Jay Williams

My Wizard of Oz presentation went well at the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, and many thanks to the Tales After Tolkien Society for giving me that forum to discuss Dorothy dreaming!

Now that I’m home, I’ve taken a couple weeks for pleasure reading (not that I don’t love reading Oz; but it’s nice to read without a project in mind, sometimes). Since the conference, I’ve read:

  • Terrarium, Scott Russell Sanders  I read this in high school, when it was first published, and some of the images have stuck with me all this time. Rereading it now, I am struck by how it continues to be relevant, especially the idea that to convince the bulk of humankind to protect the Earth from human destruction, we might just have to trick everyone into believing we are protecting humankind from destruction by the Earth.
  • The Imlen Brat, Sara Avery Sarah is incredibly talented, and her Tales from Rugosa Coven blew me out of the water. I was amazed that fantasy could be presented so realistically. Brat is splendid, too. I suspect it will be the first in a series of pieces about this character and setting, and I have been comparing it in that way to “The Sword in the Stone,” which serves as the first section of The Once and Future King. Like “Sword in the Stone,” Brat is also perfectly capable of standing on its own. Read it right away.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, read by Claire Danes I acknowledge up front that it’s shameful that I hadn’t read this already. From the time it came out until 2010 I was in intensive literary study of other things, and my leisure reading during that period tended to less emotionally devastating books. I decided to listen to the audiobook, finally, in preparation for watching the Hulu series, which is getting a lot of buzz among my friends. This book is obviously amazing, and I find it profoundly disheartening how relevant it remains, especially in the current climate.

Today, I was looking over a book from my deep childhood, one of those short children’s novels we used to be able to get from the Scholastic order form they sent home from school. Thank God my parents wanted to encourage me to read, because I was always allowed to order a few of these, and some of them have stayed with me all this time.

The book I was looking at today is Jay Williams, The Magic Grandfather. It’s a pretty simple story about a sedentary, tv-loving kid who finds out his grandpa is a sorceror. When the kid accidentally sends Grandpa into the nether worlds, he has to find his own inner wizard to get him back. I loved this book. I’ve been daring myself to reread it all week.

Looking at the “Other Books by Author” page, I see that I was apparently a huge Jay Williams fan. Among the other beloved books I had that he wrote are The Hero from Otherwhere and the many volumes of the Danny Dunn series, which he co-wrote with Raymond Abrashkin.

I want to look into what else Abrashkin wrote, and I want to collect all of the Danny Dunn books again, and have another read through. If you have influence with the copyright owners, please do pressure them to republish these.

Here is the first bit of The Magic Grandfather:

Aside from his parents, there were two things Sam Limner loved. One was television, the other was his grandfather. And although he really did love his grandfather there were times when it was almost a toss-up.

Right now, for instance. He was watching Doctor Blaze of “Space Hospital” dueling with the two-headed leader of Sirius IV, and he was so absorbed that his father had to shake him by the shoulder.

For starters, let’s talk about how much cooler Williams’ idea of 70s TV was than the real experience of 70s TV. I want to watch “Space Hospital” now. And in the late 1970s, if that show had been produced at all, it would certainly have been canceled almost immediately, as was the fate of most genre shows of the period. Remember Wizards and Warriors and Mister Merlin? If you don’t it’s because they got canceled. Doctor Who fared somewhat better, but notice that that was on BBC TV, not American TV. To tune in Doctor Who at my house, someone had to stand next to the TV and hold the antenna.

In addition to the awesomeness of fictional TV, I admire Sam’s last name. “Limner” – it is a little more specific than “Painter.” I have ever since childhood thought it was cool when people who will be magical later have names that indicate some sort of creative artist. Like, genealogy is hinting at the story’s secrets.

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Dorothy and the Consequences of Labor

Earlier this week, a friend had me thinking about just how old Dorothy is meant to be in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. In the film, Judy Garland was 16, but she was made up and costumed to look much younger, with a compression brace to hide her breasts, and little-girl hair in pigtails, and ankle socks inside her dress shoes. But neither the film (that I noticed) nor the novel (I looked) specify her exact age. The narrator describes her using terms like “little girl” and describes her “chubby hands,” though, and perhaps most significantly she doesn’t have chores on a working farm.

