Bufo in Oz: was Dorothy’s house used as a weapon?
I’ve been a big fan of Oz for a very long time. In this series, Bufo in Oz, I’m going to address specific topics about L. Frank Baum’s Oz.
SPOILER ALERT: This post talk about specific things that happen in the Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. If you have not read them yet, and would like the joy of discovery, I would skip this post.
While the books can be downloaded individually for free at places like Project Gutenberg, this collection
The Complete Wizard of Oz Collection
has all fourteen of the original books for ninety-nine cents at the time of writing.
Was Dorothy’s house used as a weapon?
There had been equilibrium in Oz for many years.
After four “wicked” witches had split the country evenly (following one of them, Mombi, abducting the king), two of them were overthrown by “good” witches.
When Oscar Diggs arrived in a balloon, he was believed to be very powerful (flight was, and would remain, unusual in Oz). He was able to have a city built, and ostensibly ruled the whole land.
However, he had been chased out of the West by use of the flying monkeys, and never ventured outside the Emerald City (or even outside of his own living quarters).
It’s safe to assume that the real balance was between the two pairs of aligned witches: Glinda in the South (she is called the Good Witch of the North in the 1939 Judy Garland version, but that was a change) and the Good Witch of the North (who is unnamed) on one side, and the Wicked Witches of the East and West on the other.
Mombi had been part of the Wicked Witches’ alliance, but had been overthrown herself by the Good Witch of the North. She was still around, but being a witch was forbidden, and her power was considerably diminished.
It’s not entirely clear what happened to the Wicked Witch who had ruled the South, except that Glinda had “conquered” her. Glinda later threatens to kill Mombi, although she says it is an idle threat…but Glinda also maintains an army. The fate of the Wicked Witch of the South may not have been as merciful as that of Mombi.
That is where the balance was.
Then, an extraordinary event occurred.
A farmhouse from the Outside World (containing Dorothy Gale, an orphan living with her aunt and uncle, and Toto, a dog) was picked up by a cyclone, blown to Oz, and dropped on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her…and changing the status quo in a way that led to the defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West and a change in the central authority.
That seems like an amazing coincidence: of all the places in Oz, the house happens to fall on one of the most powerful magic users and important people?
What if it wasn’t a coincidence?
Is it possible that Dorothy’s house was used as a deliberate weapon…that someone used magic to direct its path?
There are some indicators that that’s what happened.
First, who would do it?
Clearly, Glinda, and her ally, the Good Witch of the North, stood to benefit. Rather than two versus two, the “witch war” would become two against one…much better odds.
The Good Witch alliance might also have the power to do it…they are, after all, magic users. Diggs himself later says, “…it is quite beyond my powers to make a cyclone…” Is the Wizard saying it is beyond everyone’s powers, or just his? Does he know that the Witches can do it? Should he have said, “No one can make a cyclone”…or is he being specific about himself?
In fact, L. Frank Baum makes a point about how the house is first lifted by the cyclone:
“From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm. There now came a sharp whistling in the air from the south, and as they turned their eyes that way they saw ripples in the grass coming from that direction also.”
Notice that the winds came from the north and the south? Those are the parts of the Land of Oz that were under the control of the Good Witches alliance. Could that have been, at the least, symbolic?
I asked Dr. Scott Calvin, a physics professor at Sarah Lawrence College, if what Baum had described was likely without magical intervention:
The Measured Circle: ”Does the wind coming from the North and the South make meteorological sense? Does it not make any difference (winds can come from any direction before a cyclone?) or would this be anomalous?”
Professor Calvin: “It’s anomalous. For a typical Kansas (or Dakota, for that matter) tornado, the winds would be from the south. Around the thunderstorm systems that form tornadoes, there could be a lot of variations, but I really don’t understand the kind of converging winds that Baum describes.”
Of course, L. Frank Baum, the “Royal Historian”, could simply have been wrong…but why make up those particular details? Cardinal directions are important in the Oz books, and certainly may matter here.
The house does not break apart and Dorothy and Toto have no trouble surviving the journey (which lasts hours…and crosses the Deadly Deserts surrounding Oz). In fact, we are told
“The cyclone had set the house down very gently–for a cyclone–”
This could suggest a controlled descent…that could have been done to protect Dorothy and Toto, although it could conceivably have been due to a defensive action by the Wicked Witch of the East (who might have slowed the descent without being able to stop it). The Royal Historian says that Dorothy would have been hurt by the jarring landing if she didn’t happen to be on the bed, suggesting that the latter may be more likely.
