Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How Can You Talk If You Haven't Got a Brain?

photo by Amy Brandon
“I don't know, but some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
The Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz
Once a year, when I was a child, The Wizard of Oz would come on the one TV set we had in the house.  This was before streaming, or recording, or any other way of watching The Wizard of Oz, so it was a BFD. Everyone watched it; everyone loved it.  Except me.  I did not love it.  I could not watch it.  I tried, but I was already on the edge of the couch ready to bolt when the house fell on the witch, which is pretty early on and fairly important to the plot.  The menace of the grasping trees pushed me over the edge and out of the living room. This scenario was repeated more than once.  I kept trying because I wanted nothing more than to silence my brothers’  taunts and to be like everyone else and to love The Wizard of Oz.  Eventually, I made peace with that part of myself and quit even trying to watch, which is why until recently, I had never seen the movie. This didn’t stopped me from belting out “Over the Rainbow” on a fairly regular basis over the course of my life, but the complete story of Dorothy and her friends…no idea.
Well, until now.  A few weeks ago, as  I was reading in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, I came across this passage:   “I realized that the Tin Man character, at least in the early part of the movie, seemed an apt symbol of patriarchal consciousness.  He is a frozen figure, standing with his ax, his blade of power, in the air.  The story tells us he’s lost his heart.  He’s lost the ‘juices’ of life.  Even his tears are frozen on his face.  His ability to feel and relate at a deep empathetic level is gone.   Have you ever wondered how the Tin Man got into such a deplorable, frozen state?  The book says the Tin Man was a woodsman whose ax became cursed, causing him to cut away his own body, piece by piece, including his heart, until he was no longer covered in warm flesh but encased in an armor of tin.” (Kidd, 78)  What an evocative, provocative thought.  After reading that, I had to read the book. I wondered what the Cowardly Lion inside of me had made me miss.
There is so much in this little story.  I feel like I need to read it again to be able to absorb more of the depth of the ideas.  The Tin Man’s story of his loss of the ability to love and some of his quotes in that telling are fabulous.  The more you read, though, the more you realize that the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion are all looking for something they already have.  The Tin Man believes he can’t love because that is what he’s been told, and yes, he is frozen when found, but he is moaning about his frozen state, far from apathetic about it. Frozen isn’t dead, and frozen isn’t heartless, and he spends the entire journey showing great love for his companions.  I suspect that many of the people we encounter who seem "frozen" may be those who have felt the most and thus have been hurt the most. The Scarecrow, likewise, has been told that he needs a brain to reason, yet often, his reasoning saves the company from certain death.  (As the story is metaphorical, we will dispense with the rationality of functioning in any way without a brain or a heart.)  The Lion’s problem comes also from his misunderstanding of courage.  He believes courage to mean the absence of fear. Yet often throughout the journey, he stands up in the throes of his fear and helps the little company pull through.  Toward the end of the book, the Wizard tells him, “True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
Perhaps the most powerful metaphor in the book is found in the Wizard himself.  The Wizard is no wizard.  He’s just a man who has found a way to fool a lot of people into believing he is something he is not. (Sound familiar?) While the Wizard of Oz was a fairly harmless leader, all too often it seems that people who desire power either have lost or never had the qualities they need most to rule:  compassion, empathy, humility, a sense of justice and fairness.  Luckily for the citizens of Emerald City, their wizard was willing to give up his power as soon as he was given the opportunity.  Unfortunately, this is an instance where I doubt life will ever imitate art, so I'm just going to keep hiding in my books.

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