In the novel, the narrator goes to great lengths to point out that she plays all day with Toto, while Aunt Em and Uncle Henry go about the sort of labor that turns a person gray. The decision to live in a place like Kansas represents a real commitment, a willingness to purchase independence at the expense of joy-crushing work. Em and Henry are willing to put in long hours, because they are able to benefit from the returns of their effort, however small, and they can be proud of their independence.

The issue of labor comes up almost immediately in Oz, as well, because the farmhouse lands upon and kills the Wicked Witch of the East, freeing the Munchkins from bondage. Dorothy learns from the Witch of the North that the Witch of the East had forced the Munchkins to work for her for many years, and now they would be free.

The Scarecrow is insecure about his effectiveness at scaring crows, afraid he is a bad scarecrow: He is worried about the quality of his work.

The Tin Man’s story also focuses on the results of labor. He wants to earn enough to marry a pretty Munchkin, so he works hard at woodcutting. The pretty Munchkin’s guardian is lazy and wants to keep the girl working for her, so she pays the Wicked Witch of the East for a curse. The curse manifests through the Tin Man’s labor, and he cuts off one limb after another, and then his head, and finally his torso, having each replaced by a tinsmith so he can carry on working. He sees the potential reward of diligent work; the pretty Munchkin is denied the fruits of hers. In practice, working to pursue his goal of marrying the pretty Munchkin leads him to destroy his own heart (literally, with his axe), and with it his desire to marry her at all. The witch’s curse, the external effort of a more powerful individual, has denied him the reward of his labor and left him with only the labor itself and his own anxiety about lacking a heart/sentimentality.

The Flying Monkeys are in thrall to the Wicked Witch of the West, forced to work for her because she possesses a magic helmet.
There are more and more examples of work in the novel, of people benefiting from their work, or being denied the benefits, and Dorothy witnesses them all.

Throughout, Dorothy herself consistently approaches the challenges of Oz by asking what effort she must put in next to achieve her goals and then taking those actions. The most obvious example is undertaking the lengthy walk to the City of Emeralds, of course, but there are many others.
Dorothy learns the value of effort, both moral and practical; she determines what work is required, then she does that work, confident that she deserves the benefits that accrue as a result.

When she returns to Kansas, Uncle Henry has already rebuilt the farm. He and Aunt Em have never stopped working. No doubt this is a part of what Dorothy comes to appreciate about the nature of home. Home is why you work; home is the reward and the outcome of labor.

In such a paradigm, enforced labor, enthrallment, slavery is an abomination against the notion of home. Viewed this way, the choice to set the novel in Kansas takes on additional significance, because the work of creating Kansas, of making Kansas a place to call home, was ongoing.

Baum was the son in law of a prominent Suffragist and sympathized with Suffrage himself; seeing women denied a voice in the culture they helped to create would have offended him.

He was furthermore born in 1856, so he was a child during the Civil War, and must remember the war and its aftermath, the consequences of slavery, especially on the slaves themselves, who were ripped unwilling from their homes and denied the profits of their own labor.

On Tolkien and Dorothy

JRR Tolkien has Opinions About Things.

In “On Fairy Stories” he spends some time on taxonomy, establishing categories and assigning characteristics to define membership in each category. He arrives at the opinion that the goal of fairy stories is to achieve Fantasy, by which he means a willingness to accept things contrary to our real world, through sub-creation, by which he means constructing a second world in which Fantasy can be demonstrated. He uses the name Faerie in a general sense when discussing these sub-created second worlds, as well as in a specific sense meaning “where the fairies live”.

It is his opinion that dramatic and other visual forms are hostile to fantasy, because you can see through the fantasy elements, quite literally. In purely literary forms (words only, no visual performance or presence) this is not a problem. He reveals a revulsion for technology as well. I doubt he would consider 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz” a fairy story at all. In particular, given his opinion that “Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy” suggests that he would be particularly offended by the Cowardly Lion.

However, nothing stops us from setting aside his prejudice against fantastic elements in dramatic forms or against certain electric technologies, from assessing the film by the rubric he sets out in his essay.

To begin, he divorces fairy stories from the idea of children’s literature, ascribing their marriage to a sentimental belief that children are somehow alien and not diminutive and immature members of humanity, and ties this to the idea of fairies as diminutive – an idea he also rejects. This notion of diminutiveness being relevant to children and children being effectively diminutive adults reminds me of the many medieval paintings in which children are depicted as tiny adults. It reminds me of the Munchkins, who are diminutive adults. It reminds me of Dorothy, who, played by Judy Garland at age 17, is an adult dressed to look child-like.

