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Off to See the Wizard

LUND — We were driving through the Scanian countryside and I saw something odd to my American eyes, it isn’t important what, and I turned to Lena and said, “Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“Is this not like Kansas?” she asked matter-of-factly. As a credit to her non-jealous nature she didn’t even ask why I called her Dorothy but, then again, she is used to me blurting out strange statements. In a moment of equal literalness I replied, “Actually I’ve never been to Kansas but this does look a lot like Ohio.”

“Then why did you say Kansas if you’ve never been there?”

“You know, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’”

There was silence for a moment, then, “No.”

I laughed, “C’mon, you’re kidding. You’re trying to tell me you’ve never seen ‘The Wizard of Oz’, never read the book? Dorothy? Toto? Tinman? Winged Monkeys????”

“I have heard of it,” she replied, “but I have no idea what you’re talking about. I mean, I know you’d love to have some winged monkeys…”

“Yes, and they come from Oz.”

“Of course they do, darling,” she replied and, again to her credit, she didn’t pat me on the head or begin dialing the police. In questioning her I discerned that the Swedes know little of Munchkins but, perhaps more interestingly, I realized how deeply the mythos of Frank Baum’s imaginary land has pervaded the American psyche. References to his 1900 book and, more particularly to the 1939 movie based on it, have acquired a level of shared knowledge in the U.S. far beyond the normal usage of movie quotations. I will go out on a limb and say it is the most quoted movie of all time. Let us begin with the quote I began this essay with which is actually, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” (incidentally, is it better to refer to your girlfriend by the name of another woman or of a dog?). This phrase is used in any number of situations to describe the sudden, profound realization that geographically, or situationally, things have taken a turn for the weird: Kansas being the metaphor for home and normalcy and Oz (wherever one has found oneself: Sweden, El Salvador, transvestite-midget-strip-club, etc.) being the other, the direct and obvious counterpoint to everyday existence.

This list and analysis is by no means complete or comprehensive and simple explication of quotations somehow fails to adequately describe how deeply Americans know what these phrases mean, even as they have become separate from their origin. There is, “I’ll get you my pretty….and your little dog too…” exclaimed by the Wicked Witch of the West. Often this is wittily shortened to, “….And your little dog too.” When this is said is difficult to explain. Sometimes when one sees an annoying little dog. Sometimes when one wants something or someone. But, really, you just know when to say it and when it is funny.

“Follow the yellow brick road,” and, “We’re off to see the Wizard,” both of which can be applied at the beginning of any journey, particularly when the end result is unknown.

“Fly my pretties, FLY!” said by the aforementioned witch to her legion of avian simians as she sends them off to interdict Dorothy and her companions. This is often used either when one is out of beer and needs more or when one has a nemesis and wishes, as we all do, for a praetorian guard of flying monkeys to do one’s bidding. There are unconfirmed reports that President George W. Bush said this to Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater Security. It is also unconfirmed though highly suspected that Hillary Clinton not only says this on a regular basis but has access to actual winged monkeys.

There is the metaphor of The Wizard himself, which is often used in serious discourse to illustrate the faceless and feared power behind the scenes which, in fact, is nothing more than smoke, mirrors, light shows and, well, humbug.

And, after some mistake or misstep, depending on the circumstances, one might well say, “If I only had a brain / heart / courage — the character traits wished for by the Scarecrow, Tinman and Cowardly Lion. As well, these traits are often, making use of the Oz movie’s internal metaphor, our inherent qualities, proven under fire, but which we only recognize in ourselves when validated by the authorities — even when said authority is humbug…

A Munchkin, in short, is anything or anyone small, cute and possibly annoying.

Come in contact with unwanted liquid and see if part of you doesn’t shriek, “I’m melting!”

Be sent off on some odious task by a hated boss and see if you don’t sing the Winkie’s marching song, “Oh ee oh, eeoh oh.”

In parting from some beloved, perhaps underappreciated friend say, “I’ll miss you most of all Scarecrow…”

Then slip on your ruby slippers, click your heels together three times and say, come on, you know the words, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home…”

There are, undoubtedly, more than the above; everyone has their favorites. And we’ll skip the cinematic conclusion when Dorothy wakes up to the possibility that it was all just a dream. We’ll skip that for two reasons, first, and less importantly because it was a cheap, disingenuous Hollywoodization at the end of an otherwise brilliant film and two, because it most certainly was not a dream. Because as Americans know, there is no Santa Claus but there most certainly is an Oz.

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