The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is known to countless millions worldwide because of the motion picture version of the story, The Wizard of Oz (1939), starring Judy Garland. Although Garland was considerably older than the Dorothy in the book and her adventures are dismissed as a dream, the film is otherwise reasonably faithful to L. Frank Baum’s novel.

A cyclone carries Dorothy and her dog Toto from bleak Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz, then drops their house on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. The Munchkins, who regard Dorothy as a witch herself, are so grateful to her for killing the witch who tormented and enslaved them that they offer Dorothy all the help they can. They advise her to put on the dead witch’s silver slippers, which have magical properties. Dorothy’s chief motivation throughout the story is to get back to her Uncle Henry and Aunt Em in Kansas. She is told to follow a road of yellow brick that will take her to the Emerald City, home of the Wizard of Oz. The Wizard, Dorothy is told, should know how to get her home.

Along the road of yellow brick, Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. Each asks to accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City. The Scarecrow wants to ask the Wizard for a brain, the Tin Woodman wants to ask for a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants to ask for courage. After some misadventures, they reach the Emerald City. The Wizard tells Dorothy that he will use his magic powers to send her back to Kansas only if she kills the Wicked Witch of the West, and he informs her three companions that he will grant their requests only if they help Dorothy fulfill her mission.

The Wicked Witch of the West sends wolves, wild crows, and finally winged monkeys to attack the adventurers. Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion are captured, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman are left for dead. At the Wicked Witch’s castle, Dorothy is made a household slave. The witch steals one of Dorothy’s silver slippers, but when she tries to pull the other slipper off the little girl’s foot, Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her. The Wicked Witch of the West is vulnerable only to water. She melts, and Dorothy retrieves her silver slipper, still unaware of how to use the magic powers of the slippers.

When the adventurers return to the Emerald City, they discover that the Wizard is a fraud, possessing no magic powers at all. The fake Wizard manages to satisfy the requests of the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion by assuring them that they already possess and have actually displayed the attributes they believed they were lacking. The Wizard, however, is unable to satisfy Dorothy’s wish to return to Kansas, although he himself is wafted away in a hot-air balloon.

Dorothy is advised to visit Glinda, the Witch of the South, who is good and kind. Accompanied by her three friends, Dorothy makes her way through new perils to the Country of the Quadlings and the Castle of Glinda. The beautiful Glinda tells her that the silver slippers have the power to transport their wearer to anyplace in the world. Dorothy kisses her three friends good-bye and asks the slippers to carry her back to Kansas. She is carried off in a whirlwind and finds herself in front of the new home that Uncle Henry built to replace the old one. Dorothy has lost the silver slippers in her flight, but she is overjoyed to be home again.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Historical Context

The Gold Standard Debate
The gold standard is a monetary system in which the value of gold determines the value of...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Setting

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz transports readers from the bleak, gray Kansas prairie to the dynamic, colorful Land of Oz. Dorothy leaves...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Literary Style

Baum interjects highly descriptive passages into his text, which bring the fictitious world of Oz alive in...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Literary Qualities

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has appealed to readers for more than a century. Although the novel has often been criticized as mediocre...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Social Sensitivity

Although Baum did not intend to moralize or preach to his readers, many social messages are presented in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz....

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Compare and Contrast

1900s: Children’s books are predominantly morality tales that teach heavy-handed lessons. Many of these stories are...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Topics for Discussion

1. How do major characters change within this novel? Within the fourteen-book Oz series written by Baum?

2. How do talking...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Which characters do you identify with and why?

2. Consider the animal characters' points of view and write a narrative about...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Topics for Further Study

Consider why Baum chose a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a Cowardly Lion as characters desiring a brain, a heart, and courage, respectively....

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Related Titles / Adaptations

Baum wrote thirteen Oz novels after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. After his death, other authors produced Oz books with the permission...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Media Adaptations

Film Version Published by Gale Cengage

The earliest adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a 1902 stage musical on which Baum collaborated. It ran very successfully on...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz What Do I Read Next?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is a classic children’s novel. Because...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz For Further Reference

Baum, Frank Joslyn, and Russell P. MacFall. To Please a Child: A Biography of L. Frank Baum, Royal Historian of Oz. Chicago: Reilly...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Bibliography and Further Reading

Farmer, Philip Jose, “Baum, L(yman) Frank,” in Reference Guide to American Literature, 3d ed.,...

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Carpenter, Angelica Shirley, and Jean Shirley. L. Frank Baum: Royal Historian of Oz. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1992. A detailed account of Baum’s career and writings. Includes numerous maps and illustrations. Also contains plot summaries of most of Baum’s books.

Hearn, Michael Patrick. Introduction to The Annotated Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1973. This sets Baum’s best-known work in the context of his life and work.

Riley, Michael O. Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1997. A comprehensive analysis of Baum’s development as a fantasy writer. It considers the influence of Baum’s childhood and adult experiences on his writing and looks at how his works reflect his philosophical and social views.

Rogers, Katherine M. L. Frank Baum: Creator of Oz. New York: St. Martin’s, 2002. A good companion to the Oz series that demonstrates how Baum animated his progressive ideals in the persons of Dorothy and company.