When Dorothy’s house gets whisked into the air in L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard Of Oz (1900) it leaves behind a scorched and lifeless landscape in Kansas. The dull repetition of colourlessness has infected the land and the hearts of those around her.
In the 1939 film version, Dorothy has a different problem. No-one is taking her seriously. No one cares about her fight with the influential Miss Gulch and the threat to her dog, Toto. Aunt Em, Uncle Henry and even the farmhands are too busy to lend her their ears for a couple of minutes.
Sound familiar? A grey, unchanging landscape of days stretched out in front of you.
Or, are you struggling to capture the attention of your fellow humans? Isn’t anyone listening?
Maybe no-one has time to read your Linked In post properly or respond to your brilliant new idea.
Perhaps the two things are connected — we are trapped in a world that seems unchangeable, but at the same time, everyone is too busy to stop and listen to one another?
Perhaps we could benefit from a new storytelling mindset.
L Frank Baum
L. Frank Baum, born in 1856 in New York State, knew a thing or two about changing worlds — he had numerous different existences under his belt before he started penning his classic story.
Kicked out of military college, he failed to graduate from high school, and it wasn’t until he was age 40 that he started writing down his Wizard of Oz stories.
Of course, you don’t just become a writer by sitting down at a desk and writing. Baum spent a lot of time cultivating his imagination as a youngster, and throughout his life, he relished telling his kids and local children his fables.
In ‘Baum’s Bazaar’, one of his failed ventures, he would receive crowds of youngsters who would turn up after school every day to hear his faraway tales.
These children forecasted his future; they saw the genius of a storyteller he would become- The Literary Traveller.
Baum had that most valuable tool for creative writers, a curiosity about people’s inner stories.
His journeys had given him exposure to different characters. Although he experienced more than one financial disaster, he maintained faith in people’s ability to transcend their circumstances and make extraordinary journeys through life.
Evan Schwartz, the author of Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story, describes the Wizard Of Oz as a ‘transformation of consciousness’ story.’
The Wizard of Oz is held up as a template structure for creative writers, but you can also extend the advice to your own life if you’re feeling the bland impact of everyday life, or your current world just isn’t listening.
1: Leaving The House
The first thing is first; you’ve got to get out of the house. Now, I know some of us are stuck inside in some parts of the world. That doesn’t matter — I’m talking about a metaphorical house.
A new realm where different ideas, people and conversations dwell. New walls, a new garden, perhaps no roof. A new way of thinking.
David Hume, Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher, believed that ‘ideas come from impressions’ — they don’t just float up out of nowhere.
As impression are senses to the world, staying in the same place all of the time is sure to dull them.
Likewise, adventure rarely knocks on your door if you’re in a dreary state of mind.
Now, Dorothy has a particular advantage here in that her journey is constructed, but Baum never stopped creating new worlds.
With the responsibility of a family and ill health, he never stopped trying out new ventures until he landed on his Wizard of Oz franchise.
From the very moment Dorothy leaves her house in the new world of Oz, her senses are on overdrive. Her transformation has commenced.
The little girl gave a cry of amazement and looked about her, her eyes growing bigger and bigger at the wonderful sights she saw -Baum, p7.
2: Setting Yourself A Quest
Sometimes your quest becomes evident once you’ve left the house; other times, it makes you leave the house. The two steps are interrelated.
A quest, a search for something, will always put you on the path of adventure. Sometimes you get what you want, other times you get what you need, rarely both, but in all cases, it is a process of discovery that will stoke your imagination.
And imagination is a powerful tool.
“Imagination had given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that daydreams with your eyes wide open are likely to lead to the betterment of the world.” — Literary Traveller.
Dorothy’s mission is clear from the beginning. She must get back to Kansas and with this desire emerges a simple quest. She must meet the Wizard of Oz. From there, her company, her outlook, and her stakes all grow, throwing up new obstacles on the road.
It’s only through having a well-articulated quest or purpose that Dorothy can face dangers on the road.
3. Embracing New Characters
Whether or not you subscribe to the Jim Rohn theory that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, there is validity in embracing new characters to experience a new way of looking at the world.
The super-quick take-up of video conferencing in the short COVID period has opened up new avenues to meet people.
While some lament the lack of tactile contact, a different mindset might celebrate the fact that you can now have a conversation with many parts of the world — albeit by VC without having to fork out for a flight or other significant investments of time or money.
Not only that but the right, new characters will help you fulfil your quest.
