Some Notes on Dorothy Gale

by Michael Abraham

It has all gotten too technicolor for Dorothy Gale. The trees and the grass are too green—not to mention the Emerald City (she had to take the glasses off several times to rub her eyes)—and the slippers are much too silver, or were they ruby? There are so many colors she is getting confused. The eyes of her friends, these queer little friends she has made, they are much too luminous for her, glittering, glittering, their eyes—it is driving her crazy. Yes, crazy: Dorothy is going crazy in Oz. She stares at the basket of the Wizard’s balloon, and she prays for wind, prays ardently. See, Dorothy has killed a witch, befriended a witch, killed another witch. Dorothy has done all the work of a messiah. She is tired, but, more than tired, her mind is starting to come a little undone at its edges. She loves these odd friends of hers, and she loves the feeling of being on an adventure, but, all along, she has been yearning for quite the opposite of adventure, for home. Not because home is all that special. Home is sepia and boring and full of responsibility. She’s yearning for home because there is something sinister beneath all the brightness of Oz, something dead sent against her flourishing. Kansas is safer. There are no witches to vanquish in Kansas. See, Dorothy never set out to be any kind of hero. She was just in the wrong cyclone at the wrong time. But she feels herself to be so much herself, so overmuch, when in Oz that it is starting to drive her mad. This grandiosity of being a slayer of witches. Dorothy Gale has become much too much of herself, and she is coming undone. So she stares at the balloon, and she prays for wind. And the wind comes, but it comes too soon. It carries off the Wizard.


Let’s put it differently. There is a technology that promised to save Dorothy from her becoming too much herself in the Land of Oz. The technology fails her. She is left with only the shoes that she’s won from her accidental feat of heroism, left with only the magic of wishing gained by happenstance. She’s had the power to deliver herself from the madness of technicolor all along, and the good witch knew it, and the good witch used her up, caught her in a web like a spider with a fly, made her run a gauntlet that was not hers to run.


Any story of madness has a good witch in it, a good witch who is not so good. The good witch is not the root-cause of the madness itself; that’s the cyclone. The good witch is worse. The good witch is that which elongates the madness, that which turns a little fantasy into a record of traumas. She initiates the adventure, knowing full well the adventure isn’t necessary and won’t be all that fun.

Ever have a feeling—perhaps a lovely feeling, perhaps a feeling that comes down in a bright, pink bubble from the sky—that promises deliverance? Ever had that feeling betray you in the final analysis? Ever come to find out that your wishing was all along your only recourse to salvation?

Perhaps you haven’t. Perhaps you have never had to slay any witches who were not yours to slay. Perhaps a sinister, little woman bedecked with stars who lives in that magical place in your head never told you that if you just followed the yellow road to the green city you’d find a genius who could give you back a sense of home. Perhaps you’ve never followed this little woman’s advice and ended up in a black castle with a pale of water doing the unthinkable. Oh, I’m playing fast and loose with my metaphors, but you get it. The little woman tells you that the only way out of Oz is through it, and this is a lie. And because the witch is a good witch, you trust her, and you walk the yellow road to the green city, and along the way, you lose yourself.

But, oh, what a marvel of a time you end up having.


“Then that accounts for it. In the civilized countries I believe there are no witches left, nor wizards, nor sorceresses, nor magicians. But, you see, the Land of Oz has never been civilized, for we are cut off from all the rest of the world. Therefore we still have witches and wizards amongst us.” So says the Witch of the North when she discovers Dorothy in the Land of the Munchkins, her house having slain the Witch of the East.

Herein lies the problem with Oz. It is wild. It is a place where magic still exists. It has never known the comforting blanket of rationality that extinguished all the world’s sorcery. Anything is possible in a place cut off from all the rest of the world, when you make of yourself a place cut off from all the rest of the world. You discover magic, and the discovery of magic is a great danger.


On the matter of Dorothy’s friends there is much to say. Each of her friends is queer in some way, by which I mean that each of them perceives in himself a lack which is not really there. When in Oz, it is necessary to make some friends who have in themselves a sense of a lack, for only these will follow you on such an insane journey as this journey on which the Witch of the North has sent you. These friends will follow because they, too, are desperate for deliverance. They wish for brains and hearts and courage. That they already have these and can’t see it is, of course, the tragedy of them. But a madling like Dorothy needs friends who are a little bit tragic, a little bit broken inside. This Land of Oz is a land of the little bit broken inside after all, and these tragic figures will be her guides in the ways of the place. The one bright spot in the terrible story of Dorthy Gale in the Land of Oz is that her friends find some peace. It is ultimately a story of friendship’s triumph over the wild machinations of a good witch.

Peace be with them, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman.

