Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #15

Re: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I often refer to your movie reviews and have a great deal of respect for your opinion. I recently read an article called “The Occultic Wizard of Oz” and was wondering what your thoughts were on The Wizard of Oz in light of this perspective. Could you please read the article and give me your opinion?

Among the scads of tortured and arbitrary interpretations of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz out there, the one you cite seems as unconvincing as any.

The author relies on John Algeo, former president of the Theosophical Society, who naturally gives a Theosophical reading, just as economic, political and historical readings have been given by economic, political and historical theorists. (Would the author quote a Theosophist as an authoritative interpreter in any other connection?)

Algeo’s interpretation is a bit like some medieval Christian allegorical biblical interpretation in its lack of critical rigor. He simply takes generic symbols — a road, witches, home — and arbitrarily imposes specific associations with no argument for why these associations work better or explain more than other available options.

The triumvirate of brain/intellect, heart/emotion and courage/will represented by the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion are fundamental human categories that crop up throughout fiction (other examples include Gandalf, Frodo and Aragorn as well as Spock, Bones and Kirk). I see no critical basis to connect these characters to specific writings of Petrovna Blavatsky (or even any grounds for supposing that whatever Blavatsky wrote on the subject was necessarily wrong and harmful in toto).

Baum himself declared that his story “was written solely to pleasure children of today.” I see no reason not to take him at his word.

Incidentally, the author of this essay appears to be a conspiracy theorist loon. (Edit: I have to eat my words, though, about the doubtfulness of his doctorate coming from an accredited institution. It seems he earned his PhD in American History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Thanks to a friend who caught this.)

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