Friday, March 15, 2013

Why ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Is A Major Step Back For Witches and Women by Elisabeth Rappe

I'm very grateful to Kate W. at Enchanted Conversation for linking to Why ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’ Is A Major Step Back For Witches and Women by Elisabeth Rappe last week. Just another example of why I prefer many TV shows over major Hollywood productions these days--overall, women have a stronger part in them! Give me Bones or Veronica Mars any day.

(And YAY! on the Veronica Mars movie. John the Hubby sat and watched it hit the 2 million mark live. Crowdfunding controversies are for discussing elsewhere--and overall I'm for crowdfunding if you must know--I thrilled since I want to see that movie very much! And if you have never seen Veronica, it's wonderful. Even Joss Whedon was/is a fan. And the DVDs are super cheap on Amazon right now thanks to the hype this week. Just be warned that you'll lose sleep for wanting to watch the next episode. And then you'll want a dog just so you can name it Backup.)

It's no secret that I'm not a huge Oz fan, primarily thanks to seeing the movies at the wrong ages, I think. Return to Oz was almost traumatic to me and accepted as being more faithful which kept me from picking up the books long ago. I also didn't learn about the extensive series until I was older, so I missed most of those books anyway.

But I have long admired Frank L. Baum and his oeuvre and accomplishments. And then there's the whole it's not really a "fairy tale" gambit that I deal with almost daily and need to prepare for even more as NINE Oz inspired films are currently in the works.

And, yes, I did enjoy Wicked: The Musical--probably because I expected to hate it--and hope for the movie version of that one. So I allow myself to be completely unpredictable when it comes to Oz.

From the article, to entice you to read it all:

Why is this sad and troubling? Well, as you go through the Oz series, one fact can’t help but jump out at you: The feisty, heroic characters of Oz are all young women. Dorothy returns, again and again, to have adventures in Oz. “Tik-Tok of Oz” features a Dorothy surrogate in Betsy Bobbin (no Toto for Betsy! Her animal companion is a mule named Hank.) Glinda often reappears to do battle. General Jinjur leads an all-female coup against the Scarecrow, and despite its failure, Baum lovingly stops in to see how she’s faring in the common Munchkin life.

But most intriguing and revolutionary of them all is Princess Ozma, who actually makes her first appearance in “The Marvelous Land of Oz” as a young boy named Tip. Tip is the “hero” of the book until it’s revealed an evil witch named Mombi did a magical gender reassignment, and Tip becomes Ozma, restored not only to her rightful throne, but to her own feminine self. It’s a strange and fascinating twist for both Tip and the audience alike, and one with very modern implications.

There are male characters in Oz, of course, but they’re rarely also lead characters. Occasionally one breaks out as a hero, like Ojo the Munchkin boy in “The Patchwork Girl of Oz” or Cap’n Bill and Trot, but they’re one-offs, never to return. The recurring male characters are always faithful and familiar sidekicks like the Wizard, Tin-Man, Tik-Tok, and Jack Pumpkinhead. Alternately, they’re enemies, like the Nome King.

The reason for this is simple: Baum was a feminist. He was an avid supporter of women’s suffrage, and was happily married to the outspoken, intelligent, and energetic Maud Gage Baum, who had gone to Cornell, and sacrificed dreams of degrees to marry him. Their marriage was an unusual one for the time, as Frank happily let her wear the pants, assert her authority, and rule the house.


  1. Wow! I didn't know Baum was a feminist. I have never read the series only seen the one original film, though I love Tin Man the mini series as well. Thanks for your informative post.

    1. If you mean the 1939 one, then that isn't the "original" film. There have been Oz movies going back to the silent era. Some that L. Frank Baum himself had a hand in.

  2. I find it sad that the author of that is so offended that the protagonist is male. It's about how the wizard got there and a male protagonist in itself is not unfeminist. The other complaints of not even mentioning Ozma and changing the fundamental story are valid. However, the wizard did step in and somehow got the Wicked Witch of the East and West to back off until Dorothy got there. To simplify the story to just a guy stepping in because women make a mess of things is disingenuous. I think the film did a mostly admirable job of filling in the gaps with an original story.

    The comment that all the female dialog is on the verge of tears is simply ridiculous and I just have to conclude that you cherry picked small scenes and exaggerated them to make your point. Theodora is the only one with any romantic interest in the wizard. Evanora uses him as a pawn to do her dirty work and to push her sister over the edge of evil. Glinda sees he's a fraud, but does what she can to make him fit into the role of savior even though he is entirely unsuited for it.

    All the other admiration for being the chosen one is similar to that of Alice's treatment in the 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland. They both were foretold to save the people of their fantasy world, so their treatment is largely the same.

  3. The movie likely makes no mention of Ozma because the movie-going audience likely never heard of Ozma. Also, as per the book "Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz", the Wizard never even heard of her until later.

    I am something of a Baum/Oz fan but am less enamored with the feminist angle (though I understand its appeal) as with his gift for invention. Unlike the writers of other literary fairy tales, his works were always filled with crazy, creative fantasy ideas.

    I'm also going to go on record (though hesitantly) as saying that I kind of prefer Ozma when she was Tip. Mainly because Tip seemed to have more personality. Tip was an adventurous, slightly mischevious underdog and one who had a few personality quirks (like his dislike for the Woggle-Bug's puns). Ozma is just described as good, kind, beautiful and universally loved. I admire that she's an important female character, but she's also an important female cipher.

  4. Although Oz is a very female-centric fairyland,I think it's overly simplistic to say that Baum is an outright feminist. General Jinjur, a gentle parody of the suffragette, is portrayed as a threat and a nuisance- albeit a misguided and redeemable one- and isn't a "hero" by any means. There are some evil female characters: Mombi, the Wicked Witch of the West, Langwidere, for instance. And, although Glinda rules one of the four quarters of Oz and Ozma is the overall ruler, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion rule the other three.
    Oz films are ALWAYS inferior to the books and only very loosely based upon them to say the least. The books are inimitable and vastly superior- as I found when given the series for my seventh birthday! And the illustrations are out of this world!

    1. L. Frank Baum (and before him, Frank Stockton) at least deserve credit for creating the American literary fairy tale. One of the hallmarks of which seems to be forgoing moralising in favor of a gentle wit and whimsy.

      I realize I may be using a more liberal definition of the term "fairy tale" than some like, but it's apt in that Baum was partially inspired by the stories of the Brothers Grimm (besides, if I cut out all literary creations, then H.C. Andersen wouldn't be a fairy tale writer either).