The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is an American children’s novel written by author L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow, originally published by the George M. Hill Company in Chicago on May 17, 1900. This was part of their effort to create a body of American literature in the fairy tale genre; they had already collaborated on Father Goose books. The Wizard was a great success and Baum followed it with thirteen more books set in the land of Oz. He lost Denslow as an illustrator and was never able to recapture the success of his original work. After Baum died Ruth Plumly Thompson continued the series with nineteen more stories, and other authors wrote additional books. The Land of Oz was one of the earliest of what fantasy fans now call “fictional universes.” Like the Sherlock Holmes stories it has attracted a large number of devoted fans, who like to discuss and write about the land of Oz as if it actually existed.
It has since been reprinted on numerous occasions, most often under the title The Wizard of Oz, which is the title of the popular 1902 Broadway musical adaptation as well as the iconic 1939 musical film adaptation. The classic 17th century Christian allegory Pilgrim’s Progress inspired some of the characters and dangers described in the Wizard of Oz.
Supposed Plot line
The book opens not in an imaginary far-off place but in real life Kansas, which in the 1890s was well known for the hardships of rural life, and for destructive tornadoes (also called cyclones). The Panic of 1893 caused widespread distress in rural America. In 1896 and again in 1900 the agrarian wing of the Democratic Party had seized control and nominated the firebrand orator William Jennings Bryan, from Omaha, who crusaded across the land promising his panacea of “free silver” (whereby the government would turn cheap silver into real dollars farmers could use to pay their debts). His supporters truly believed it would transform America in a veritable utopia. Baum and Denslow, Republicans, rejected this notion and use the book to poke fun at Bryan (who is depicted as the Cowardly Lion).
The silverite revolution—a cyclone—sweeps away Dorothy and Toto to a colorful land of unlimited resources that nevertheless has serious political problems. This utopia is ruled in part by wicked witches. Dorothy’s cyclone/revolution destroys the Wicked Witch of the East, slave-driver over the little people (Munchkins), who now celebrate their liberation. The Witch had controlled the powerful silver slippers (which were changed to ruby in the 1939 film).
The Good Witch of the North (the northern electorate) tries to help Dorothy, but she is not very smart, does not realize the power of the slippers, and sends Dorothy down the very dangerous gold road to the Wizard, who she mistakenly believes is so powerful that he can grant her wishes. (The northern vote elected McKinley in 1896 and he passed the gold standard into law.)
Along the Yellow Brick Road Dorothy picks up her coalition, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion, who all want the Wizard to grant their urgent wishes.
The national capital, the Emerald City, is a dream-like place based on the “White City,” the common name for the Chicago World’s fair of 1893, which Baum and Denslow attended often. The emerald green is an illusion (everyone must wear green glasses), symbolizing the fraudulent world of greenback paper money that only pretends to have value. The Wizard/president is annoyed by his guests—by the demands of the people. He is a corrupt politician, a shrewd manipulator who seeks power for himself, ignores the needs of the people, and rules by fooling with people’s minds. He selfishly sends them to destroy his enemy, the Wicked Witch of the West. If she gets them, he is rid of a nuisance. If they kill her, great—he will be pleased and then worry what to do next.
The Wicked Witch of the West represents the trusts, who took control of small businessmen and made them cogs in their empire, just as the Witch does with the heroes, using the Flying Monkeys as her tools. The trust issue was in the headlines, with a popular solution—one actually used in 1911 against Standard Oil to dissolve them. Dorothy heaves a bucket of water and dissolves the Wicked Witch.
The heroes return to Oz to claim their reward, and expose the Wizard for a media-manipulating fraud. He has no real power and must leave Oz the way he came, on a hot air balloon. (Politicians were synonymous with metaphors like “hot air” and “full of gas.”) But he is a shrewd psychologist, and realizes the heroes already possess what they think they lack, they just lack self-confidence. He fills the Scarecrow’s head with bran for a brain; implants a heart-shaped silk cushion inside the Tin Woodman (who now realizes his compassionate nature); he makes the Lion drink a dish of “courage” and he becomes king of the beasts again. He promises to take Dorothy back to Omaha, his hometown, but that plan misfires. The Good Witch of the South (the southern) vote appears. (In 1896 the South voted solidly for Bryan and free silver.) She is smarter than her sister the Good Witch of the North, and tells Dorothy to click her silver slippers three times—that believing will make it come true, and Dorothy arrives home again. It is a classic adventure story of travel to distant lands, and a story of running away from home and returning, a favorite theme for children.
