It’s funny watching The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and realizing I have never really paid close attention to it at all, at least not with an eye toward its details.
I watched it tonight, specifically intending to pay attention for details and take notes about them, and I didn’t notice the Giant Emu in the background near the cottage when Dorothy and the Scarecrow are oiling the Tin Man for the first time. There is a great big long-necked bird hanging out by the cottage. You can see him between Dorothy and the Tin Man in this image:
Thanks to my friend Jim for pointing it out!
What I did notice was a series of subtle references to the importance of doing things according to a certain protocol or ritual, and a notion that even when you follow ritual correctly, you still have to help yourself to really get what you want.
It starts in Kansas, where Aunty Em apologetically pronounces that “We can’t go against the law. Toto will have to go,” and where the farmhands give Dorothy advice about how to be self-sufficient. I need to go back and get their exact advice before Kalamazoo, but there is a strong sense of “do it yourself – you’re good enough.”
In Munchkinland, Dorothy must follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald city. The yellow brick road starts in the middle of the set, spiraling around another brick road, this one red, which goes in another direction. There are two roads. One leads to salvation. One is left to speculate where the other one leads. Enough to say “somewhere else.” Dorothy’s only hope of safety from the Wicked Witch is to find the Wizard in the Emerald City.
The roads start in a very clear, tight spiral, and it would be easier and faster to start where they diverge, or even further away, where the yellow brick road leaves the town square. But Dorothy and Toto begin at the center of the spiral and walk (ok, they dance) tight circles until the road leaves town. They follow the exact process, the ritual, but it is clear they must undertake this journey themselves – Glinda can’t just solve the problem for Dorothy, even though she will later reveal that she has known all along how Dorothy could get home – Dorothy has to do it. Glinda’s only instruction: “Follow the yellow brick road.” One recalls another powerful individual saying “I am the way and the road.”
In the poppy fields, when Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion fall asleep, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow try to pick them up and carry them out. Only after they fail, do they cry out for help, and only at that point does Glinda intervene. Here, I think of the man with a broken cart, kicking his horse to make it move, and Jesus (or one of the Greek gods, in another version of the story) intervenes to help. When his student asks why reward the cruel man, he says “God helps those who help themselves.”
At the gates to Emerald City, the gatekeeper’s behavior once again emphasizes the importance of following rituals. He refuses to let them in when they ring the bell, because the proper procedure is to knock. When they tell him their mission the dialog runs along these lines:
Gatekeeper: “Nobody can see the great oz! nobody has ever seen the great oz! why, even I have never seen him”
Dorothy: “Well how do you know there is one?”
Gatekeeper: Sputters. “You are wasting my time”
Interestingly, he then requires proof that they were sent by Glinda. Faith is extended to Glinda, not to mortal strangers.
When the humbug Wizard’s balloon takes off without Dorothy, it is because she deliberately leaves its basket. Toto is a higher priority. Dorothy has a responsibility to uphold to her pet. She is certain she will never get home, and her cohort reassure her that they love her and will be thrilled to have her stay with them. Glinda then appears and reveals that Dorothy had the ability to go home all along – on her own power. She couldn’t reveal it earlier, because Dorothy had to BELIEVE IT HERSELF.
Notice that ultimately it isn’t the Wizard who helps any of them. He guides them, in the case of the cohort, toward self-realization, toward understanding that they had the missing whatever all along. He doesn’t help Dorothy much at all, sadly, although he does try. But, see, she has to help herself.
There’s lots going on in this movie, but one of its motifs is definitely the interplay between faith and self-reliance.