For Baum, that person was the illustrator William W. Denslow, who he met at the Chicago Press Club. The two worked on a few ventures before settling down to create their blockbuster illustrated story, Wizard Of Oz.
Baum was also interested in creating new characters in his story worlds. As a child, the European fairy tales of Andersen and Brothers Grimm terrified him.
“The time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf horrible and blood-curdling incidents devised by their authors point a fearsome moral to each tale.” -Baum, p1
Within moments of landing on the ground, Dorothy’s previously held bias about all witches being evil is upturned. Her transformation of consciousness has begun, and with each new meeting, she encounters a character that takes her closer to her quest of getting back to Kansas.
Fallibility and Transformation
Being fallible, capable of making mistakes is a trait that runs through all thinking beings, and if we want to aim for infallibility, we had better not leave the house in the first place.
Yet, we have expectations of ourselves and of others of being infallible all the time. We hear phrases like ‘punching above their weight’ or outraged stories of editors trying out something new.
The infallible mindset makes us critical of others trying to do something different and prevents us from trying new things.
Baum, across his lifetime, encountered many real-life humbugs, from the merciless masters at a military school who would try and beat his imagination out of him. To the series of bookkeepers that drove his business to closure and bankruptcy, to business partner fallouts.
But throughout these setbacks, he continued to move forward, recognising both his fallibility and others in his journey.
“for I have lived long enough to learn that in life, nothing adverse lasts very long. And it is true that as years pass, and we look back on something which, at that time, seemed unbelievably discouraging and unfair. The eventual outcome was, we discover, by far the best solution for us.” — Literary Traveller
Embrace the fallible uncertainty because anything else is an illusion, like the Wizard of Oz himself.
Human fallibility runs through most of the characters in the Wizard of Oz.
Neither Dorothy nor her friends recognise the inherent power they have within to realise their desires. The Wizard, outed as a humbug for pretending to be an almighty and all-powerful wizard, is perhaps the most fallible of all.
“The Wizard may be a huckster — a short bald man born in Omaha rather than an all-powerful being — but meek and mild Dorothy, also a mere mortal, has the power within herself to carry out her desires.” — Chloe Schama, Smithsonian
A return to an old world with a new mindset is the ultimate cycle of a storytelling journey. Joseph Campbell, the supreme wisdom on storytelling, calls the hero’s final work; the act of return.
What does the old world look like after an adventure? After a transformed consciousness experience? What does yours look like?
Mine feels lighter after writing this blog where I’ve stepped into a new world, made the blog my quest, encountered new characters and returned to my work a little more hopeful than before.
It can all be so simple.
In the book, Dorothy returns to a new house and Aunt Em’s reaction. Her aunt was previously as emotionally dried out as her skin and the landscape.
so startled by the child’s laughter that she would scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears.-Baum, p4
But when Dorothy appears back on the dry Kansas plains, her response is new.
“My darling child!” she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses; “where in the world did you come from?”- Baum, p143
Here we have a transformation of consciousness, not only from Dorothy changing from a meek girl to an adventure hardy leader but also Aunt Em.
She has once again discovered life inside her niece; in turn, learning life renewed inside her.
You can achieve a transformation of consciousness with a simple roadmap.
If this feels self-interested to you in a world where things are so unequal, consider the good that Dorothy’s journey did to her friends and remember that a storytelling mindset can have an exponential impact on others.
1. Get out of the house, digital or real, though don’t forget your mask! Try a new route in your walk, join a book club, turn off aggressive Twitter channels, step out of your silo.
2. Set yourself a quest. Having a mission or an investigation is just good fun; a purpose, however small, to learn a few phrases in a different language, play a recorder, and build a world or community. We’re meaning-seeking, curious creatures, and we can forget this in a world of loud shouting voices and notifications. If there’s no one to discuss your ideas with on your path, choose another one.
3. Embrace new characters. In the film version of Wizard of Oz, the farmworkers are all transformed into different characters — are you ignoring the people around you? The postman. The man with the golf sign. In the words of Anais Nin — You see the world as you see yourself, so if you do not see magic outside, it is time to start, and maybe that will help your transformation.
4. Treat yourself and the people around you as fallible and capable of changing. Without the possibility of making mistakes, how can we be courageous, and those who make mistakes have shown themselves to brave in trying? Mostly.
5. Remember that the return home from an adventure often brings an unexpected reward; the courage of leaving the house, follow your quest, meet new characters, and see the world with emotional intelligence will surely change your world.
Thanks for reading.