In many ways, it was a political allegory. In other ways, the story of The Wizard of Oz can be a moral tale about our walk through life. Either way, if you ask most Americans about their favorite movie as a child, a large percentage will include The Wizard of Oz on their list. Why has this weird movie lasted so long? Americans love happy endings, don’t we?
L. Frank Baum was raised a Methodist but became a theosophist, meaning he believed every religion contained some truth for different people around the world. However, his beliefs were so much a part of his work that it is fitting to look at The Wizard of Oz as allegory. Baum maintained a belief in God. He raised his children in church but taught them that their religion was their relationship with God, not something that revolved around an organization.
Last week, we talked about Heaven and what it would really be like. This week, let’s take a look at life’s journey through a different lens. Baum may not have intended the story as a gospel parallel, or maybe he did, but he didn’t have to intend it for us to put it to good use. Each reader can take from literature what they need. With all of the witches and weirdness, maybe you never thought about Oz as a parable. Let’s see.
Dorothy is a 12-year-old girl having what could be described as a near death experience (maybe). Twelve is also considered by many to be the age of accountability in the Bible. Jesus went to the temple at 12 and Jewish boys and girls are presented in the temple as accountable at that age. The name Dorothy stems from the root Dorothea which means “gift from God.” She is a truly the most moral character in the story.
When you watched the movie as a child, what was your favorite part? Least favorite? If you have watched it as an adult, how has your perspective changed?
When Dorothy, the gift from God, arrives in Munchkinland, she crushes an evil witch. The muchkins declare the witch to be “morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably dead.” In many ways, munchkinland could be viewed as our society. They live under the protection of Glinda (Holy Spirit?) but still were tormented and oppressed by evil. How is the reaction to Dorothy’s arrival similar to Palm Sunday?
In our discussion, we talked about the fanfare around Dorothy’s arrival but also about how quickly the celebration ended when the wicked witch arrived. As Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, there was much rejoicing, but the crowd quickly dissipated as the powers that be began to plot against him.
In one line, Glinda tells the witch to leave because she had no authority there. That is significant to all of us, as we have authority over sin and evil in our lives but we often yield to our fears, temptations, and desires. Evil only has the authority that you give it. Tell it no.
The Wicked Witch of the West scared a lot of children. She led an army of scary servants who did her bidding to bring havoc into the world around them and prevent the travelers from finding their way home. How is this similar to Satan and demons in their quest to prevent you from finding your home?
The wicked witch is after something. She is legalistic, like the Pharisees, and wants to bring death to Dorothy and her friends. In the beginning, Miss Gulch was bitten by Toto and demanded that he be put to death. It was the law, of course. When Dorothy’s family resisted, she threatened punishment for all if she did not get her way. In life, or church, do we make decisions based on fear of punishment?
In the book, Dorothy had silver shoes. In Ecclesiastes 12:6-7, our soul is described as a silver cord that returns to God when it is severed (our life ends). Is the wicked witch a metaphor for Satan trying to steal our souls? What destroys her?
Water destroys the witch. In scripture, Jesus offers us living water to wash away our sins. You could also make a reference to baptism here, but the message is clear. Evil cannot exist in the living water that is the redemption of Christ.
I read some commentary about the three friends Dorothy makes along the way. You could view them as types of Christians. The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, and the Scarecrow each have gifts they don’t understand, or don’t use, but they are seeking other blessings. I’ll elaborate on those themes, and build upon them below. In life, we all have certain gifts from God but we can get distracted and not put them to use or we can spend a lot of time coveting the gifts of others. What are some of the spiritual gifts you see in others around you?
We all have different spiritual gifts. One of man’s more subtle sins is the act of coveting the gifts of others. It may not sound important, but if you are a servant in one area and spend all of your effort doing something else, you are not reaching your potential for God. The travelers each have gifts that they desire, and already possess, but they are so focused on lack that they do not see their blessings.
The Scarecrow – A new believer. Overjoyed at the thought of learning more and experiencing more. Doesn’t know how, but just happy either way. New believers often get involved in anything and everything and can easily burn out. The scarecrow’s weakness was fire – burning out.
The Cowardly Lion – A Christian who refuses to accept himself for who he is. He’s been given power and authority as king of the beasts, but he is afraid and controlled by fear. Think of this as a churchy person who does the routine but never steps up to lead and never embraces their gift.
The Tin Man – Backsliding Christian. He knew his gift but stopped using it. He became rusty and lost his way. He wanted his life back. The symbol for tin is Sn (sin). The Tin Man (sin man) seeks anointing and forgiveness for straying. He needs a heart. God knows your heart—it is who you are.
Toto – The name means “all together” and could be symbolic of all humanity. Dorothy, the gift from God, spends the whole movie, in one way or another, saving Toto from evil.
Glinda – The good witch could be a Holy Spirit figure. She is physically present in Munchkinland, and then transfigured in the bubble, but is seen throughout the movie watching over the travelers (disciples/believers) along life’s journey.
Professor Marvel / The Wizard of Oz – Not all that he seems. Could he be a false prophet? False hope in human solutions? Could he be a warning against pastor worship? He’s not all bad, but he is in over his head and has let his ego create an image that he cannot sustain. He recognizes the gifts in the travelers and is saved in the process.
Tornado – While not a character, the tornado that sends Dorothy to Oz is a major part of the story. In life, we deal with struggles and many of those change our paths drastically. Our struggles shape us. What are some of the struggles that can appear overwhelming in life? How does our relationship with God redefine those struggles?
Dorothy always did the next right thing. She wasn’t perfect, but she approached each problem or trial in life with good in her heart. She learned that it was not enough to simply hide from evil, she had to confront it.
The travelers demonstrate the gifts they think they lack at different points in the movie. Have they made idols of their spiritual gifts? Dorothy can be a Christ-like character but she is also very human. As Christians, we are not spared struggles in life. We have to learn from them. As Glinda said to the “new believer” scarecrow, Dorothy had the power to go home all along, but she had to learn it for herself. God is with us, even in darkness, but we have to figure that out too. Compare that to the parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.
In our parables study, we saw how Jesus used stories to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. We learned from Jesus that the Kingdom is worth any price, it is always available, it requires effort and not everyone will understand it.
So, what did Dorothy learn? She learned that she had everything she ever needed at her disposal. God’s abundance and provision is sufficient and many of us overlook it. We fail to see our blessings even if they are right there all along.