He claims that “It is perhaps not unnatural that in England, the land where the love of the delicate and fine has often reappeared in art, fancy should in this matter turn towards the dainty and diminutive, as in France it went to court and put on powder and diamonds.”  To extend his comparison, consider the very American way the Munchkins in the film and thank Dorothy: by guild.

He rejects the idea that fairies are supernatural, claiming that they are MORE natural than humans. Once again, I remember the Munchkins, hiding among the flowers until Glinda gives the all-clear.

He says that “… fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” If the Munchkins are effectively fairies, diminutive, superlatively natural beings, then Oz can be considered a manifestation of Faerie for these purposes, and so perhaps this film is a fairy tale after all.

According to Tolkien, “An essential power of Faerie is thus the power of making immediately effective by the will the visions of ‘fantasy.’ Not all are beautiful or even wholesome, not at any rate the fantasies of fallen Man. And he has stained the elves who have this power (in verity or fable) with his own stain.” The implication is that builders of worlds in fantasy stories spread the stain of the Fall into Faerie. That is, fantasy is a form of fairy story in which the author builds a new realm and imposes on it the concerns of mortal life. This is exactly what I am claiming that dream visions do – they reflect the concerns of daily life.

Here is Tolkien’s eventual, grudging definition of a fairy story:

For the moment I will say only this: a “fairy-story” is one which touches on or uses Faerie, whatever its own main purpose may be: satire, adventure, morality, fantasy. Faerie itself may perhaps most nearly be translated by Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power, at the furthest pole from the vulgar devices of the laborious, scientific, magician. There is one proviso : if there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.

Dorothy doesn’t talk about being in a dream while she’s in Oz. A possible structural reason is that doing so would explain away the magic. Now I’m thinking of Peter Pan (which Tolkien must have been aware of, probably disliking the stage production and approving of the novel – the period’s equivalent of saying “the book is better than the movie”) one of whose most abstract themes seems to be about enabling children to believe in magic, and whose own denial of the dream frame allows adult readers to wink and understand while allowing their children to believe in fairies.

For Dorothy, falling asleep in the poppy fields helps to subordinate the dream frame. “While Dorothy is adventuring in Oz, she believes she is in Oz. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” suggests that she believes she has traveled; if she believed she had fallen asleep in Kansas, should would not say she wasn’t IN Kansas. She does not talk about dreaming until she is back in Kansas.

Tolkien talks about the eventual defining characteristic of fairy tales as “eucatastrophe” or a vision of joy, which admits the possibility of tragedy and then deliverance. In Oz, I guess this would be the melting of the Wicked Witch. Especially in the film, Dorothy has seen, both literally in the hourglass and figuratively in the sense of peril and desperation she feels while imprisoned, the possibility of tragedy. Her cohort face their own insecurities to free her, but ultimately, it is Dorothy herself who saves Dorothy.

“On Fairy Stories” contains more than a hint of the attitude Tolkien shared with CS Lewis (in “Preface to Paradise Lost”) and Coomaraswamy (in “The Nature of Medieval Art”) that in order to say anything useful about an artifact, you must first know what it is and what it is for. For Dorothy, deliverance by her own hand yields the glimpse of joy Tolkien argues defines a fairy story, and that joy depends on self-knowledge. Knowing who you are is a necessary part of knowing what you are good for, of knowing where you fit into society, of knowing your home – like which there is no place.

Bernice Bobs Your Hair

With permission from the publisher, please allow me to present my story “Bernice Bobs Your Hair,” originally published in Decopunk, from the Pink Narcissus Press in 2015. I hope you like it! If you do, please think about picking up the anthology and leaving a review on Amazon!

Bernice Bobs Your Hair

This is a portrait of Bernice, a young woman 20 years of age, strolling with unaccustomed confidence around a corner past the bank, a monstrous brick hatbox of a building, not at all modern, on her way to open, for the first time, her very own shop, a storefront beauty salon her father has secured in her name.

Despite her coal-black Gibson-coiffed hair, elaborately piled and tucked into itself, a few stray locks writhing down her forehead, Bernice is not, herself, beautiful: compared to her more fashionable acquaintances, her jaw is too heavy and her eyes rather widely placed around her nose, which is a little too flat; although she is not what one would call swarthy, she can only dream of the fair complexion idealized among the girls in her set. Overall, the effect is more mule than kitten. And if the pictures in the fashion papers may be trusted, even her hair, her one truly striking feature, a cherished bequest from her departed mother, will soon be desperately out of style among women her age.

