The Wizard of Oz: Moral Pauper, Devious Mastermind, or Simply Dumb?

A few months ago I wrote in this blog about my theory that Glinda, Good Witch of the North in the Land of Oz, is actually a Machiavellian mastermind, scheming and using Dorothy Gale’s serendipitous killing of the Wicked Witch of the East as the opening gambit in a plot to eliminate the Wizard and make herself the only magical power in the entire country.  Since I wrote that, I’ve read some more of the Oz books, and discovered that later plot elements confirmed my theory; once Dorothy left, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man took over the leadership of Oz until Ozma was returned to power, and once Ozma was back in power one of her first acts was to outlaw magic and witchcraft, save that practiced by her good friend Glinda.

Glinda is definitely a power mad fiend.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This time, though, I wanted to address another aspect of the Oz storyline that really bugs me.  This element I’ve only noticed in the play and in the 1939 movie, so as far as I know it doesn’t represent anything that L. Frank Baum (or his successors) wrote, but it’s in the script and the screenplay, and it bugs me.

But before I begin, I guess I should say that I really do love the movie.  The music is fun (in particular, I love the Scarecrow’s song), the visuals are spectacular, and the storyline is an elegant incarnation of the Hero’s Journey.  It’s got the Call to Adventure, it’s got the Wise Mentor, and, of course, the Return Home with Gifts.  The actors are all wonderful and the characterizations are delightful.  It really is a fun movie, and I’ve seen it often.

It’s just that the Wizard is such a schmuck.  "It’s not how much you love," he tells the Tin Man at the end of the film, "but how much others love you that matters." And the sad thing is, the Tin Man believes him.

I suppose that in some ways, it’s not all that bad a message.  In particular, it’s probably a good tool for socializing young children.  "It doesn’t matter how many people you love or how much you love them," we might say to them.  "All that matters is how much other people love you."  Frank Morgan as the Wizard of OzThis could easily help children behave at school or in public.  "Act in such a way so that people will love you," we could tell them, ensuring that they will behave properly.  And, of course, there’s the underlying subtext:  "The person who dies with the most people loving them wins!"

The trouble is, that doesn’t really work, and the number of people who love you is a horrible measure of the kind of person you are.  Remember the line one of the Princes had in Into the Woods?  "I was raised to be charming… not sincere."  With sufficient charm and charisma, even the most horrible person can get plenty of people, even thousands, to love them.  Ask Squeaky Fromme if you don’t believe me on that.

More to the point, though, I think that there are plenty of people out there who are fully capable of loving other people deeply and whole heartedly, but who are not very capable of expressing that love; and because the way they express it is inadequate, sometimes even inappropriate, in spite of years of people trying to teach them otherwise.  I’m thinking in particular of the many nerds and geeks I have known throughout my life who suffered from this problem.  Some of them were very, very loving people but just plain incapable of showing it.  Perhaps they had Aspergers.  Perhaps they were autistic in some other way.  Or perhaps they just never learned the appropriate skills.  The point is, in spite of their huge hearts, they weren’t well loved by many other people (this is actually a theme I’ve been playing with a bit in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster).

So what, exactly, is the Wizard trying to imply with his comment to the Tin Man?  He was spot on in his advice to both the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, I think, so what was he trying to say to the Tin Man?  Was he being deliberately dim?  Was he trying to undermine the Tin Man’s self confidence, knowing that the Tin Man would take over leadership of Oz after he left (if so, would that put him in cahoots, somehow, with Glinda, or was he possibly trying to bring Glinda’s machinations to a halt)?  Or was he simply reflecting a worldview popular in 1939, when the film was made?

Being me, I, of course, look for the nefarious motives here.  It was all a conspiracy.  Not just one conspiracy, in fact, but a web of competing lies and manipulations which proves that even a simple place like Oz can be a web of internecine conflict which could rival the current Republican Party.

Watch the film, kids.  Enjoy it.  But remember that what the Wizard says to the Tin Man is just wrong.

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