There’s No Place Like Home

“I am Oz! The Great and powerful …”

I ignore the floating green skull and its superior glare, hovering theatrically in its own flames as I make my way to the red curtain not too far away.

“How dare you!” the terrible voice booms, “You have not been given permission to go there!”

The sounds of thunder explode throughout the great chamber. Lights not unlike lightning explode into my eyes. I continue to stalk towards the booth with the red curtain with Apollonian purpose, an ironic reference in itself. Mists and fog swarm around me, and frightening admonitions echo throughout the great throne-room. These sights, and sounds and smells almost make me dizzy.

“Taking a scrap from the Pythia’s scroll, I see,” I speak aloud and continue walking.

“Cease this insolence!” the other cries, his below prompting a burst of orange flame around me, “Or I will summon my Guards to destroy you!”

“No,” I say calmly and without feeling, “you won’t. As an Oracle, you can’t afford to have your men that close,” I get closer to the booth, “besides, we both know they are already dead.”

I walk through the illusionary flames, images channeled there by glittering panels from the corner of my eye.

“Desist, or be struck down by the power of Oz the Great and Terrible!”

“I’m surprised, really,” I tell him as I get closer, “I’m surprised that in a world of magic and strangeness like this one, they wouldn’t have seen right through your disguise. Of course, a magician of any kind–mystical or otherwise–does his best work,” I come up to the curtain, “in plain sight.”

I rip open the curtain. And there is great maniacal laughter.

The man behind the curtain … is not a man at all. It is something else dressed in long emerald coattails. The bronze creature lunges for me with its blade. I barely dodge it, and meet it with the sword in my own hand. Then the curtain completely collapses and two more metallic creatures wielding great silvery wicked-looking scythes surround me. I parry the central construct’s blade even as the others come towards me from the sides …

And promptly collapse into pieces.

The central construct, the Tik-Tok as my companions outside called them, halted. In its beady clockwork eyes, I can almost see fear before it too shudders, steam bursting from its neck-bolts, and falls to the ground with its fellows in one great ruinous scrap-heap.

I hear the click of the weapon at my neck before I even turn around.

“Steam-powered clock-work automatons,” I nod, “I’m impressed.”

“Why thank you,” the voice behind me said, “it took me quite some time to create them.”

“I can imagine.”

“Get up.”

Slowly, I turn around. He’s dressed in the same green coattails that his construct wore. He’s short, and stout, and his receding hair is grey, almost silver. Anyone who saw him would probably have thought him some kind of minor janitor in the Emerald City, a harmless and perhaps even friendly old man. But the hard eyes behind the small rectangular spectacles say otherwise.

“There’s always one in every crowd,” his voice quavers somewhat nasally without the machines to make it sound fearsome, “someone who just won’t believe in the magic.”

“So that’s what you call it,” my words are cold, and final.

He trains his weapon at me, a black antique Colt pistol, “Young man, it is all magic. It’s all one spectacle. Bread, and circuses, you know,” he drawls casually, “It’s just very rare that you find one in the crowd that sees through the trick,” his eyes narrow, “But since you seem to know how my tricks work, it’s only fair–from one magician to another, mind you–that you tell me yours.”

“It’s a trade secret.”

The man laughs, “It was Elphaba, wasn’t it?”

“And what makes you think the Witch is the only one with magic?”

“Well, she isn’t. Not really. She is just more skilled at it than most here. You’d be surprised how much ‘magic’ is left in even these lands.”

“Actually,” I tell him, “I’m not.”

“Tell me what I want to know, young man,” his nasal voice becomes low, the weapon in his hand clicking again, “we are not in Kansas.”

“Though we do come from the same world,” I relish telling him this, now, “Oscar Zoroaster.”

The man seems to freeze in place. His beady eyes seem to dilate like that of a bird’s, “What?”

“Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs,” I repeat, “You were a showman in the United States, probably in the late nineteenth century. A minor conjurer, traveling magician, and tinkerer. You know a lot about mirrors, tricks, sleight of hand, sophistry, clock-work devices, and the power of steam, your Age being what it was before you … left.”

“So …” he says after a while, “You are from Earth.”

“From a different time, yes. You missed a lot since you’ve been away, Oscar Zoroaster.”

“I am Oz now,” he grins at me, waving his gun at me, “the great and powerful Wizard of these Lands.”