Worse yet, she is not wealthy, not really. Bernice’s father, the indulgent widower of an islander woman politely described as French by the more conservative elements of society, works. He is the supervisor of a team of machinists in a factory that makes neon lights, and Bernice has often had to scrape to find nickels for pinochle with the other girls. At the last cards party, a small affair comprising two tables of women for pinochle followed by dancing with several charming and well-off young men, Esther and Gertrude Collins had bragged of a trip to Havana. Their father owns the factory, so the expense had been nothing to them. Of course the Collins sisters had no idea Bernice’s father works for theirs. Sometimes Bernice has found needing to dissemble about her circumstances to be exhausting, but if the other girls knew, they would be even more horrible to her.

“Bernice, darling, don’t you just adore Cuba?” said one of the sisters, at the cards party. “Oh, that’s right. Of course you’ve never been. Isn’t it just dreadful being poor, dear? You must thank your stars every morning that you have wealthy friends like us to guide you in the correct fashions.” At this, Esther and Gertrude together took a moment to look Bernice up and down, and clucked quietly in their throats.

Worse luck, although she had been to Haiti several times to visit her departed mother’s relations, Bernice never had been to Cuba. She had read about it in magazines, and of course everyone knows the song. Rather than admit her inexperience and validate the ill behavior of the Collins sisters, she sang, in a sultry voice such as might radiate from a lustrous muse in a low cut dress, bewitching young wastrels and romantics in a torch club, “Cuba, where wine is flowing! Where all those dark-eyed Stellas light their fellas’ Panatell-”

“Oh no, dear, don’t sing!” said Esther Collins, quite unfairly, for Bernice is possessed of a lovely voice, and Gertrude contributed, “Heaven knows you’re no Billy Murray. Hee! Haw! Cuba! Heeeeeehaw!” Lulu, who was Bernice’s partner for pinochle, had smiled quietly and looked at her cards. Lulu is generally nicer than Esther and Gertrude; she is a harmless, biddable girl with pretty auburn curls and a bit of angle in the bridge of her slender nose. She is not very bright, but she should have known better than to smile at Bernice’s humiliation. No matter – she would learn. They all would.

As Bernice struggled to hide her face, which she was sure had gone thoroughly pale with rage, girls at both card tables began to whisper their fondness for Billy Murray, whose song celebrating Cuban vacations was very fashionable that week, and their indulgent, condescending scorn for Bernice herself. She was certain everyone had stared at her, but she didn’t see; she was hiding her face behind her cards. When was her turn? Surely her strong meld would place everyone’s attention back on the game, double pinochles and jacks around, and with such a good hand at least her pinochle partner would feel gently toward her.

After the cards, when the boys finally arrived for dancing and cigarettes and gin, distracting the Collins girls for a moment from their predation of Bernice, the subject of our portrait had breathed a visible sigh of relief. She devoted herself gamely to a series of lurching Charlestons and quicksteps around the ballroom, in the hands of a series of young men with tidily slicked hair and short evening jackets and breath that smelled of Collins gin, with narrow waists and strong, fast legs. During a slow song, she confided in one such beau, Henry, a dark-haired bravo with a waxed and curling moustache.

“I know it’s dreadful of me to criticize my hosts, but really, those Collins sisters! You should have heard how they abused me at pinochle today, as though it were my fault Papa has to work to keep me in party gowns. Heaven forbid they should learn he works for Collins Industries! Each girl is dreadful, and together they rival Pharaoh in their persecutions. Imagine the river of blood that would flow from my reputation if they got their hands on that bit of news.”

“I dare say!” opined the young man, his moustache rising and falling.

“In any case, those days will end soon, when I open my beauty salon. I shall earn my own money for gin and party clothes by cutting bobs. A working woman! I shall be thoroughly modern. And so I have named my shop. You must come see me for your next trim.”

“Oh, I shall,” Henry had agreed. “I shall indeed, and I shall tell all the men.”

Bernice had rewarded him with a kiss. He gleamed openly, even though she had ravaged his moustache.

Later, during a pause in the music, she overheard him doing just as he’d promised.

