The wizardry of Oz, 2: Echoes of Robespierre?

Have you ever noticed the political echoes between the Wizard of Oz and Robespierre? Consider these similarities: 1) In the L. Frank Baum novel, the Wizard of Oz obliges all inhabitants of the Emerald City to wear green-tinted spectacles because, as the guard explains to Dorothy upon her arrival at the gates, “if you did not wear spectacles the brightness and glory of the Emerald City would blind you. … They are locked on, for Oz so ordered it when the City was first built” (117). 2) Robespierre himself always wore green-tinted glasses, according to his biographer Ruth Schurr (Fatal Purity, 12). 3) When he is unveiled at the end, Baum’s Wizard admits he is a humbug and reveals the tricks he has used to fool observers into believing in his power (ventriloquism, optical illusions, hot air balloon technology), his reclusive habits, and fear of being revealed. But his original rise to prominence, he insists, was something of an accident; as he notes, “I found myself in the midst of a strange people, who, seeing me come from the clouds, thought I was a great Wizard. Of course I let them think so, because they were afraid of me, and promised to do anything I wished them to” (187). The Wizard’s final words underline his goodness. In response to Dorothy’s exclamation, “I think you are a very bad man,” he replies: “Oh no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard, I must admit.” (189). 4) Robespierre’s speech to the Jacobins on November 21, 1793 reveals a similar mix of grandiloquence and humility. Defending his notion of a great Being who watches over the people, he describes himself as a “poor sort of Catholic,” but insists that his aim is true: “I have never cooled in my friendship for, or failed in my championship of, my fellow men. Indeed, I have only grown more wedded to the moral and political ideas that I have expressed … The French people pins its faith, not on its priests, nor on any superstition, or any ceremony, but on worship as such–that is to say, upon the conception of an incomprehensible power, which is at once a source of confidence to the virtuous and of terror to the criminal” (cited in Shurr, 194).
These echoes may be fortuitious; the landscape of 19th-century America abounded with tyrants and tricksters, to be sure. Nevertheless, it is intriguing to note the reverberations that echo between the sentiment and populism of the Wizard of Oz and the so-called Charlatan of the Terror.
Works cited (and sources of illustrations):
Ruth Schurr, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution (NY: Henry Holt, 2006).
L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (repr. of 1900 edition; Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Media Group LLC, 2003).


One thought on “The wizardry of Oz, 2: Echoes of Robespierre?

  1. Great post! The quotes from the Wizard of Oz also sound a lot like what early American travel wrote when they encountered the “natives,”, i.e. they thought I was a God so I just let them think that….

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