Salman Rushdie,
The Wizard of Oz:
An Appreciation

(BFI, 1997)

"When I first saw The Wizard of Oz it made a writer of me" states Salman Rushdie in this nifty little book, an entry in the British Film Institute's Film Classics series. Rushdie weaves critical analysis, personal reminiscences, and behind-the-scenes information into an insightful essay about this well-loved film. Color and black and white stills adorn most of the pages, making it a visual treat as well, and a short story called "The Auctioning of the Ruby Slippers" follows the main essay.

Rushdie's range is remarkable. He moves from his childhood in Bombay, when he first saw The Wizard of Oz to the life of L. Frank Baum to how the technical effects were done to why the silver slippers became ruby slippers without missing a beat. A consideration of storm symbolism and the bleakness of the home to which Dorothy longed to return leads smoothly into a blunt and entirely personal statement: "I couldn't stand Toto."

The Wizard of Oz, Rushdie contends, "is a film whose driving force is the inadequacy of adults, even of good adults, and how the weakness of grown-ups forces children to take control of their own destinies, and so, ironically, grow up themselves." Uncle Henry and Auntie Em can't protect Dorothy from Miss Gulch; the Wizard can't really bring her home; and in the end, it is Dorothy who rescues the Scarecrow and the others and destroys the Wicked Witch of the West. Finally, Dorothy is told that she has always had the power to go home -- to go anywhere -- but she had to learn to act for herself. She expresses her newfound independence by declaring that she wants to go home and never leave again.

I have been known to murmur "There's no place like home" during stressful staff meetings, but in truth, I always wondered about Dorothy's declaration about finding her heart's desire in her own back yard. As an often literal-minded child, I remember vague childhood feelings of guilt at walking into my back yard and not feeling completely satisfied. Later, I understood Dorothy's metaphor, but I still didn't accept it. Rushdie also questions the message presented by the end of the movie and notes how inconsistent it is with Dorothy's new strength.

In the short story Rushdie fictionalizes the auction of a pair of ruby slippers which were found on the MGM lot and sold for $15,000 to an anonymous bidder. He speculates on the just why someone might want to own a pair of ruby slippers.

A list of credits (which includes the names of all of the performers portraying the Munchkins), a brief list of films based on the works of L. Frank Baum, and a bibliography round out the book. It's well worth effort to track down this title.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 30 May 1999

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