Baum and Denslow did not simply invent the Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, gold-colored Yellow Brick Road, Silver Slippers, cyclone, flying monkeys, Emerald City, little people, Uncle Henry, witches and the wizard. The images and characters used by Baum and Denslow were based on the political images that were well known in the editorial cartoons of the 1890s. Baum and Denslow built a story around them, added Dorothy whose innocence and purity are more effective than the witches’ magic. They added a series of lessons to the effect that everyone possesses the resources they need if only they had self-confidence. Positive thinking was a prevalent trend in this period, and Baum was involved with the Theosophy Movement (similar to Christian Science) that emphasized the power of pure thoughts over material evils. Baum’s point is that evil is in the mind, and it takes positive thinking, not a political revolution, to destroy it.
Baum in the 1890s edited the major national magazine for advertising in store windows, and was familiar with the elaborate mechanical displays of the Christmas story that attracted tens of thousands of spectators to the display windows of Marshall Field’s, Carson Pirie Scott, and other Chicago department stores. The spellbinding mechanical ingenuity (based on intricate clockwork) led many viewers to believe there must be a man behind the screen who worked all the levers.
Many of the events and characters of the book resemble the actual political personalities, events and ideas of the 1890s. The 1902 stage adaptation mentioned, by name, President Theodore Roosevelt, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, Senator Mark Hanna and other political celebrities. (No real people are mentioned by name in the 1900 book.) 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.
Supposed Allegorical Devices
- Dorothy represents a complete person or the human mind as a whole, while her three companions represent intellect, emotion and will.
- Dorothy, naive, young and simple, represents the American people. She is Everyman, lost in a crazy utopia who wants to get back to normalcy and the love of her family. She resembles the young hero of Coin’s financial school, a very popular silverite pamphlet of 1893. In her innocence and purity she is all powerful and personally kills two witches—she is Columbia, the symbol of the nation’s conscience. Columbia was the usual representation of democracy in editorial cartoons (since replaced by the Statue of Liberty.)
- The cyclone was used in the 1890s as a metaphor for a political revolution that would transform the drab country into a land of color and unlimited prosperity. The cyclone was used by editorial cartoonists of the 1890s to represent political upheaval.
- The Tin Woodman was a stock symbol in cartoons and advertising. He was originally a human but was cursed by the Wicked Witch of the East so that every time he swung his axe he sliced off party of his body. As a good workman he replaced each part with tin, but now is all tin and has no heart. He is the worker dehumanized by industrialization, a common theme in Socialist literature of the day, such as expressed by Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs in the 1900 election. The Woodman is rusted and helpless—ineffective until he starts to work together with the Scarecrow (the farmer), in a Farmer-Labor coalition that was much discussed in the 1890s, which culminated in the Farmer-Labor Party in Minnesota.
- The Munchkins are the little people—ordinary citizens. This 1897 Judge cartoon shows famous politicians as little people after they were on the losing side in the election.
Toto: Prohibitionist party (also called “Teetotalers”)
Scarecrow: western farmers
Cowardly Lion: a cowardly politician, perhaps William Jennings Bryan
Wicked Witch of the East: Eastern factory owners and industrialists
Wicked Witch of the West: the trusts; one popular solution to the trust problem was to dissolve them, as Dorothy does. Flying Monkeys Pinkerton agents hired to break strikes
Wizard: President William McKinley
Oz: abbreviation for ounce of gold
Yellow Brick Road: gold standard
Cyclone: political revolution, the free silver movement
Emerald City: national capital
Silver Slippers: the free coinage of silver
Editorial cartoonists in recent decades have made heavy use of Oz imagery in political cartoons; the first to do so was W.A. Rogers whose 1906 cartoon ridiculed mud-slinging publisher William Randolph Hearst as the Wizard of Ooze”
Historians and economists have interpreted the 1900 book (as well as the 1902 play and 1939 movie) as an allegory of the political, economic and social upheavals of America of the 1890s. Both Baum and Denslow had been actively involved in politics in the 1890s. Baum edited a Republican newspaper in South Dakota; Denslow was an editorial cartoonist for a major Chicago daily. Readers who grew up with the entire Oz series are often baffled by the political interpretation (for there is no politics in the continuation volumes), and deny that Baum intended any sort of modernized fairy tale. However, Baum explained in his introduction:
The old time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident. Having this thought in mind, the story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.
- The Tin Man was a common feature in political cartoons and in advertisements in the 1890s. Indeed, he had been part of European folk art for 300 years.
- The oil needed by the Tin Woodman had a political dimension at the time because Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company stood accused of being a monopoly (which was later ruled correct in a lawsuit brought by the federal government, and ultimately affirmed by the US Supreme Court.) In the 1902 stage adaptation the Tin Woodman wonders what he would do if he ran out of oil. “You wouldn’t be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller,” the Scarecrow responds, “He’d lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened.”
- The lion that Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin-Man encounter in the enchanted forest may be a reference to William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic candidate for president in 1896. Cartoons often portrayed leading politicians as lions, and Bryan was described as having a great roar with no bite. People asked in early 1900, when the book was written, if he had the courage to oppose the McKinley Administration.