“Our Bernice is going to be a barber,” he said jovially, twisting his maimed whiskers in a vain attempt to recover from the kiss, to a ginger fellow home on holiday from Annapolis and splendid in the dress uniform of a student sailor.

The sailor said “You lie! How grand! We must bring her all our business, the bold girl.”

Unfortunately, Esther had overheard this exchange and turning to Lulu wondered aloud how Bernice would ever pay the lease on a fashionable shopfront.

“Why surely her father borrowed the money from yours, against his wages,” said Lulu. Bernice had confided her circumstances to the simple girl at the beginning of their acquaintance, and Lulu had sworn an oath of secrecy. The poor girl, wide-eyed, realizing her error too late, clapped both hands over her mouth. Too late, of course. Her fate was sealed.

The Collins sisters looked to one another and away in a coordinated, Vaudeville gesture that would have made Laurel and Hardy jealous for its precision. “Oh really,” Esther had said, and Gertrude had said “Yes, that is surely what happened.” The treacherous sisters had turned their hawk-like attention to Bernice, and the social bloodbath that followed does not bear description.

Bernice had done her best to keep an even temper, but she broke under the weight of the taunting leveled by Esther and Gertrude and their toadies. “Why must you be so horrible?” she had shrieked, hurling her cocktail at Gertrude, and then she had fled to the washroom to compose herself.

Suffice it to say that she lost at more than cards that day. Bernice is a mediocre card player in any case, so she seldom wins, but she rationalizes her losses, preferring to believe that money goes to money. At least she hadn’t needed to pay for her gin. The Collins girls have a bathtub still in the washroom, and thank God for Prohibition!

At gentle Lulu’s urging, Bernice calmed herself and emerged, but the damage had been done. When the party ended and she had put on her shawl (fine crochet lace, but her late mother had made it – it had not come from a boutique), her head spinning slightly with homebrew liquor, Bernice stroked a hand over the Apollonian, geometric carvings that adorned the great double doors out of the Collins mansion, bas relief mythological beasts rendered in bold concentric lines, carved from marble and trimmed in chrome. She idly ran a finger in one groove, as though stroking Pegasus’ wing, and kissed the air beside Esther’s cheek, a gesture of peacemaking. Had the Collins girl rolled her eyes? Bernice kissed Gertrude goodbye without comment, and then left.

All that is in the past, now, surely. Since graduating from the Institute of Art and Sculpture, Bernice has completed, in secret, a course in hairdressing, and her father – darling Papa! – has managed to rent her shop. With the coming changes in hair fashion, lots of girls will be after a new look, and Bernice specialized in bobbed hairstyles at the academy. Best of all, if she earns enough on her own, the shop has room for an additional girl. Bernice feels strongly that after all she has endured, she deserves an underling, or, that is, an employee, to do her bidding. Lulu seems a likely candidate, with her normally docile nature. How much sweeter if it were one or even both of the Collins girls! She laughs low in her breast, imagining the haughty Collinses cleaning the silver shears and dusting her shop. Nothing is impossible, no matter how unlikely, if one is truly creative and determined. There will be no more scraping after nickels for Bernice, in any case, and no more submitting to the sneering, sarcastic treatment of her so-called friends. She will soon have the means to complete her social ascent.

In the shop, watch Bernice as she hangs her shawl carefully around the shoulders of a bust, in the modern style, of Nefertiti. She takes a moment to admire the sleek lines of the ancient queen, one eye watching over the boutique, one looking into the next world. She rolls a long stitch of her shawl between two slender fingers, thinking of her mother, another woman of spirit and strength. Bernice lacks her late mother’s skill with crochet hook and thread – she had tried to learn, but the squinting detail of it had always thwarted her. Even so, she learned other, more practical skills at mama’s foot, and at the feet of mama’s many sisters with their thick not-quite-French accents, their many-bangled wrists clinking and jiggling throughout each lesson, skills they had in turn learned from their own mother, Bernice’s tiny, wizened Memere, a shrunken apple of a woman whose eyes gleamed from her gray-brown face.

She indulges in a sense memory: softened tallow squeezing slowly between her tiny, little-girl fingers as she fashioned a crude manikin, the slickness of the oily medium beneath her sharp fingernails as she sculpted its eyes and mouth, the salty smell of the work. She had trimmed it with a tiny nightshirt fashioned from a handkerchief and a tiny moustache of real human hair. Her aunts had proudly demanded she “show Memere the cunning poppet she has made, how it resembles Pepere, and how well she can say the words” – how her Memere had praised her inexperienced and accented French. How her aunts had swelled with pride at their wise mother’s praise for their niece, their pupil. And how Pepere had moaned in his sickbed.

