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Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz

Originally titled "From Kansas to Fairyland," L. Frank Baum's classic The Wizard of Oz has become one of the most powerful sources of Kansas imagery. The Kansas-Oz relationship has been nurtured by a series of books, plays, films, and a promotional campaign for the state featuring the slogan "Kansas, Land of Ahs!" For more than 100 years this association has been both enthusiastically embraced and vigorously opposed.

The Wizard of Oz and the Oz books that would later follow began as stories Baum told two his young sons in Chicago. His mother-in-law encouraged him to put the stories to paper, and on May 17, 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was printed. Of the 35,000 copies, records indicate that 21,000 were sold. Initially publishers were leery of the book, and only agreed to print once the play had been staged. Few anticipated the sales potential for the book. By 1938 more than one million copies had been printed. By 1956 the sales of the novel grew to 3 million copies.

Kansans have mixed feelings for Baum and his story. Dorothy, a little girl from Kansas, lives in a bleak, drab environment. A Kansas cyclone catapults Dorothy over the rainbow into the colorful Land of Oz. The Kansas Baum describes was based on his experiences living in South Dakota in the 1880s. Many Kansans found this description of Kansas unjust and untrue.

The Wizard of Oz became one of the bestselling books of the 20th century. Its success furthered the stereotype of Kansas as a monotonous and tornado-ridden state. Much of this stereotype is due to the 1939 movie version starring Judy Garland. One of the best known movies of all time, with yearly showings of the film on network television beginning in 1956, it has possibly eclipsed the fame of the novels.

The motion picture contrasts the Kansas scenes in monochrome with Technicolor scenes of Oz. A memorable tornado sequence leads to Dorothy's arrival in the colorful Land of Oz, and her famous line, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."

The negative imagery of Kansas in The Wizard of Oz is only a part of the story, for the tale is based on Dorothy's attempt to return home to Kansas. After having traveled through the colorful and exciting Land of Oz, Dorothy exclaims as she taps together the heels of her ruby slippers, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." Many Kansans point to Dorothy's desire as the more important message of the work.

Despite the ambivalence to the story, The Wizard of Oz has become an important part of Kansas history. A museum stands in honor of the work, quotable lines from the motion picture are part of our lexicon, and it holds an important place in popular culture. As Dorothy said, "No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home."

Entry: Wizard of Oz

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: April 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.