But there is a difference between Dorothy and her friends. The Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman belong in the Land of Oz. They are part of the magic of that place. Dorothy, on the other hand, does not belong there, cannot survive in that strange land to which her friends are natives. In the story of Dorothy and her friends, there is the story of one who finds oneself among those who are able to stomach something one cannot, which is, of course, life in technicolor. Her friends go on to be great leaders in the Land of Oz; they find success there. She has to flee, flee back to Kansas where things are colorless and safe. She returns of course; so many of the later novels are about her return. She can’t help but return, for once one has had a taste of technicolor, it intoxicates. But she cannot tarry too long; she cannot dwell there. That her friends can—indeed, must, by virtue of the kinds of creatures that they are—is the ruling distinction between them and Dorothy.

Dorothy just can’t hack it in Oz.


For a time, Dorothy gets lost in the poppy fields and falls deeply into slumber. Of course Dorothy does, ingenue that she is. Of course she doesn’t know better than to avoid those bulbous, beautiful flowers.


There is also the Wizard. The Wizard is a simple thing. The Wizard is misdirection, a misdirection set in motion by the machinations of the good witch. The Wizard is a false promise, ultimately a great humbug. The Wizard and his technologies, all his supposed wisdom. All the Wizard really wants from Dorothy is the witch’s broom so he, too, can escape the Land of Oz. The Wizard makes the adventure so much worse. If the witch sets it all in motion for Dorothy, the Wizard is her complicating incident, that which brings about the vicissitudes of plot, of trauma. She fumbles through valiantly, for valiant fumbling is Dorothy’s nature. She kills another witch, entirely by accident yet again. She delivers the broom. She is betrayed by the wind. You know the story.

What you don’t know is the real nature of the Wizard. The Wizard is a false friend, not a real friend, but a sense in one’s own head that if you just follow the pattern of the adventure, if you just reach a little further, if you go to the black castle and you steal the broom, you’ll make it out of the Land of Oz. The Wizard is full of false technologies, full of illusions. Like the pink bubble feeling that gets the ball rolling, the big, green head is the force of misdirection that keeps you trapped in this place, this place that is entirely too bright, entirely too colorful, with so much magic in it—this place that is causing you to come undone.


I only have two metaphors left, and they are Glinda and the shoes.

In the novel, Glinda is not the name of the Witch of the North, who sends Dorothy on her awful quest. Glinda is the name of the Witch of the South, perhaps the only good witch in the story. Beautiful and young, with rich red hair and sparkling blue eyes, sat upon a throne of rubies, she agrees to help Dorothy make it back to Kansas if only Dorothy will give her the Golden Cap that allows one to command the Winged Monkeys. Rather than keep the Cap for her own devices, Glinda uses it to send each of Dorothy’s friends to the lands that, in their adventure, they have come to rule: the Scarecrow to the Emerald City, the Tin Woodman to the Land of the Winkies, and the Cowardly Lion to the great forest where he shall become King of the Beasts. And then Glinda reveals to Dorothy what the Witch of the North would not: the silver shoes she won off the corpse of the Witch of the East always already had the power to bring her home.

Glinda is a great foil for the Witch of the North. Perhaps you might insist that the Witch of the North knew nothing of the power of the shoes, but I think that unlikely. Of all the great figures Dorothy meets, of all the powerful forces that rule the Land of Oz, only Glinda is selfless. Only Glinda can see that Dorothy deserves to go home, that endless adventuring in the Land of Oz is not her destiny, that it will not serve her flourishing—that she is, finally, no great sorceress and slayer of wicked witches.

Sometimes, we encounter something beautiful. And that beautiful thing is the revelation that our crisis always came with its own escape route, that it was, from the very beginning of the crisis, within our power to end it—indeed, that the crisis, at its outset, gave us the tools to end the crisis, tools that we might have used earlier were we not misdirected by forces within the crisis that desired the elongation of our misadventure. Glinda is the revolutionary chance we get every now and again, the revolutionary chance that redirects our gaze such that we stop adventuring in this place that is not for us and simply wish our way out of it. Glinda tells Dorothy that it will take only three clicks of the heels and then three magical steps to get to Kansas. Sometimes—not very often—Glinda the Good intercedes and does what the Witch of the North and the Wizard will not do. That is, sometimes—not very often—we encounter a different kind of force in crisis, a final force, that looks upon us with compassion and reveals the real wisdom that we have been seeking, reveals that the simple fact of wishing things different very occasionally has a salvific power and might actually bring us home. Perhaps, like Dorothy, we have to suffer through the false witch and the humbug Wizard, have to go through all the drama of slaying the wicked Witch of the West, before we meet the luminous, red mirror in which we see the truth of the matter, in which we recognize that it was our own misplaced confidence in the adventure itself that kept the whole thing going.

What I’m saying is that sometimes—not very often—we meet the good witch inside ourselves, and we wish our way home.