• Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ECHOES BY

OVER THE RAINBOW: 75 YEARS LATER

Asrar Chowdhury

By the end of the 19th century, America lacked a storyteller. Ferdowsi immortalised ancient Persian tales in “Shahnameh”. “The Arabian Nights” still emit fantasies from magical Baghdad.  The Grimm Brothers immortalised German folklore. Hans Andersen made his Danish tales a part of all of our lives. Even the Brits had CS Lewis's “Alice in Wonderland”. America could only look with an empty 'heart'. America had neither the 'brains' nor the 'courage' to show one good storyteller. Things were about to change as the 20th century dawned.
Lyman Frank Baum (1856-1919), was the 7th of 9 children of Benjamin and Cynthia Baum. From childhood he was a dreamer who loved storytelling. In 1880 his father built him a theatre where he wrote plays and even composed music for the plays. Baum married Maud Gage. A fire at the theatre ended Baum's dreams. After two more disasters in managing a store and a newspaper, he was financially broken. His wife, Maud, was a practical woman. At her insistence, Lyman wrote a story. “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” came out in 1900. There was no turning back. Thirteen more sequels followed. In 1902, “The Wizard of Oz” premiered as a musical in Broadway. It was an instant success. In 1939, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer released the technicolour film, “The Wizard of Oz”. America finally found its master storyteller, 'somewhere over the rainbow', and the story has not lost its appeal 75 years later.  
Dorothy lives in Sepia Kansas with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and the farmhands Hunk, Hickory and Zeke. Her only friend is her dog, Toto. They land in trouble with powerful and cruel Miss Gulch. Toto is taken away for biting Miss Gulch. Toto escapes. Miss Gulch is certainly going to come back for Toto. Dorothy decides to run away. They meet Professor Marvel who isn't a real fortune-teller, but is a good heart. Professor Marvel persuades Dorothy to believe Aunt Em is worried and she needs to get back home. On their way back home, a deadly tornado strikes. Dorothy manages to get to the house, but the tornado carries Dorothy and Toto above the clouds.
Dorothy and Toto land in the Technicolour 'Oz'. Their house kills the Wicked Witch of the East. Glinda the Good Witch of the North comes to congratulate Dorothy while the Munchkins keep dancing in joy. Dorothy needs to get back home. Glinda advises Dorothy to follow the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard who lives in the centre of Oz. Glinda also gives Dorothy the Ruby Glass Slippers of the Wicked Witch of the East.
On her journey, Dorothy meets Scarecrow. He has no brains. Then she meets Tin Man. He has no heart. Finally they meet the Cowardly Lion. He has no courage. The three of them cross the final obstacle -- the field of the deadly poppies. As they meet the Wizard of Oz, they find out they have to go and kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Only then will the Wizard grant their wishes. The Flying Monkeys bring Dorothy and Toto to the Witch. Dorothy spills water over the Witch and she melts.
When they return to the Wizard, Toto reveals the Wizard is a 'humbug'. Nevertheless, he gives Scarecrow a diploma certificate; the Tin Man a heart shaped pocket watch; and the Lion a medal. For Dorothy he builds an air balloon that will carry both the Wizard and Dorothy back home to Kansas. As the balloon is ready, Toto sees a cat and jumps out. Dorothy follows. The Wizard leaves. Glinda the Good Witch appears and tells the morale of the story.
Good stories have a universal theme of ethics, morality and bravery. They are simple, but powerful in their inner messages.  Scarecrow always had brains. Tin Man always had a heart. The Lion always had courage. They needed to make the journey with Dorothy to appreciate their inner strengths. Dorothy always had the power to get back to Aunt Em and Uncle Henry with her Ruby Glass Slippers. Life too is a similar journey. Seventy-five years after the film, the magic of the Ruby Glass Slippers reminds us our dream lie 'somewhere over the rainbow'. We need to make that journey for self- appreciation.

Asrar Chowdhury teaches economic theory and game theory in the classroom. Outside he listens to music and BBC Radio; follows Test Cricket; and plays the flute. He can be reached at: asrar.chowdhury@facebook.com

Published: 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2014

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