“You’re an artificer at least,” I amend, “Like I said, you must have spent a lot of time here, letting you hone your craft. You made one great Industrial Revolution here, I’ll grant you that much, but not much else. I wonder though … how much of it was your innovation, magic filling the gaps … or slave-labour.”

“Merely dirty Animals, and savages,” he says dismissively, “no one will miss them. I brought peace here. Stability. I brought them civilization.”

“And all the horrors of Industry to go along with it,” my mouth clenches and I remember why I want to kill this man, “Like I said, you missed a lot after you left us. Pollution, starvation, two World Wars, and mechanized genocide. An entire century of human atrocity and dehumanization, anticipated by and brought to scale right here by a carny-man. You are an Oracle after all, ‘Wizard’: a retrograde Oracle from our world more than anything else.”

“Hush now,” he growls at me, “you only live because I want to know how you know about me. I mean, you could have researched, but there are things … perhaps you read The Book. Elphaba probably learned …” he shakes his head, “a pity I can’t let you live beyond this.”

“It won’t matter what you do or don’t do to me,” I tell him, “you’ve already lost, ‘Wizard.'”

“I can recover easily enough. My men are a dime a dozen, and there are many exits to this place. I know. I had it built myself,” his gaze becomes considering, “And then I will rebuild. It won’t take long. None of it really did in relative terms. Then …”

“Your Madame Morrible is already dead. I’m sure that Elphaba and Glinda of the South made sure of that by now, even as we speak,” I allow a smile to appear on my lips, “By the time you kill me, they will be right here. Them and the flying monkeys you experimented on. And all of this, all of this here will be even more meaningless than it already is.”

“You’d be surprised how quickly one can disappear,” he takes aim at me, and pulls the trigger.

There is a sharp click. And then nothing. I let him pull the trigger of his gun again. And there is still an empty click. His small eyes have dilated further into shock, disbelief, and then fear. Very calmly, I take the gun from his hand.

“This is quite the antique you have here. It’s almost as dated as your Vaudevillian antics,” I throw it on the ground.

“Please …” he backs away from me.

“It is already too late for that. And no, I don’t want emeralds, or power, or ruby slippers,” I grab the collar of his shirt, “you’ve already taken enough from these Lands as is.”

“H-how …”

“Oz is a magical place, as you well know. Back in our world, I always had a knack for causing my machines to malfunction. But Oz … seems to make things less obvious things very pronounced, taking concepts and rounding them up to the next most cosmically ridiculous common denominator. It’s like one great Caricature.”

I let my rage fill my eyes, “But it was a Caricature I loved. Dearly.”

I throw him to the ground, “Your mistake, you murderous charlatan was that I watched this place from the very beginning. I saw it grow. I grew up with it. And saw you. I used to think you were pretty something. I used to think, much like Elphaba did, that you were a wise and benevolent Wizard. Even when I knew you couldn’t use magic. I looked up to you,” my voice cracks, “I liked you, and your hot air balloon until I realized that the only thing in your heart is precisely that. Hot air.”

The next thing I know, I’m shaking with fury, and pointing his own gun at him with one hand, “You ruined the Land I loved, that gave me any meaning in my life — poisoned it with the exact same nationalism, and war, and death from our own world. Our own garbage. You … had … no … right! I should kill you right now.”

I walk back a few paces. And then, I do the unthinkable. I toss his own gun back at him. He catches it, with shaking hands and trains it on me again.

“I helped Elphaba figure out how to read The Book. All of The Book. I didn’t have to do much. You can run anywhere you want. You can hide. You can try to kill your way through. But she will find you. Her and all the citizens of Oz: the Munchkinlanders, the Vinkus, the Quadlings, and the Animals. Especially the Animals. They’ll find you, and make you wish you were dead.

“But I don’t want them to get any more blood on their hands on your account. So you have two choices really. Choose wisely.

I wait and watch him. He knows he can’t run from me. And I can see that he knows that even if he can, they will find him. Elphaba even knows who he is. It doesn’t take long for him to make the choice. I swallow violently and look away after. Even after all he did … I almost wished that what I saw come out of him was spilled oil, and shattered coils and springs. An advanced Tik-Tok mechanism that was created with benevolent intentions, then went out of control and killed his real creator: enchanted to look like a man. Like him. But sadly, all that hot-air inside him was not merely the result of steam-power.

It was just the result of another man playing at being God. I feel less like a child now than ever.

But there is just one more thing for me to do. I search around for a little while until I find it. The green elixir.