After nodding with satisfaction at a crate of sculptor’s clay delivered ahead of schedule to her shop, Bernice flips a switch, hidden on the wall behind Nefertiti, lighting a neon sign, an extravagant gift bestowed by her father’s employer, burning the name of the shop in angular cursive letters, liquid fire tracing a sleek upward diagonal across the stop-front window: Thoroughly Modern! She takes a moment to appreciate the marble and chrome of her shop. Her shop, and only the first step on her path to independence and respect.

Soon, as Bernice knew would happen, Lulu timidly enters the salon, accompanied by the tinkling of a tiny bell installed above the door. “Sweet Lulu!” Bernice cries, “You are my very first customer, and I could not have hoped for a better one!”

Lulu gives her a dimpling smile. “How could I resist, dear? How exciting! How modern…” She touches the bust of Nefertiti and gestures to the neon.

“Shall I bob your hair, darling?”

“Oh! I don’t dare. Daddy would absolutely panic!” Lulu giggles.

“All the girls will be doing it soon enough,” urges Bernice, “but if you fear being too modern too quickly, perhaps just a trim and style. You shall make Gibson himself weep in his grave when we are through.”

This nearly-necromantic reference makes Lulu tighten her belly and gasp. “You’re so wicked! But you are right – there is no sense fearing progress, and even Daddy can’t disagree with that. Let’s bob my hair! Gertrude and Esther will be furious to miss being the first of us girls!”

“Oh, Lulu, you’ve no idea how proud you make me.” Bernice leads the other girl to a stool, and drapes a tightly-woven linen smock about her friend’s shoulders. “No doubt they’ll come running once they see how glamorous you look.”

“I’m afraid they won’t, Bernice. They are quite vexed with you. They’ve told all the girls you spoiled their last cards party.”

“Have they?! How rude. Well, one must forgive one’s friends, and we shall all soon be reconciled. You must be my agent.”

“I couldn’t! I hope you won’t be too angry, but I don’t want them to shun me as well…”
Bernice just brushes Lulu’s hair for several minutes, appreciating the sheen and sleek texture of the curls, then sets aside her brush and reaches for a gleaming, new set of shears. Soon enough, Lulu is the height of fashion, and her fallen auburn tresses litter the salon floor.

At the tinkling sound of the shop door, Bernice hands a small hand-held mirror to Lulu and turns to see her moustachioed party champion casting a slender, flickering shadow from the neon in her window. “Henry! Please have a seat and keep dear Lulu company while I clean up. I’ll be with you ever so soon.”

She sweeps Lulu’s hair into a dust tray and carries it and the carton of clay into a small storage room in the back of the shop. She carefully pours Lulu’s hair into a canvas pouch marked “Lulu,” one of several similar pouches marked with other names, “Esther” and “Gertrude” prominent among them. She opens the carton and softens a block of clay.

She is a fast worker, but still her task takes time, squeezing and rolling the clay until, when she hears Henry clearing his throat impatiently, she has sculpted a fair likeness of Lulu in her best Deco style. “I’m nearly done, sweet Henry!” she calls. She reaches into Lulu’s pouch, and pinches several auburn curls into the clay doll’s head. She says the words her aunts taught her, and taps the poppet on its tiny arm. When she hears Lulu exclaim “Oh!” she nods with satisfaction and sets her sculpture on a shelf.

As Bernice returns to her friends, Henry says, with admiration in his voice. “Darling, I didn’t know you could speak French.”

“I learned so many useful things from Mama and her sisters,” she says. “Come over and sit on my stool and we’ll have you trimmed and dashing before you know. Lulu, be a dear and bring the Collins girls. They’ll look cunning in bobs, don’t you think?”

Lulu nods, dazed, still rubbing her arm as though she’s been struck. “Yes, of course.”

The End

Annotating Over The Rainbow

Dorothy sings “Over the Rainbow” immediately after trying to get Aunty Em’s attention, but being rebuffed and told (approximately) “I am too busy. Go find a place where you can’t get into trouble and stay there.” It is explicit that Dorothy is responding to Aunty Em’s instructions, both literally and emotionally.

