This year is the 75th anniversary release of the MGM classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939). L. Frank Baum first published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, and the success of that book led to several sequels. A number of adaptations of Baum’s Oz stories for stage and screen appeared before MGM’s classic movie was released in 1939. Interestingly, this film was not regarded as a box-office success in the years following its initial release. Its status as an American classic owes more to television, as The Wizard of Oz became an annual television event in the 1950s and 1960s. The universal quality of the story and the warmth of the film made it appealing to people of all ages. Who would’ve thought that The Wizard of Oz contained hidden meanings?
Over the years The Wizard of Oz has been interpreted in a variety of ways. The most celebrated interpretation came from a high school history teacher in upstate New York named Henry Littlefield, who found that the imagery of Baum’s story corresponded to the issues and figures in American politics at the end of the 19th century. Littlefield found that he could use The Wizard of Oz to teach history to his students, as the story functioned well as an allegory to the Populist movement and the 1896 presidential election. In the years since Littlefield’s article first appeared in American Quarterly in 1964, several analysts have weighed in with their own refinements to this interpretation. A number of people have disagreed with Littlefield’s premise entirely, denying that Baum had any political intent at all, while others have suggested other political interpretations.
But perhaps The Wizard of Oz is about something else entirely. In recent years a number of analysts have interpreted The Wizard of Oz as a spiritual journey. Dorothy’s journey in Oz has been examined from Buddhist, “New Age”, as well as Christian perspectives. These accounts emphasize Dorothy’s quest and see it in theological or mythical terms. Where most of the political interpretations have been in the form of articles in scholarly journals or quick recaps in the popular press, these spiritual interpretations of The Wizard of Oz are book-length treatises.
The imagery of The Wizard of Oz is so rich that the preceding discussion is only the beginning. Could The Wizard of Oz really be a Freudian coming-of-age story? Why is this story of particular interest to the gay and lesbian community? Is it an allegory of drug usage, as Planet Groovy suggests? And then, of course, there’s the strange connection between The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. On the old Turn Me On, Dead Man website I wrote about several interpretations of The Wizard of Oz. In the coming months I’ll revisit many of those topics and delve into a few new ones.
So what is The Wizard of Oz really about?