Suspiciously, the Good Witch of the North is on the scene almost immediately after the house lands.
The witch explains it this way:
“When they saw the Witch of the East was dead the Munchkins sent a swift messenger to me, and I came at once. I am the Witch of the North.”
That would have to have been a very swift messenger indeed. Dorothy is awakened by the shock of the landing, springs from the bed, and runs outside. She is looking at the sights, but there is no suggestion that any real time passes before a group of people, including the Good Witch of the North, come up to her.
People typically travel by foot in Oz (although there are some other methods described in the books). It doesn’t seem likely that there is any swift mass transport, or telecommunication to get the information about the house which has just landed to the Good Witch of the North, and give her time to get there.
It seems much more likely that she was already nearby when her enemy was killed. Did she know where the house was going to land? Was she in some way distracting the Wicked Witch, or even keeping her in the right spot?
The Good Witch doesn’t seem particularly surprised about the death of the Wicked Witch. She even laughs when the woman dissolves.
Then, there is one of the most interesting events in Oz.
While the group tries to assess the situation, the Good Witch does something specific:
“As for the little old woman, she took off her cap and balanced the point on the end of her nose, while she counted “One, two, three” in a solemn voice. At once the cap changed to a slate, on which was written in big, white chalk marks:
“LET DOROTHY GO TO THE CITY OF EMERALDS”
The little old woman took the slate from her nose, and having read the words on it, asked, “Is your name Dorothy, my dear?”
“Yes,” answered the child, looking up and drying her tears.
Who was communicating with the Good Witch of the North? Who knew Dorothy’s name?
It’s possible that this is supposed to be a spirit of some kind. “Slate writing” had been a part of the Spiritualism movement, with which L. Frank Baum would likely have been familiar.
However, we don’t get a lot of communicating with the dead in Oz (or appearances of ghosts).
One possible clue is that the writing is in white letters…and white is the color of witches in Oz. Even the fact that Dorothy’s gingham dress has white checks in it marks her as a witch:
When Boq saw her silver shoes he said, “You must be a great sorceress.”
“Why?” asked the girl. “Because you wear silver shoes and have killed the Wicked Witch. Besides, you have white in your frock, and only witches and sorceresses wear white.”
“My dress is blue and white checked,” said Dorothy, smoothing out the wrinkles in it.
“It is kind of you to wear that,” said Boq. “Blue is the color of the Munchkins, and white is the witch color. So we know you are a friendly witch.”
Could Glinda have been the author of the recommendation that Dorothy be sent to see the Wizard? How would she know Dorothy’s name at that point?
One of Glinda’s specialties is surveillance and knowledge. She talks later on about having “spies” (who gather intelligence on the Wizard…it’s clear that Glinda wasn’t exactly loyal to the Wonderful Wizard).
More importantly, she has the Great Book of Records:
“Among the many wonderful things in Glinda’s palace is the Great Book of Records. In this book is inscribed everything that takes place in all the world, just the instant it happens; so that by referring to its pages Glinda knows what is taking place far and near, in every country that exists.”
While it appears that events can be magically blocked from appearing in the Book (Mombi does that with the location of the rightful ruler of Oz, Ozma), it should have been possible for Glinda to know instantly that “Dorothy Gale’s house has landed on and killed the Wicked Witch of the East” (or some entry like that). It’s also reasonable to assume that you have to be looking for something specific, since the book must be constantly changing with new information.
We don’t hear about the magical slate in later books, but some magic in Oz is limited as the number of times it can be used. Perhaps this was a single use device, or was on its last use.
When Dorothy does meet Glinda towards the end of the first book, we don’t get any indication that Glinda is surprised by her arrival (even though she might not have consulted the Book of Records about it, if she didn’t know what had been happening).
Strategically, Dorothy’s visit works very well for Glinda and her alliance.
The Wicked Witch of the East is killed. Dorothy is armed with a powerful charm, and sent to see the Wizard. The Wicked Witch of the West is killed. The Wizard ends up leaving Oz, ending his reign. Two powerful potential weapons, the silver shoes and the Golden Cap that controls the flying monkeys, are both made harmless.
What does Glinda do with Dorothy, an Outsider and possible loose end (who still has the silver shoes when she meets her)?
She sends her back to Kansas…in such a way that the magical shoes no longer are going to be part of the calculations as the power shifts in Oz.
Glinda will end up being a very powerful advisor to Princess Ozma, who she helps regain her throne.
Dorothy’s house: meteorological accident, or calculated coup? The evidence points to the latter.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.