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"What's Past Is Prologue." - William Shakespeare

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sense of Wonder in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

SPOILER ALERT! If you have not read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz there are spoilers in this essay.

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a story that is still popular over a century after it was written. This children's fantasy tale has been adapted for the stage as well as the screen, and many writers have explored the novel by creating new retellings (myself included a couple years back). There is a sense of wonder throughout the story that makes me smile every time I read it.

Portal fantasy is a type of fantasy that takes you into another world. And L. Frank Baum does just that in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by using a cyclone to drop Dorothy into the land of Oz. "L. Frank Baum Americanized the other-world fantasy" (Mendlesohn and James 26). Baum's main goal with this portal fantasy was entertainment, to create a piece of popular fiction that children would love without the addition of teaching lessons like most older myths and fairy tales. In the introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Baum writes: "It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out" (2-3).

And in his pursuit to entertain, Baum created a world and story that pulls the reader along with a sense of wonder. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is bursting with description, and the type of description that causes the reader to pay attention, so he or she becomes wrapped up in the world. Color, the contrast of light and dark, and the use of gemstones are especially prevalent. There is hardly a page without some type of description to evoke a sense of wonder.

The biggest device used is color. Dorothy lands in the realm of the Munchkins, where their favorite color is blue. The Winkies favor yellow, the Quadlings red. And near the Emerald City, everyone prefers green. These colors surround Dorothy at every turn, and she even puts on a pair of silver shoes that once belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East. The road she travels on to the Emerald City is yellow. One of the best sections that highlights the array of colors in this novel can be found right before Dorothy and her companions wade into the field of poppies. "They walked along listening to the singing of the brightly colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy's eyes" (Baum 514).

The use of light and darkness is more subtle. When Dorothy first arrives in Oz, the sun is shining and she walks past many open fields. But she eventually reaches the darkness of the forest, where unknown monsters lurk. "It was almost dark under the trees, for the branches shut out the daylight; but the travelers did not stop, and went on into the forest" (Baum 250). There is a back and forth between the light and the dark throughout the novel.

And there are of course the gems that glitter in the Emerald City. But that isn't the only place we see such wonder. The Good Witch of the North wears a beautiful white dress. "Over it were sprinkled little stars that glistened in the sun like diamonds" (Baum 63). Even the cap Dorothy uses to call the Winged Monkeys is studded with jewels.

This sense of wonder saturates The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and because of it, Baum succeeds in pulling readers into this other-world, young and old alike. It's a story that is sure to live on for many more centuries ahead and to impact future generations.

Works Cited

Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. George M. Hill Company: Chicago, 1900. Public Domain Books, 2009. Kindle Edition.

Mendlesohn, Farah and Edward James. A Short History of Fantasy. Middlesex University Press: London, 2009.

NEXT UP: A reading list of classic fantasy from 1900 through 1949!

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