Saturday, November 5, 2011

Finding "Oz" Where You'd Least Expect It.

By 1900, L. Frank Baum, a pro-communist and former proponent of the Free Silver Movement; a failed general store owner and former publisher of the Aberdeen Saturday Post, a local newspaper in South Dakota; had returned back East, settling in Chicago. It was there that he continued writing, landing a job with the Evening Post.

It was at this time that he also began writing children's books, his most famous being, of course, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", which was first published in 1900. It was the first in a series of books about a land called Oz, similar to the Harry Potter novels which would appear about 100 years later.

Twice in this past week that first book has been referenced in either a movie, or book, which I have reviewed here. The first time was in connection to the independent film "The Way", with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, and then again by author Matthew Algeo in his book about Grover Cleveland, "The President Is a Sick Man." This gave me pause for thought. How could one children's book, written over 100 years ago, still be relevant today, either in an inspirational film, or in a book about history?

In the film, "The Way", with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, the director, Mr. Estevez, has cited "The Wizard of Oz" as an inspiration for his film. In the book "The President Is A Sick Man", author Matthew Algeo cites the book as an allegorical tale of the Free Silver Movement. Indeed, in that book, Dorothy is wearing silver slippers, in lieu of ruby ones, as she trods down the Yellow Brick Road. The slippers were supposed to be representative of the working man, Free Silver adherents for the most part, being forced to walk down a road made of Gold, representing the interests of the bankers, and surrounded at all times by peril. How is it possible for the same book to yield so many different points of view?

The answer lies in interpretations, and, as we all know, any interpretations are themselves open to interpretation. Which brings to mind The Beatles and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", from the album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Long associated with LSD, the truth behind that song is so innocent, and well documented, as to give credence to what I call literary coincidences, or imaginative interpretations.

In the case of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", John Lennon's son Julian came home with a simple drawing he'd done that day. He was about 6 at the time, and when his dad asked him what it was, he said it was "Lucy, a classmate, in the sky with diamonds." That story has been checked, and verified, over the past 40 odd years, culminating in a benefit concert for the "real" Lucy about a year ago to help pay some medical expenses. So much for interpretations. But, in the context of the times in which it was written, the misinterpretation can be understood.

The same can be said of the analogy between the film "The Way" and "The Wizard." They are, after all, on a journey of discovery, just as Dorothy and her companions were. They are both spiritual journeys.

When it comes to the interpretation offered in the book “The President Is a Sick Man” by Mr. Algeo, it too, is no less valid in the context of the time in which it was written. There really was a struggle between the working class and the wealthy, where the gold standard was concerned. It was keeping the rich richer, and the poor poorer. And, just as Dorothy's dissatisfaction lead to her dilemma, the Free Silver adherents were actually causing massive inflation, furthering their own travails.

There are no hidden meanings to this post, just me being a bit introspective. It fascinates me to no end how the human mind, my own included, can interpret things in just about any way it feels. I'm not knocking it either. I'm one of the guilty ones. I'm always looking for the deeper meaning. Even when it's not there.

I once reviewed the film version of "The Wizard of Oz", casting the Wizard as an allegory for Adolph Hitler. He was, after all, hiding behind a curtain, so to speak, as he imposed his will on the people, much like the venerated Wizard. I wrote that review in Juinor High School, and received a grade of 95.

For more on the links between the film "The Way" and "The Wizard of Oz', see the interview with Emilio Estevez here;,62918/

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