I hide it in my pocket before she comes back in. She stands there, surrounded by her winged monkeys and Vinkus allies. They scatter and start securing the room. She sees the body on the floor. Fiyero isn’t here yet, so it falls on me to get to her first. Elphaba doesn’t flinch from the sight. But even after all this man did, I can see in her eyes that her heart is broken. I hold her and she holds me back tightly.

“Glinda is fine,” she says to me, “she handled Madame Morrible. I came here as fast as I could …”

“I know,” suddenly I find a lot of my wordiness is gone.

“It’s done then,” she looks sad, and lost, but at the same time there is a great flush of strength from her emerald skin, “I suppose … you have to go now.”

I look at her. We stand at the same height. None of the literature from my world ever really did her justice. This time, I look away from that penetrating stare, “I … don’t want to,” I admit it. I love this world. I love it and its people, and the magic and the friends I’ve made here. I want to see them grow, and prosper. I want to be with them. There is so much wrong with the world that I came from, so much that disgusts me and isolates me there. There is just too much potential to become petty and small again. To forget everything. And her.

“But you have to,” this is not a question. For a few insane seconds, I want to ask her to come away with me, to fly with me on the Wizard’s hot air balloon back to my world. But although my world is more politically correct in some places, she would be no less green to anyone there as she is here. And she would know that. Those few seconds are gone. She has a life here … and a new life to begin. This entire Land has a new life to begin, and Earth and those few people from it have already done enough to it.

I look at this amazing person who is the best of both worlds–though she would never know it–embodied into a beautiful green form with discerning intelligence and an even greater heart and I know that Fiyero is a lucky man, whatever else he is now. A choking feeling sits hard in my chest, not unlike the one I felt as a child when I saw another farewell scene.

“There must be people who care for you,” she prompts, and then hands me something. It is The Book.

“Elphaba …”

“No, I want you have this. Glinda, and I learned everything we needed to. We want you to have it and keep it safe. Who knows …” she smiled, sadly, “maybe one day it will lead you back to us.”

Then she wraps her arms around me and I hold her.

“What will you do with all of this?” I ask her, looking at the throne-room.

She smiles, “I think I might have a plan or two.”

We hug again, and then I manage to walk away. I don’t know what I’ll do now. Maybe I will go back home. Maybe I will succeed in finding the hot air balloon in one of those workshops that the self-styled Wizard had lying around. Or maybe I’ll take it and ride across the clouds to other places, others untouched by time and always going. A little girl and her family one day will move to Oz, hopefully under better circumstances. Maybe I will find the Oz I knew from my childhood again. Though it would be one without her.

No, it will be better to find other Lands. To keep travelling. A young girl from Kansas once said that there is no place like Home.

But I now know, however, that Home is where I carry The Book: this Book and story, that I now keep on living.

Photo and Collage Credit: Beth Ann Dowler

Film Review: Oz The Great and Powerful

So I went off to see the Wizard this past weekend.

I was very eager to see it. I’ve loved The Wizard of Oz for most of my conscious life. I was introduced to it through the famous 1939 film that many know and love. Then I read as many of the books as I could to stay with my friends as much as possible. I also read and saw the Musical version of Wicked: the former of which I respected, and the latter of which I utterly loved.

Now, my two favourite Oz characters have always been the Scarecrow and The Wizard himself. I liked The Wizard because he, well, had a hot air balloon that took him into a magical land. I actually tried weaving a balloon (out of felt and other cloth, not completely aware of what materials a hot weather balloon actually required) but it never got far. Even then, in those days, I wanted to escape this world and go to a better one.

But later on, I liked The Wizard for other reasons. He lacked any magical abilities, but he was a master of sleight-of-hand, illusions and artifice. And for all of his manipulative and deceptive aspects, he just seemed like a kindly old man that actually helped Oz through making himself a symbol if nothing else. He was the one who taught me that the seeming of power can create the greatest form of hope to others. Also, I would like to posit that he was in addition to being a highly flexible thinker and canny stage magician that tricked others–including beings with actual magic–he also was a brilliant artificer: because I am pretty sure the Emerald City’s technological innovations were his doing from his knowledge of late nineteenth century Earth life.

Suffice to say, he was a crafty old man that created a brilliant show as The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard has been depicted in a few ways: as a charlatan, as a villain, and a hapless man trying to figure out what to do in a strange magical land. So I wanted to see what he would be like, as the main character and hero no less, in Oz The Great and Powerful.

