Baum. In the Wicked Years series, Gregory Maguire features first the wicked witch of the West and then her son. Otherness comes to the fore.
Home is always Dorothyís goal. However, home means different things to other characters, especially in the Wicked Years books and to some degree in the Tin Man. Wyatt Cain, the tin man, in Nick Willingís three-part mini-series for the SyFy channel, also wants to return home although it is not what he gets.
Magic comes primarily from the witches and the wizard. However, real magic comes from the witches. One seeks control while the other provides clues and help to Dorothy and her companions. The filmmakers went to some lengths to contrast the two witches. In more recent times, filmmakers and writers have endeavored to rehabilitate the evil witch or to at least allow readers to see her as more than a cipher for evil.
Burger's analysis is interesting and readable, but unlikely to appeal to many beyond other academics and social scientists. She provides a lot of information on Baumís background and beliefs and is convinced it shaped his books. This reviewer is well aware that writers inevitably color their narratives with their own view of life, but also has seen instances where critics have imputed things into stories that were never intended by the author. Similar analyses can be made for any book and have been applied to the brothers Grimm and many science fiction and fantasy authors.
Those who read the Wizard of Oz, an American Myth will find much to consider and even to debate. Ms. Burgerís book provides a good starting point for such discussions.