The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz might have the greatest disparity between people that have seen the movie and people that have actually read the book of any piece of literature in history. Off-hand, I can think of The Godfather and Forrest Gump as potential challengers for the throne, but that’s about it. I’m sure that I missed some obvious examples, but not many can top The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

After reading the book, I can see why. First, here’s a shocker: I have never actually seen the movie (gasp!). I’m told it is quite a bit better than the book from Google searches on the topic, and it had better be. While this was a decent children’s tale, it clearly would have been long forgotten on its own merits had the famous movie not been made. In fact, read in context (again according to what Google searches tell me) it was supposed to be a political allegory about populists. Not really the sort of thing that would captivate children of today.

In Lost, the book is referred to in both seasons two and three. In season two, Ben Linus pretends that he is Henry Gale, the name of the hot-air balloonist from Wayzata, Minnesota who crash-landed on the Island. Henry Gale is the name of Dorothy’s uncle in the movie version (he is not given a last name in the book).

In season three, the reference is more specific. Locke mentions the Wizard of Oz in The Man Behind the Curtain. The title also takes its name from the book – as we all know, the all-powerful Wizard is actually just a doofy man behind a curtain.

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I will just briefly recap the book here, because everyone is familiar with the story – even people like me who hadn’t read the book or seen the movie before. I’m told the book has some differences with the movie, so perhaps I should have seen both. I imagine that most of those differences are immaterial for our purposes…although I can confirm that, yes, her slippers were silver in the book.

Dorothy’s house blows away in a tornado. It lands in the land of Oz, and she is immediately hailed as a hero because she killed the Wicked Witch of the East by landing on her. She steals the silver slippers of the Wicked Witch and moves on to try to get back home. The munchkins suggest that she go to meet the Wizard of Oz, who will know exactly what to do.

Along the way she meets her friends – the cowardly lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man. We all know that the lion wants courage, the scarecrow a brain, and the tin man a heart. Turns out they actually all have these things already; they just haven’t figured it out yet.

I’m not sure how the movie goes, but the book lays this on pretty thick. Throughout, the lion is the one who frightens away scary creatures. The scarecrow thinks up all of the plans. And the tin man shows as much compassion as anyone. Clearly they all have these things already, but are convinced that they do not.

The crew finally makes it to Oz where they meet the Wizard. He says that they must first kill the Wicked Witch of the West before he will grant their wishes. After yet another long journey, they do kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Like the aliens in Signs, water turns out to be her weakness.

The four journey back to meet the Wizard and he is finally exposed for who he is – some random guy that crash-landed in Oz. He was worshipped by everyone, but felt like he would be exposed as a fraud, so he concocted elaborate schemes to consolidate his power. Most famously, he was the proverbial “man behind the curtain.”

He does not have a plan to get Dorothy back home and she is dismayed. Luckily, as happens in most children’s works, she wakes up and realizes that the whole thing was just a dream.

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My favorite joke about this book comes from Lostpedia’s page. Many compared the foursome that went with Michael into the Others’ trap (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley) to represent the four travellers in Oz. It kinda works.

Kate is Dorothy, mostly because she is the only girl in the bunch. Dorothy just wants to go home. That doesn’t really apply to Kate’s current situation – she is always on the run – but in general, we see that she longs for a home of her own. The life she has chosen for herself leads to her constantly being on the move, but she comes to find out that there truly is no place like home.

Jack is the Tin Man: the Man of Science doesn’t have a heart to speak of. At least not on the surface anyway. Yet time and time again Jack is the one that comes through when we need compassion.

Sawyer is the Scarecrow. Not that he really needs a brain like the Scarecrow. However, I think we can throw in leadership as a counterpart for brains in this case. Sawyer did not realize his true destiny as a leader until the show rolled on. By season three, many on the beach looked up to him and by season five he was the head of security for the DHARMA Initiative.

Finally, we have Hurley, who just needs courage. Hurley probably had the longest process of any of the survivor’s journeys to fulfill his ultimate destiny. He became more of a leader towards the end, but really didn’t completely fulfill his destiny until one of the last scenes, when he became the new man in charge of the Island.

Now I’m sure the Lost creators didn’t intend any of this, but it was certainly a fun little comparison. I imagine that some writer on the Internets has broken this down way more than I have.

The real influence The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has on Lost is the man behind the curtain. The wizard on the Island is Jacob. He directs the others via a lot of smoke, mirrors, misinformation, and Richard Alpert as a go-between. Just like the wizard, he actually shows his face to very, very few people.

We learn in the book that this is not a particularly effective way to lead. The wizard is exposed as a loser that is ashamed of his own appearance. In Lost, Jacob doesn’t really come off as a loser per se – but his own leadership style is directly responsible for his own death. That seems like a bit of a failure. Hurley, for one, doesn’t see the use in this when he is about to take charge of the Island. Ben gently reminds him that that was just how Jacob ran things. Presumably, Hurley ran things in a very un-like-the-wizard type of way and lived happily on the Island for a long time.

For more of my book reviews, return to my Literature of Lost series.

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