Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dorothy's Hero Quest

As something I'll try to do from time to time, I'll compare themes in Baum's books to older types of tales. Please remember that I am not claiming that Baum got his inspiration from the stories I'll mention, because I have no proof to prove it did, but then, on the other hand, I've no proof to disprove it, either...

Some time ago, I thought about the archetypical "Hero's Quest." I mentioned that it follows these steps:

- Loss
- Preparation
- Struggles
- A Task To Finish
- Battle
- Victory
- Recovery

When you think about it, many great adventure stories follow this motif to some form, like The Lord of the Rings, the myth of Gorgon's head, even, to some degrees, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is no exception.

The first point, Loss is of course when Dorothy is seperated from her family, such as they are. And really, the way I see the story, she has already lost quite a bit when the story begins: her parents are dead, and notice how the books tells us that Uncle Henry seldom speaks, and in fact, the only character in Kansas she completely connects with is Toto. Something has happened to her Aunt and Uncle that has made them close up and they no longer relate to her. So, in more ways than one, Dorothy has lost her family.

The next point is Preparation. In our story, Dorothy discovers what she must do, where she must go, recieves an important item (the Silver Shoes), and even gains companions.

Each of Dorothy's companions, to some extremes, also have experienced Loss. The Scarecrow has lost what self-respect he had when he discovers his lack of brains. The Tin Woodman's loss is the most obvious, as he has lost his original human body (including his heart) and his girlfriend. The Cowardly Lion has lost his confidence when he realizes he gets scared. Also, all of Dorothy's friends have lost their freedom when she meets them. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are respectively stuck on a pole and rusted stiff, and the Lion is restricted to his area of the forest because of his fear. Dorothy helps them all escape.

In the theme of Struggle, the story in the book gives the characters many troubles to overcome on their way to the Emerald City, in the Land of the Winkies, and on the way to Glinda's Palace. The Kalidahs, the gaps in the road, the Poppy Field, the river, it's there.

Some stories integrate the Task into the main plot of the tale. The MGM movie adaptation did this with the task the Wizard gives Dorothy: to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. In many "Hero's Quest" stories, the task is used for the Hero to prove themselves. Here, the Wizard has asked Dorothy to defeat the Witch to remove a problem he's had for a long time. (More on this in a moment.)

This leads into the Battle theme. Dorothy's friends, after battling the Witch's forces, have been defeated, and it is up to Dorothy to finally face her own battle. Of course, as she is a little girl, she cannot be expected to do a traditional battle. In fact, her Victory is accomplished quite by accident.

When the Wizard is uncovered, though Baum bills him as a humbug (characters he had in many of his stories), the Wizard has been having his own "Hero's Quest" of his own. He's lost his home simply by being carried away from his old friends. In Oz, he is made the ruler, so he builds the defensible Emerald City (except those Winged Monkeys and other flying beasts could pass the wall easily), and makes the ruse that he is a great and powerful Wizard, as the Good Witch of North states, more powerful than all the Witches put together. In order to keep this ruse going and keep the Wicked Witches at bay, he must lock himself away (although, even though Baum never mentions it, I am sure the Wizard had some confidant in the Palace) so no one can discover his secret. In the end, he gets to return to his old home, getting his own Recovery recovery. (Though, as he reveals later when he goes back to Oz, that all his old friends were dead or very old.)

As Dorothy is disappointed by the Wizard's attempt to take her home, she goes through more struggles to reach Glinda, who holds the answer to her Quest.

When Dorothy returns home, Aunt Em is very open to her. Though Uncle Henry is not mentioned in the last chapter, in Ozma of Oz, he does seem to have a healthy relationship with Dorothy again. Perhaps whatever happened in their past that caused them to seperate emotionally from Dorothy has been finally resolved while she was absent, making for a much stronger Recovery all around.

So, here it is: how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz earned, through it's following of the classic "Hero's Quest" story arc, it's place as an American classic.

3 comments:

Nathan said...

In "Oz and the Three Witches," the Wizard has a confidant named Galden, but he's enchanted by the Wicked Witch of the West before the Emerald City is built.

Oz RPG said...

It's also interesting to note that only the first story holds to these precepts. It's also the only story to hold with the classic fairy-tale "Rule of Three." Dorothy's 3 companions, The Witch blowing 3 times on her Silver Whistle to summon beasts, the 3 uses of the Winged Monkeys (who were summoned each time via a 3 part ritual), 3 steps with the Silver Shoes.

Nathan said...

WIZARD is definitely written in more of a traditional folk-tale style than the other books, with its constant repetition and such.

I think RINKITINK also makes use of the Rule of Three, what with its three pearls, three main characters, and Three Trick Caverns.