The Wizard of Oz as a Fairy Tale

Categories: Fairy Tale

For hundreds of years, parents have been enthralling children with stories of magic and wishes coming true. Fairy tales are passed from one generation to the next through oral tradition, and, in modern times, books. As various societies develop, fairy tales are changed to fit the needs and morals those societies want to impress upon their children. Thus, the style and content of a fairy tale is directly affected by the social attitudes of a particular society at a particular time.

Jack Zipes adopts and assumes the magical folktale is the oral version and the fairytale the literary version of a tale when he describes the rise of “the fairytale in the Western world as the mass-mediated cultural form of the folktale” (Zipes 15). Fairy tales include common themes, motifs, story lines, and characters that aid in the protagonist’s working towards a common goal. In the first chapter of his book, Swiss scholar Max Luthi identifies fourteen characteristics that are vital to the unique classification of a fairy tales as demarcated from other forms of children’s literture.

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With the help of these distinctive structural and stylistic features, Frank L. Baum’s novel, “The Wizard of Oz” can be classified within the boundaries of the fairy tale. “The Wizard of Oz,” like so many fairy tales, naturally has cultural, social, and political undertones interwoven within the text. Virtually all of Baum’s characters and magical land pertain to specific cultural or socio-political event of the time.

Contemporary social issues are unconsciously rolled into the fabric of the story like: the yellow brick road and the silver slippers that both symbolize the influence of the gold and silver debate prominent in Baum’s time.

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Baum lifts phrases almost directly from Grimm. In “The Wizard of Oz”…“she wished the girl to remain with her to do the cooking and cleaning” (Baum 27) is similar to the witches request if Gretel in “Hansel and Gretel” when she says, “I want you to fetch some water and cook your brother something nice” (Grimm 53).

Dorothy also states to the Scarecrow, “If you come with me I'll ask Oz to do all he can for you”(Baum 22). Which is reminiscent to the donkey’s words in the Grimms’ “The Bremen Town Musicians” (Grimm 96)…The basic plot of this tale is similar to “The Wizard of Oz” in that a group of helpers accompany a hero and use their specific skills to achieve a quest. Baum does not forget to include several classic airytale motifs: seven league boots are replaced with silver slippers that take the wearer any place his or her hearts desires and the classic object used three times to summon a helper is represented by the golden cap that is used to call upon the winged monkeys three times. The motifs appearance in this story demonstrates how often similar motifs are re-used in an altered states across various types of literature. The witch threatens the heroes with forty bees, forty wolves and forty crows. Though forty may not be the most common number used to highlight the unique fairy tale repetition of numbers, this number of course holds meaning.

In the Bible there were forty days of flood, forty days of fasting and forty days of wandering. In fact the very nature of “The Wizard of Oz’s” medium, the novel, increase the differentiation between it and fairy tales. Oz is too long a work for it to be easily recognizable as a fairy tale. Most tales do not describe locations, physical features, or emotional states. Heroes are rarely afraid of foreign creatures, they just kill them or die trying, it is simply a part of their nature as heros.

Luthi (Visual Aspect & non-deliniation of character p. 25) Within the first few pages Baum informs the reader of the what Dorothy is wearing, a checked gingham dress, and that she “cries sorrowfully when the wizard won't see her” (Baum 60). The story’s descriptive passages concerning the physical environment mainly relate to the colors that are present (what is visible), especially in the description of the forest … Psychoanalysis has classified and links fairy tales to childhood sexuality.

They serve a psychological function by representing to children their subconscious sexual urges and conflicts. Bruno Bettelheim uses his “The Uses of Enchantment” to discuss the manifestation of these drives in fairytales and how children use such literature to reconcile internal struggles they may be having. The Wizard of Oz provides internal resolution in preparation for something greater—sex. Sex, is of course skirted around rather than confronted head on. For example in chapter eight of the novel, “The deadly poppy field” sleep is used as a substitute for death.

Dorothy never has to experience any real death, but wakes up surrounded by dead wolves she is only mildly frightened for a moment until the woodsman explains their presence euphemistically as being not dead, but “shaggy. ” Oz approaches the deep levels of meaning discussed by Bettelheim and falls into the Freudian romance, like “Cinderella” who escapes her psychologically unsatisfactory step family to achieve a better life. Dorothy, though she returns to her home in Kansa, manages to move towards maturity and self-realization.

As Dorothy realizes the power of the magic slippers and the other characters find what they were looking for but had all along, the reader gets the message that what we need for “wholeness” is within, not without. Different from the psychological approach of Bettelheim, Max Luthi worked to identify what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale. So although characters may seemingly act without logic, reason, or emotion and one incident may not connect with what occurs immediately before or after it, there is a rationale that permeates every tale. Dorothy is to some degree disconnected from reality.

Aunt Em and Uncle Joe are rarely happy because reality has soured them but Dorothy who is not fully integrated with reality is able to go on a quest to discover her own happiness (Luthi: Supernatural #8 p25). Dorothy, as the heroine, is in tune with the underlying fairytale theme of… (Luthi p25, 34 #5, 14). Dorothy seems to be unknowingly blessed. She is mistakenly revered as a sorceress; “The silver shoes fitted her as if they had been made for her” and she accidentally kills not one, but two wicked witches. The outward sign of her charm is the mark of the good witch's kiss.

In some fairytales there is a similar physical indicator, it could be freckles, red headedness, extreme ugliness or a tuft of hair. Separate but related to chance is magic. What distinguishes the fairytale from other folk literature is the prescience of magic. What is fundamental is the existence of magic and the otherworldly. Often there is a stated crossing from the mundane to a magical realm. Once in the magical realm Baum utilizes stock motifs like talking animals, witches, wizards, the Simpleton figure, caps that can summon powerful creatures three times and shows that can travel infinite distances in a few strides.

Help is the central motif of the folktale, it propels the narrative and defines the hero. In the folktale the hero would not achieve his objective without help, in particular the help of otherworld beings. And this support is lavished on him. Dorothy never asks for or thinks about magic gifts but when she needs them they are granted. Gifts are given to Dorothy without entreaty and do come into play when needed but, especially in the case of the slippers, she has to work for the privilege. Dorothy shows no extraordinary strength of character yet she is given the silver shoes and fatefully obtains the golden cap.

Though one would assume the nature of the heroine determines her success and reflects her good character her quest is often solely for personal gain. Dorothy and her friends want what's best for them and by following their own course they inadvertently rescue other people without intending to do so. This in turn paves the way to their ultimate goal. The happy ending, as Bettelheim reiterates, is what makes the fairy tale stand out as children's literature. Because fairy tales provide resolution and reassurance children can easily relate and learn from the tales (Bettelheim, 10).

Dorothy's goal is achieved not in Oz, because Oz is not the right place for her, but instead back at home where she can apply what she has gained to get her “happily ever after”. “The Wizard of Oz” corresponds to a large number of fairy tale characteristics, but it undoubtedly does not fit quite perfectly into the exact fairy tale mold. It doesn't fit entirely, partly because it's just too big. The nature of its form, the novel, demands a greater level of descriptive information and plot explication, both which lead away from the traditional fairytales.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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The Wizard of Oz as a Fairy Tale. (2017, Jan 14). Retrieved from

The Wizard of Oz as a Fairy Tale essay
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