This American fantasy story about an imagined world of tin-men, talking scarecrows, witches, wizards and flying monkeys is a tale that’s been read by and to children for more than one hundred years. Although there have been attempts to ascribe political meaning to the symbolism in the book, it is most often read as entertainment – a children’s flight of fancy.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz tells the story of Dorthy Gale, an orphan being raised by her aunt and uncle on a farm in Kansas. On the farm, life with her dog Toto is a pretty bleak and uninspiring place for Dorthy, and she is plagued by the sense that somewhere else there is a more magical and special life for her. All that changes when during a tornado, Dorthy and her dog are trapped in the family farmhouse which is picked up in the air and transported to the magical land of Oz. This is where the main story takes place as Dorothy and her dog travel towards the Emerald City picking up companions – the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man – along the way. Each of them hopes to meet the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City in order to fulfill their own wish – courage for the lion, brains for the scarecrow, a heart for the tin man, and a way home for Dorothy. Along the way, they are plagued by the Wicked Witch of the West who seeks revenge for the killing of her sister – the Wicked Witch of the East – who died when the Kansas farmhouse fell from the sky onto her. Thus the Wicked Witch sends wolves, crows, bees and winged monkeys to attack them on their journey which leads to the scene in which Dorothy vanquishes the Wicked Witch by throwing a pail of water onto her which causes her to melt. The journey culminates in the Emerald City where the travelers beseech the Wizard to help them, but ultimately he is proven to be a fraud (a hot-air balloon traveler from Omaha). Despite this, each of the travelers is given a talisman to help them focus their desires which helps them to fulfill their destinies – except for Dorothy who is told there is no way for the Wizard to send her home. Summoning her courage to travel one more time, Dorothy finds the Good Witch Glinda who instructs her that all along Dorothy has had the key to returning home on her feet in the form of a pair of silver slippers which she received from the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East upon her arrival in Oz.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has been adapted many times, most often under the name The Wizard of Oz starring Judy Garland. The most famous of these adaptations is of course the 1939 musical by MGM which is one of the most well-known films ever made. Adaptations of the story take many forms – and most recently include the well-known book and stage musical Wicked which seeks to retell the tale from the point of view of the Wicked Witch. Several new adapatations are apparently in the works as this story endures in the imaginations of each new generation of North Americans.