Now, I would suggest that, if you do not like Spoilers, you stop following this yellow brick road any further.

All right. So when when we first come across Oscar Diggs, or The Great and Powerful Oz as his magician stage name goes, he is in this black and white world representing 1880s Kansas and looking not unlike the Impressionist world of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

As for Oscar Diggs … what can I tell you? He is supposed to be a complicated man: a rogue and a con artist, a consummate huckster, illusionist and magician, a master of misdirection, a womanizer, but also someone who knows that he is a bad man and feels powerlessness when he can’t help a child and acceptance when a woman that he actually loves is going to marry a better man.

Unfortunately, for the most part the slimy elements outweigh the charm and … he really just comes off as rather, well, less than endearing. Think … less humbug and more … scumbag. Even his jokes, and indeed a lot of the jokes in the world movie situated around him fall a little flat when you right down to it: so much so that you have to force yourself to laugh at them.

Structurally, the film is clever and deals with a lot of misdirection and hood-winks. Aside from the change from black and white to colour–a homage to the 1939 version of Oz–there is also the fact that most of the Wizard’s companions are Oz versions of the people he knew and met in Kansas: much like Dorothy, the farmhands, the travelling conjurer and the mean old woman Elmira Gulch. And then there was the matter of the villain, as far as I’m concerned the person who was becoming the star of the antagonist role …

All right. I liked the scene with the China Girl, Oscar laughing at the people pursuing him as he escaped in a hot air balloon, the little bit of misdirection that Evanora used to try and get Oscar Diggs to do her dirty work for her, Evanora’s green Force lightning, Glinda’s cleverness with the wind and the field of poppies, the Wizard’s scheme in making himself appear to be much more than human towards the end through his old friend misdirection, and some of the more touching scenes like Oscar admitting to what he is. I also really like the parts where he realizes that he has a great advantage over the Witches in terms of technological knowledge and trickery. Oscar asks Glinda, who helps him gather a group of farmers, bakers, inventors, and munchkins together how he is going to defeat the Emerald City’s armies with what he has. But the good Wizard, given the time period where he came from, should have remembered that the most powerful empire in the world at the time was at one point “a nation of shopkeepers”: carrying or having access to most of the resources to not only win a war, but rule a kingdom.

But there were points that really annoyed me. I mean, really annoyed me. For instance, when Oscar finds himself in Oz and hears Theodora talking about how she is a Witch, and then later seeing that she can throw a fireball, my first thought would have been acted out something like this.

Diggs: So … you are a Witch.

Theodora: Yes.

Diggs: And you can use magic?

Theodora: Yes, well, I can.

Diggs: Well okay. I showed you mine. Now show me yours.

Theodora: Um …

Diggs: Show me some magic.

Theodora: Oh ok.

Theodora throws a fireball at something. The Wizard’s jaw drops.

Diggs: That was … incredible …

Theodora: Oh, really?

She blushes.

Diggs: No I mean, you can throw fireballs. Effing fireballs. I mean, pardon my cussing and all, but … just … wait a minute. Just wait one moment. You mean to tell me that you could have thrown fireballs–fireballs–at the winged monkeys attacking us at any time–any freaking time–and you waited for me to sacrifice my poor bird instead?

Theodora: And it was brilliant magic. As expected from the Wizard of prophecy.

Diggs: Yes but … oh dear god, I faced a lion down with a parlour trick and you could have just thrown a fireball at …

The Wizard of Oz spends most of the time walking back trying not to bite through his own tongue at Theodora’s stupidity.

Or something like that. Not that I have anything against Theodora, mind you. She was naive, but really nice: almost unrealistically innocent and Oscar screwed that trust up pretty loyally. In fact, I had more sympathy for her than I did for him and turning into the fucking Wicked Witch of the West with a green apple seemed almost as much of a cop-out–and an excuse to place another major iconic Hollywood fictional figure into a movie to give it credence–as it was magically putting Anakin Skywalker into a freaking Darth Vader suit that just happened to be there in case he got amputated and burned alive. I mean … Gah!

I do like the hint of her nature and it works: that her own tears burn her like acid and she wields fire. There were hints and I erroneously believed she would be the Witch of the East at that point and Evanora was the Witch of the West.

In fact, I thought that Theodora was the North Witch and Glinda the South and Evanora the West with the evil Witch in the outlands being the Eastern one, but Disney decided–like the 1939 film–to just have three witches instead of the four from the books. What I can say: even before this film started I over-thought it.

