by Barry Germansky

L. Frank Baum may lack the linguistic brilliance of Lewis Carroll, but he is certainly a formidable wordsmith. What is more, he possesses two qualities that are almost as rare (if not rarer): gentle wisdom and an appreciation of our species’ capacity for wonder. Since, as many of Carroll’s proto-absurdist characters point out, existence is something of a malleable folly when consciously rendered, the best cerebral strategy for an individual to adopt is that of pseudo-practicality, which determines the value of thoughts based on their degree of contradiction. If all thoughts are separate from that which they represent, then the most sustaining thoughts are often those with enough layers of fantasy to make the inability of ever achieving genuine knowledge of the essence of non-thought entities seem unimportant. In Oz, there is never a reason to delve too seriously into matters of epistemology; there is always so much fun to be had.

The most fertile breeding ground for thoughts in the non-thought world is the location described at the end of the first Oz book: Home. The book’s speculative, heart-wrenching, faux-fascist conclusion rebels against many elemental problems, including growing up, leaving behind a close-knit family unit for an indifferent or hostile sociological imagination, and submitting to our alienating, contradictory biological instincts, from the pursuit of sexual pleasure to the death drive. The book’s ending is expanded upon in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Not only is the scene prolonged, but more characters are added to it so that they can make a strength-in-numbers case for the power of domestic bliss. Just look at the contented, wide-eyed faces gathered around Judy Garland’s Dorothy, whose childlike sense of homespun enthusiasm makes her face the most contended and wide-eyed of all.

In both the book and the film, the preferences for all things in and of the home are at once beautifully and grotesquely unreasonable, but they are also infinitely preferable to the encoded blueprint of human life that will inevitably limit one’s options in this plane of existence when one hitches a ride on the night train to the Big Adios. Naturally, not everyone is lucky enough to be afforded a blissful childhood, but there is the potential in childhood of unlimited creative freedom that can exist on its own terms and without justification, a power impossible to achieve in the self-defeating wastelands of adulthood. Is everyone able to find a loving family, either through birth or resourcefulness? No. But families are everywhere and nowhere, such is the malleability of the word “family” and all other words. For those who cannot return to a traditional home populated by a traditional family, The Wizard of Oz and Baum’s Oz books can serve as temporary familial surrogates while simultaneously providing tips on how to discover new homes and families in the tangible world. We are all wizards, and magic is always within our grasp.