I need to organize my thoughts about how this iconic song fits into the overall movie. Unsurprisingly, it is integral both in establishing themes and in foreshadowing events. “Over the Rainbow” is the outline of the movie.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high  In the novel, the description of Kansas and the farm explicitly focuses on how little color is there, insisting that the only color to be seen, even on Aunty Em and Uncle Henry, is gray. The Kansas sections of the film are shot in sepia and white. Although it is tempting to say Kansas is gray to contrast how brightly colored Oz will be, but I believe it is more profitable to say that Oz is brightly colored to highlight how gray Kansas is.

We know there are storms there, though, which means there are rainbows, and Dorothy will have seen them. Probably this is the only source of color in her life.

“Over the rainbow” and “Way up high” inaugurate a bird-related motif that recurs through the song and slyly through the movie.

There’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby For starters, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is totally a lullaby.

We sing a lullaby for a two-part reason:

  1. to help a child fall asleep, and
  2. to encourage pleasant dreams by providing pleasant thoughts while they fall asleep

The lullaby reference here gets the audience thinking about sleeping, about dreaming pleasant dreams, about Dorothy sleeping and dreaming pleasant dreams, and it tells us what images Dorothy has on her mind if she later should fall asleep and dream. Which she does.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue.  Blue skies are not gray. This is obvious, but important – she is dreaming of NOT-Kansas. Furthermore, blue skies function as metonymy indicating fine weather, so NOT a tornado. Fine weather functions metaphorically to indicate No Trouble. “It’s all blue skies from here” as the saying goes.
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.  Here Dorothy reinforces the idea of dreaming, and makes sure you know – no matter what they say about dreams being trivial and false – that dreams can be true.

Dreams her are also of course being used both as the sleeping phenomenon and as the aspiration. The future probably looks pretty limited to Dorothy on the farm – and in a movie made during the Great Depression, it’s likely that a child (if not Dorothy then a child in the movie’s original audience) would have been used to the idea of dreams not coming true.

Someday I’ll wish upon a star, and wake up where the clouds are far behind me.  There’s a hint of ritual here. To get your wishes (to make your dreams come true) you must follow the correct procedure by wishing on a star.

She will wake up – another reference to sleep and dreaming.

Clouds mean trouble, just as blue skies mean ease.

Clouds are also necessary if you want to see a rainbow. This line makes the rainbow a road to be followed – you follow the rainbow all the way through the clouds/trouble, and you get somewhere wonderful.

Where troubles melt like lemon drops, away above the chimney tops…  Dorothy’s trouble’s will literally melt when she hits the witch with that bucket of water.

Lemon drops are brightly colored, by way of contrast to Kansas. The flowers in Munchkinland look like they are made of candy.

“Above the chimney tops” is where birds go. This continues the motif of birds, which indicates flight, and freedom/possibility.

That’s where you’ll find me.  This somewhat ominously hints that Dorothy will be missing. I believe the very next scene has her running away and meeting Professor Marvel.
Somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly. Not just any birds. Bluebirds. They are blue. They are not gray. Also, they’re flying.

Dorothy’s dress is blue, too. In the novel, blue is the favorite color in Munchkinland.

If birds fly over the rainbow, why, then, oh, why can’t I? Here Dorothy connects the birds and their flight directly to herself. By way of “flee” fly can mean “run away”.
If happy little bluebirds fly, beyond the rainbow in the sky,  The important new element this line adds is “happy,” which suggests that in her current circumstances Dorothy is not happy, so her dream to be a bird and fly over the rainbow to a place without trouble becomes more meaningful.
Why, oh, why can’t I? This time it’s rhetorical. She is about to do exactly that.

Lyrics from MetroLyrics.

You were there, and you were there…

I’ve been claiming for years that the film The Wizard of Oz is much quicker to acknowledge its dream frame than the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The end of the novel just depicts Dorothy waking up in the fields and rushing home to discover Uncle Henry rebuilding the farmhouse, while the end of the film features her explicitly stating that she has had a dream, and listing who was – and more importantly who was not present in it.
I think Aunty Em’s absence from Oz is the key to understanding the dream frame, probably in both texts, but certainly in the film.

In both texts, the flying farmhouse contains a bed. In the novel, Dorothy takes a nap on the way to Oz, and in the film, a window hits her on the head and she falls into the bed, enabling the window frame as a screen to show lots of transitional images that set up motifs and themes that will be prominent in Oz. So both texts do set us up for the idea of dreams.