But anyway, aside from the fact that Evanora could have probably had Glinda killed whenever she wanted, given that she could probably find her in the Crystal Ball, and waited for a man who she knew was a fake Wizard to do it anyway, and the fact that her winged Monkeys are freaking incompetent in not following Glinda and the others off the cliff they jumped from, I have another “What the hell are you doing, you are a Witch!” moment.

So yes, speaking of Glinda. She, Oscar, the China Doll, and Finley the Winged Monkey (what is he anyway, a less feral version of the Winged Monkeys of the Witches or another more docile species?) find themselves surrounded by Winkie soldiers and then the monkeys. So here is another hypothetical scene.

Diggs: So, we’re surrounded by soldiers and flying monkeys.

Glinda: Yes. That seems to be the case.

Diggs: Well, you are a Witch, right? I mean, I know you ladies aren’t warty or fly broomsticks but … you do have powers right?

Glinda: Well yes. Perhaps you have a power we can use here Wizard?

Diggs: … um, my powers work a bit differently from where I come from. Maybe you can do something?

Glinda: Hmmm …

So they run to the cliff and the Wizard freaks out about having to jump off a cliff after Glinda jumps. Then he follows them all and they come up in floating bubbles.

Diggs: Wow! Now this is impressive trick! Woooo! Hey wait … couldn’t …

He dodges a cloud.

Diggs: Couldn’t you have done this before!? You know, like when we were all on the ground running from enemies in the fog?

Glinda just smiles at Diggs.

Or later when we see that Glinda’s wand can Force push or block magic. You know, a good Force push might have been excellent against, well, an army. Of course, we can be nicer about this. Glinda did mention later, much later, that no citizen of Oz can kill anyone. I would imagine that the Wizard and anyone outside of Oz is exempt from this geis: this magical rule that keeps all of this from happening? Maybe Theodora also knew this or was too self-conscious to use her destructive magic to defend her and the Emerald City’s potential saviour. If she did, she and Evanora neglected to tell him that. And, for that matter, if no one in Oz can kill anyone, doesn’t that just neutralize the point to an army of Winkies or Winged Monkeys? Does Glinda mean that Oz is a world that prohibits killing, or is Oz just concerned to be the land around the Emerald City and killing happens everywhere? Also, wouldn’t the destruction of the China Girl’s whole village be considered killing? Or the murder of the original Wizard King of Oz?

Perhaps I was missing something. I have been told that the Witches, while they are also citizens of Oz, are also exempt from this rule due to their unique nature. But let’s operate on the assumption that Oz–in this film–prohibits killing from its residents and the Wizard can in fact kill. There is one scene where the Wizard is teaching engineers how to make black powder. Black powder is used–as it was in the film–in fire works, but also as gunpowder and … explosives.

If the Witches’ army if hand-held ornamental weapon wielders and winged monkeys encountered a group of people with muskets and hidden explosives, they would have been decimated. Period. If I had been Diggs and I was being threatened by Theodora *coughtheWickedWitchoftheWestcough* I would have shown no hesitation in destroying their armies. And maybe Oz Witches are immune to explosives or guns, but considering how the Witch of the East got squashed by a falling house and the other one would have to avoid rainfall and I am sure that Glinda knows their weaknesses (such as she did with Evanora), this could have been a whole other kind of story.

Of course, this was supposed to also be a child-friendly film and Disney had to follow certain legal matters. You know, the ones that kept the ruby or silver slippers from being on Evanora: the Witch of the East. It also makes me wonder if that’s why she didn’t have the Golden Cap: the artifact that allowed the Wicked Witch of the West to even control the Monkeys to begin with … although the 1939 film didn’t have that one. I also feel somewhat sad about those cynical ideas above because I would never have suggested them being implemented in the books or the 1939 film.

But this film just … I really wanted to like it. But it is getting a 3/5. I liked the art and the structure and I recognize what they tried to do, but the Wizard was less a lovable scoundrel and more of a douchebag, Theodora’s transformation was forced, and as a friend of mine stated it didn’t have that resonance of a gauche “camp” feeling that is identified with the film and the Wicked Musical too. It is its own world and it wouldn’t really fit into the main series of Oz, but it was an interesting attempt to make a new story.

Even so, I have to state that in the end, if you have followed the old film or the books, there is no place like home.