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More to 'Oz' than meets the eye

Apr 13, 2013 - By Randy Tucker

In its time, the story was chock full of political satire.

Now that four generations have grown up with the imagery of the "Wizard of Oz," much of its original political satire has been lost. It is surprising to many fans of the film and of the lesser-known series of books by author L. Frank Baum to learn that Baum laced his work with the political themes, characters and even the existing natural forces at work in the heartland of America's Gilded Age.

Perhaps the most obvious of Baum's interpretations comes in the character of the three witches portrayed in the film. In Baum's other works there is also a Good Witch of the South but in the "Wizard of Oz" we have only Glenda the Good Witch of the North and the two evil witches, the Wicked Witch of the East and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Careful interpretation reveals how American settlers calmed both of the wicked witches. The Wicked Witch of the East was the wind, epitomizes life on the Great Plains. The wind is a destructive force that destroys blossoms and eventually carried away millions of tons of prairie topsoil in giant clouds of dirt during the Dust Bowl three decades later.

American ingenuity battled this foul wind with rows of trees and shrubs arranged in wind breaks, by building structures with only eastern- or southern-facing doors and windows, and by growing crops in strips of cultivated land carved out between equal strips of fallow ground.

In the "Wizard of Oz," The Wicked Witch of the East was destroyed by a falling house, a house that represented technology but was still carried by the same destructive wind.

What destroyed the Wicked Witch of the West? A bucket of water thrown by Dorothy as she put out a fire the witch had started on the Scarecrow. This witch is drought. Drought ends with water, and only careful irrigation can make the dry Plains bloom to vibrant life.

Long before I realized Baum's satire, I often wondered why the Scarecrow had no brain yet was the first character to always come up with a good idea. The Scarecrow represents American agriculture. American farmers produce crops and livestock with a success rate unparalleled on the planet, yet they are always at the mercy of outside investors and live precariously close to debt all the time. Hence, the Scarecrow, a genius, albeit one without a brain.

That leaves Glenda, the Good Witch. In a scene where Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and even the indefatigable Toto all collapse in a field of poppies (opium poppies, another bane of chronic drug use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) Glenda brings snow to the frightened Tin Man.

If you haven't guessed it, the heartless Tin Man represents American industry. America's industrial might amazed the world but came at the hands of ruthless, cruel, you might even say ''heartless" business principales.

But industry in the form of dams, levies and ditches harnessed the winter snow, and thus the Good Witch of the North and the Tin Man were able to save the other characters and continue their quest to Oz, to meet the wizard.

I loved teaching these analogies in my United States history casses. The brighter students caught on right away and learned that everything is not always as it seems. Literature can intertwine with history, science and the arts in a beautiful and unexpected ways.

Another unexpected stroke of beauty arrived early last week as Glenda descended on much of Fremont County.

We often speak of "million-dollar rains" in April, May and early June, but this time it was a million-dollar snow.

Snow doesn't bring as much immediate moisture as rainfall but a heavy, wet snow like the one we just experienced brings about 1/10th the amount of water as a rain of the same dimensions.

In other words, an inch of rain equals about 10 inches of heavy, wet snow and about a foot of the powdery type.

I calculated what Monday's and Tuesday's 10 inches of snow at our place meant in total gallons of water.

We have 15 acres just outside Riverton. On Monday morning our two dogs, Hugo and Sam, were kicking up dust as they raced across the pasture.

That all changed by noon. And by Tuesday morning after approximately 407,175 gallons of water fell from the sky, there wasn't any dust to be found.

Drifts were more than three feet in places but the average snow depth was 10 inches. Other places around the county got more.

The melting began almost immediately, and those of us who already have dragged their pastures or fertilized their fields will see a tremendous jumpmstart to the grass and alfalfa that feeds the livestock of our county.

Snow and rain bring much higher levels of nitrogen to the soil than irrigation water does, and the greening effect is nothing short of miraculous.

This summer, when the Wicked Witch of the East howls away and the sun brings out the worst in the Wicked Witch of the West under our familiar cloudless, blue, skies be thankful that Glenda made the trip south to greet us.

Let's hope she'll come again.

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