Some time ago I was talking with a group of friends, and the topic of “safe” fiction came up. Since two of these Christians are moms and the other is a school teacher, they had a vested interest in the topic. At one point, we began discussing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, primarily the film version so well-known today.
In most circles, this book and movie would be an illustration of safe fiction, the kind we want our children to read. After all, the story upholds the importance of home, the value of courage, heart, wisdom and honesty.
Regarding the original Baum storybook, it has been said: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is America’s greatest and best-loved home grown fairytale. The first totally American fantasy for children, it is one of the most-read children’s books . . . and despite its many particularly American attributes, including a wizard from Omaha, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has universal appeal.” The film itself is widely considered to be one of the most well known, beloved films of all time, and was one of the earliest films to be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress.
“Culturally significant” is an apt description, I think. The movie and book, in my opinion, prepared several generations to accept secular humanism in place of Christianity. A bold statement, perhaps, but not without grounds.
First, the author himself, L. Frank Baum, was a theosophist. From “What Is Theosophy”:
Theosophy teaches that all religions contain elements of the “Ancient Wisdom” and that wise men throughout history have held the secret of spiritual power. Those who have been enlightened by the divine wisdom can access a transcendent spiritual reality through mystical experience.
No wonder, then, Dorothy and friends arrive in Oz only to discover that the wizard, as the supposedly all powerful ruler (and therefore a God figure), is a fraud. No wonder in the end, good witch Gilda tells Dorothy she’s had the ability to go home all along, she just had to find it inside her. No wonder the Tin Man discovered he had heart all along, the Lion learned he had courage, and the Scarecrow, brains. Throughout the story, there is this strong thread—You can do it, you can do it, you can.
And what a popular message that is today. Self-help seminars, books, infomercials, all proclaiming this belief in the human spirit. How many athletes say something similar in wrap-up interviews! We just had to believe in ourselves.
So now in western culture we have Man, clawing up behind Satan, trying to replace God. In part because of a piece of “safe” fiction.
There were, I’ve heard, some objections to the movie when it came out—because it had witches in it, I was told. So if the good and bad witches had been replaced by good and bad shoe salesmen, the problems would be taken care of?
The search for safe fiction can be a dangerous, dangerous pursuit. Too often those engaged in the quest are looking for whitewashed walls, all the while oblivious to the fact that behind them may lie a tomb.
This article first appeared, minus some editorial changes, at A Christian Worldview of Fiction in June 2008.
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For those in the US celebrating Memorial Day, may you enjoy your holiday in whatever manner you choose.