- In 1900 by far the most famous farmer in America was Henry Cantwell Wallace, editor of the leading farm magazine, Wallace’s Farmer. Everyone called him “Uncle Henry.”
- “Aunt Em” is a puzzle. Baum’s mother-in-law was named Matilda Joslyn Gage, and might be “Aunt M.” Mary Lease the Populist spellbinder has been suggested. (“Raise less corn and more hell!” was her shocking message, but Aunt Em is not like her.) Gage was a leader of the woman suffrage movement, but nothing about the book’s character suggests suffrage interests.
- The poppies which surround the Emerald City are likely a reference to the opium poppies and the Boxer Rebellion in China of 1899.
- Politicians of the era often talked about wizards. For example, one senator debating the gold and silver issue in early 1900 said, “We all know of the performances of the world’s magicians, but it has remained for the Wizard of Missouri [Senator Cockrell] to wave his magic wand or his magic head and double the price of the silver of the world.” Baum may have turned the Wizard of Missouri into the Wizard of Oz, who frightened people with his giant magic head.
- President McKinley was often called a “wizard” for his political skills. The Wizard of Oz seems to be the president of the Land of Oz. The “man behind the curtain” echoes the response to automated store window displays.
- Dogs were often used in political cartoons to represent politicians or parties. Perhaps “Toto” is a play on the word “teetotaler”, and represents the Prohibitionists of the era, who were aligned with Bryan in the 1896 election.
- “Oz” is the abbreviation for “ounce,” and it has been suggested that Baum was making a political allusion to bimetallism, a hot political topic of the day. The 1901 theatre version used many current political allusions, mentioning by name President Roosevelt and oilman John D. Rockefeller. In a press release for the 1903 reissue of Wizard, Baum wrote:
I have a little cabinet letter file on my desk that is just in front of me. I was thinking and wondering about a title for the story, and had settled on the “Wizard” as part of it. My gaze was caught by the gilt letters on the three drawers of the cabinet. The first was A-G; the next drawer was labeled H-N and on the last were the letters O-Z. And “Oz” it at once became.
Occult Symbology. The Real Occult Allegory of The Wizard of Oz
As in all great stories, the characters and the symbols of the Wizard of Oz can be given a second layer of interpretation, which may vary depending on the reader’s perception. Many analyses appeared throughout the years describing the story as an “atheist manifesto” while others saw it as a promotion of populism. It is through an understanding of the author’s philosophical background and beliefs, however, that the story’s true meaning can be grasped.
L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz was a member of the Theosophical Society, which is an organization based on occult research and the comparative study of religions. Baum had a deep understanding of Theosophy and, consciously or not, created an allegory of Theosophic teachings when he wrote the Wizard of Oz.
What is Theosophy?
The Theosophical Society is an occult organization, mainly based on the teachings of Helena P. Blavatsky, which seeks to extract the common roots of all religions in order to form a universal doctrine.
“But it is perhaps desirable to state unequivocally that the teachings, however fragmentary and incomplete, contained in these volumes, belong neither to the Hindu, the Zoroastrian, the Chaldean, nor the Egyptian religion, neither to Buddhism, Islam, Judaism nor Christianity exclusively. The Secret Doctrine is the essence of all these. Sprung from it in their origins, the various religious schemes are now made to merge back into their original element, out of which every mystery and dogma has grown, developed, and become materialized.” -H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine
The three declared objects of the original Theosophical Society as established by Blavatsky, Judge and Olcott (its founders) were as follows:
“First — To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.
Second — To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy, and Science.
Third — To investigate the unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.”
-The Theosophist, vol 75, No 6
The main tenets of Theosophy are thoroughly described in Blavatsky works Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. At the core of Theosophical teachings are the same tenets found in many other occult schools: the belief of the presence of a “divine spark” within every person which, with the proper discipline and training, can lead to spiritual illumination and a state of virtual godliness.
Another important principle found in Theosophy is reincarnation. It is believed that the human soul, like all other things in the universe, go through seven stages of development.
“Theosophical writings propose that human civilizations, like all other parts of the universe, develop cyclically through seven stages. Blavatsky posited that the whole humanity, and indeed every reincarnating human monad, evolves through a series of seven “Root Races”. Thus in the first age, humans were pure spirit; in the second age, they were sexless beings inhabiting the now lost continent of Hyperborea; in the third age the giant Lemurians were informed by spiritual impulses endowing them with human consciousness and sexual reproduction. Modern humans finally developed on the continent of Atlantis. Since Atlantis was the nadir of the cycle, the present fifth age is a time of reawakening humanity’s psychic gifts. The term psychic here really means the realization of the permeability of consciousness as it had not been known earlier in evolution, although sensed by some more sensitive individuals of our species.”
The ultimate goal is of course to return to the state of divinity from which we’ve emerged. The same tenets (with subtle variations) can be found in other schools such as Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry and other orders teachings the Mysteries.
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