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The Relgion of Oz: Religious Theory in "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz"

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Oz and The Christian World View

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picture from http://www.americanvision.org/images/WizardofOz.jpg

 

In the same manner that people and authors have derived Christian content and ideals from the text of widely popular stories like the Harry Potter saga and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, “The Wizard of Oz” has been tapped for specifically Christian symbolism and material.

 

            Of course this doesn’t automatically mean that Christians view the story as allegorical to Christian stories or that the story of Oz compliments the Christian belief system. In fact, many Christians and organizations have viewed the story as not only anti-Christian but anti-religious in general and akin to the situation with Harry Potter Book burning, Christian groups have lobbied to have the books banned in many places around the world.

 

Challenging this idea is author Mark Lackey whose website “The Gospel According to Oz” outlines how “The Wizard of Oz” connects positively with the Christian world view. Lackey’s website appears to be put in place to showcase his findings and research on the parallels between Christianity and Oz which he is compiling for his book which will also be titled “The Gospel According to Oz”

 

Lackey is a self professed “follower of Jesus” and writes that for him the Christian parallels are unquestionable and blatant despite the fact that L. Frank Baum was not a Christian but rather a Theosophist. According to Wikipedia “Theosophy holds that all religions are attempts by the ‘Spiritual Hierarchy’ to help humanity in evolving to greater perfection, and that each religion therefore has a portion of the truth”(Wikipedia, Theosophy). So, as Baum was a Theosophist, meaning that he believed Christianty among all other religions held some part of the truth of exsistence, author Mark Lackey belives Baum expressed a sigificant level Christian belief within Oz. He zeros in heavily on the timeline of Dorothy’s adeventure in Oz as well as the meaning of the main characters names and their position in the story as proof of Baum’s Chrisitian expression.

 

On his website he has created a chart which presents the meaning of the main characters names and what they represent within the story. According to Lackey’s “Chracter Chart” the name Dorothy literally means “Gift of God” and that she is a symbol of the Christian Pilgrim searching for home, which in the Christian view is heaven. She also serves to overarhcingly represent the “humility, meekness, compassion” of mankind. Even the loveable canine character Toto has a part to play in expressing the Christian view.

 

The name Toto means “all together” and he is a metaphor for unity accoriding to Lackey. It is appropriate to state then that Lackey is suggesting that the close protective relationship between Toto and Dorothy parallels the Christian ideal that followers of Chirst need to stand together unified willing to fight for and protect each other for the greater good of God. Growing up with Chrisitan parents who both occupy clergy positions, I can add validity to Lackey’s claim of the importance of unity as I have experienced from a front row seat perspective, or pew, literally, that within Christian communities and networks unity is extensively encouraged and a highly valued notion . And, it cannot be denied that Toto and Dorothy are constantly coming to the aid of each other throughout the story.

 

So what do the quirky companions Dorothy acquires on her way down the Yellow Brick Road represent from the Christian perspective? Lackey has written them as representative of three types of Christians: “The New Christian”, the “Backslidden Christian” and “The Chrisitan that won’t except that he is God’s Child”(Lackey). Scarecrow stands in as “The New Christian” because just as he is overjoyed at the world of Knowledge now open to him after receiving a brain, “The New Christian” is equally overjoyed after reciveing Christ or Christianity which makes a new world of Christian knowledge and guidance now avaliable to them.

 

The Tin Man represents the “Backslidden Chrisitian” which Lackey bases upon the fact that in the periodic table of elements the symbol for tin is “Sn” audibly translating here to mean sin. Also the constant references to the Tin Man needing oil highlights the notion of sliding. Lackey takes the “Sn’ for sin and the oil to suggest the Tin Man as a symbol of the “backslider” who has slipped away from following Christ and the church.

 

The Cowardly Lion is the “Christian that won’t accept that he is God’s Child”. Lackey doesn’t give a clear reason for this paticular label but it appears appropriate to believe that Lackey labels the Lion in such a way because the Lion strugles to find a way to accept himself as he is, in that, as a Lion he is supposed to be tough yet he feels very real vunerability. This lines up with the Christian ideal that God loves us and accepts us whether or not we live up to socially constructed roles and expectations. The Lion ends up gaining courage in the acceptance of his vonerability just as the Christian supposedly gains strength from accepting themselves on the grounds that God accepts them no matter what.

 

Other Character Paralells that Lackey draws are the Good witch of the north as the Holy spirit, the Wicked Witch of the West as Satan and the Wizard as the representation of the sinful and unfruitful worship of false idols.

 

Lackey also uses the timeline of Dorothy travels in “The Wizard of Oz” as a support for his Claim to Christian theory in the story. He notes that the 1939 MGM version of “The Wizard of Oz” presents Dorothy’s time in Kansas as only a few days; however, Lackey believes from closely looking at the original novel, her timeline in Oz is 40 days. And, if you know your Christianity, you know the number 40 holds great significance. The number 40 is attached to many significant events in the bible, two of the most predominant ones being, the period time that God flooded the Earth and the story surrounding Noah’s Arc and the period of time that Jesus wandered, fasting in the desert not giving into the temptations of the devil.

 

Lackey does admit that his claim of Dorothy’s time in Oz lasting 40 is an estimate as he considers that a few days, three at the most, are not accounted for; however, he remains convinced that the timeline is in fact 40 days in Kansas for Dorothy. The timeline parallel with the above mentioned significant events in the Bible suggests that Dorothy’s Journey through Oz is one of a spiritual and more specifically, Christian nature. Dorothy and her companions experience many trials and setbacks on their journey just as Jesus did in the Desert warding off the temptations of Satan and as Noah and his family did waiting to find land after 40 days of floating on the completely flooded earth. Lackey believes readers of the novel and viewers of the movie will be reminded of the trials of Jesus and his followers through Dorothy’s amount of time and what she encounters in Oz.

 

Another writer, Todd Gardner, has developed a website concerning “The Wizard of Oz” which explores many issues that he feels the story comments on, including drugs, politics and sexuality and of course religion. Although Gardner expresses that he doesn’t believe “The Wizard of Oz” is a story with Christian ideals and symbols at the core, he does suggest that the story is overarchingly spiritual and thus many religions can find elements of their belief systems in the story.  As for Christianity Gardner suggests that Christians may see Dorothy’s adventure as akin to the Christian “search for redemption” (Gardner) Her quest to find home, is mirrored in Christians searching for redemption in light of the fact that Christ died for them.

 

And Finally, I also came across a very interesting Christianity and Oz Parallel, in a book called “Knowing Kings: Knowledge, Power and Narcissism in the Hebrew Bible”. Chapter 6 of this book “Solomon and The Wizard of Oz: Power and Invisibility in a Verbal Place” focuses on comparing the Bible’s King Solomon and the actual wizard in “The Wizard of Oz”. Author Stuart Lasine suggests that both Solomon and the Wizard ruled and invoked feelings of power and respect among the common people through invisibility. King Solomon and his descendants ruled from behind a screen not even allowing servants to see them face to face and according to Baum’s original novel, the Wizard demanded the construction of the Emerald City in order to hide himself from the people of Oz. It appears that Lasine is suggesting that L. Frank Baum drew on Christian examples to develop some of the most important characters in “The Wizard of Oz” reiterating again the notion that the story is embedded with Christian symbolism. (Lasine 128-129)

 

 

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