The window as meta-film with its transitional imagery, though, which features images from Kansas morphing into images from Oz – Miss Gulch on her bicycle becoming the Wicked Witch of the West on her broomstick is the most vivid one in my mind – the window inaugurates dream logic in the film in a way that the novel does not.

It recalls the images on the exterior garden wall in the Roman de la Rose and the stained glass images in Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, though. In Duchess, a series of images of tragic lovers, lovers who died messy, sets up the issue of grieving lost loves, even when the dreamer insists his real problem is insomnia.

For Dorothy, the images outside the window serve as the first flickerings of her dream. She starts out seeing images of wind on the farm, the fence and the chicken coop. She sees Aunty Em in her rocking chair, waving affectionately. Aunty Em is the key to this film. Dorothy sees the workmen rowing a rowboat, also waving. These are visions of home, waving, but it is unclear at this point whether they wave a greeting or a farewell. Dorothy thinks she is worried about Toto and Miss Gulch, but she is really worried about the nature of home.

The rowboat also suggests flooding on the farm, an extreme possible consequence of severe weather, and a sign of Dorothy’s anxiety about the tornado. But the tornado is Dorothy’s version of Chaucer’s insomnia; it’s a distraction from the real theme, and a vehicle (in her case quite literally) that transports us to the real theme.

The image of Miss Gulch riding her bike turning into a witch on her broom marks the transition into Oz. It teaches us as viewers to look for parallels between Kansas characters and the Oz characters played by the same actors. Before the storm, Dorothy’s immediate concern is that Miss Gulch, who becomes the witch, is a menace to Toto. The workman played by the actor who will be the Scarecrow lectures Dorothy about using her brains to deal with Gulch. The workman played by the actor who will be the Cowardly Lion encourages her to be brave. Setting Kansas parallel to Oz makes the dream frame structurally useful.

After Aunty Em, who is busy preparing for the storm, tells Dorothy to find someplace where she can’t get into trouble, Dorothy sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which reinforces the distinction between Kansas, which is black and white, and Oz, which is Technicolor, and which identifies Oz as a place where dreams are real:

Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

The rainbow itself indicates color that isn’t present in the black-and-white world of Kansas, where skies are gray, not just because of the impending storm, but also because of the filming style. In the novel, Oz is not just in color, it is actually color coded. Each region of Oz has its own main color, and the denizens wear that color. For example, Munchkins wear blue in the novel. In the film, a small group of Munchkins may wear the same color, perhaps to indicate membership, but there is no regional uniform. Munchkinland is a floral blast of color, probably to maximize contrast with Kansas.

“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sets up a number of features for the movie: Aunty Em’s initial instruction to find a place where Dorothy can’t get into trouble is its impetus; however Dorothy’s interpretation is for a place “Where troubles melt like lemon drops,” a wish fulfillment fantasy. Another day, I will analyze the lyrics in full. For now, understand that this song integrates the dream frame into the conflict of the story, and that conflict is between Em’s interpretation and Dorothy’s interpretation of what it means to find a place where you won’t get in trouble.

It also highlights the conflict between their understandings of Em’s instruction. Aunty Em wants Dorothy to be safe, and she wants to be able to prepare the farm for the storm to enable that safety. “Don’t get into trouble” means “be safe.” The same instruction leaves Dorothy feeling dismissed, and worrying that she is a hindrance, and longing for something constructive to do, ideally about the threat to Toto.

When she runs away with Toto, she hopes her absence will lighten the burden she places on Aunty Em, and she hopes to find a place where she can be safe without sacrificing agency, and where the consequences of her efforts “melt away like lemon drops.”

When she meets Professor Marvel (whose benevolent frauds are parallel to those of the Wizard, played by the same actor), he pretends to see Aunty Em in his crystal ball, in order to refocus Dorothy’s mind on how Em will worry about her, how Dorothy’s absence will place a greater burden on Em than her presence. This will become Dorothy’s mantra in Oz. “Em will be worried about me.” or “Aunty Em must have stopped looking for me by now!” etc.

Aunty Em is absent from the dream precisely for this reason. In order to learn that “there’s no place like home,” Dorothy must first learn what “home” is, and Aunty Em – with her gruff need to protect and care for Dorothy, and her multilayered desire that Dorothy avoid trouble – represents home.