Today’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course comes from Kevin Griffin, who looks at a familiar adventure in a strange land.
By Kevin Griffin
L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz presents the story of a young orphaned girl named Dorothy Gale who lives a seemingly mundane life on a farm in the dry plains of Kansas. Although her exact age is unclear, it seems obvious throughout the story that she is still quite young and fairly immature—a result of her age, not to be mistaken with a more derogatory connotation. She is a product of her environment, which is presented to the reader as not being highly desirable. As a result of being orphaned, she is raised by Uncle Henry and Aunt Em, who are assumed to be an actual aunt and uncle but could simply be a foster family taking care of the child. Needless to say, aside from her prized pet dog, Toto, there do not seem to be many sources of excitement in her life, which could arguably make anyone wish for an interesting adventure or escape.
The more popularized film adaptation of this story enlisted Judy Garland to portray the role of Dorothy. I feel that she brings the role of a hopeless young girl blissfully wishing for an escape from reality more to light, namely in her singing “Over the Rainbow,” a song describing escaping to a place where “bluebirds fly” and dreams that you “dare to dream, really do come true.” In reading L. Frank Baum’s original story, we find that the young girl meets other characters who are also seeking a change in their current lives, that, like Dorothy’s, may not be providing everything that they’ve imagined. Dorothy seeks an escape from her current living situation while the Cowardly Lion seeks courage, the Tin Man seeks a heart, and as a result, love, and the Scarecrow seeks brains and, consequently, intelligence. The three travel together until they find the Wizard, who can make all of their wishes come true as long as they withhold their end of the bargain in getting rid of the Wicked Witch of the West. They put themselves in immense danger in trying to do so, until eventually Dorothy, in a tantrum resulting from the theft of a prized silver shoe that was gifted to her prior in the book, exterminates the witch using a bucket of water conveniently placed near her. This appears to be when the reader understands that the excitement and adventure that Dorothy may have been hoping for could have been a bit too exciting or, rather, dangerous.
Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz”
The interesting thing about this story is that while the other three characters seem to receive what they originally wished for, Dorothy’s final wish at the conclusion of her journey is to simply leave the Land of Oz and go back to her home in Kansas. Could the adventure filled with anthromorphic animals, unknown creatures, witches, wizards, magic, flying monkeys, and wishes have been too much for a young girl to handle? Could Dorothy have received much more than she bargained for in venturing from the plains of Kansas to the Emerald City in the Land of Oz? As a reader, I believe the answer to these questions is, “Yes.” Dorothy Gale is a young girl who seeks a change in the life she is living, but later realizes that perhaps an uninteresting life in the comfort of Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s home is more desirable than the peril of adventure. She receives a glimpse of the Land of Oz, perhaps through mere imagination or a dream rather than an actual journey, and seeks to visit again, but eventually wishes to be back in Kansas. To me, this seemed like an appropriate end to the story of a child, as while most of us sought some sort of adventure in life and our imaginations definitely aided this process, oftentimes no matter the circumstances, there really is no place like home.
Kevin is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.