My thesis looks at new myth in contemporary fiction, and for this I’m currently looking at the mythic status of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the 1939 MGM film adaptation. It is one of those research avenues that is both well established, and conversely a rarely traveled road. By that I mean that plenty has been written on ‘myth and Oz’, but there is very little agreement or even cross referencing among the critics. Some of the theory is maddeningly vague and simplistic, and some is overly complicated. That is just the nature of research, and something I have to work through to find the ‘good stuff’ that’s locked up in some of the more obscure secondary texts.
I’ve recently returned from the 10th Global Monsters and the Monstrous conference held at Mansfield College, Oxford by Inter-Disciplinary.Net. It was the subtitle of this conference – Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil – that drew me to the conference and got me thinking about the nature of evil and the innovative constructions of identity I was looking at in my thesis. In discussing my own use of the term ‘myth’ and establishing the Oz narratives as myth I wanted to show the following clip of performer Bobby McFerrin:
[Apologies for the poor video quality, the better quality recording was taken down.]
To me this performance displays the way that the sights and sounds of narratives, through ritualistic repetition in a sacred-like space (theatre, cinema, gallery, museum, library) take on an iconic quality which is the first stage for transforming prose narratives into myth.
The comment bellow [original] the video from an audience member is vital in understanding how this performance puts forward a strikingly coherent argument that this is truly a modern myth. This Audience member explains that they mistook the cry from the crowd of ‘Do the Wizard of Oz!’ as them being unable to remember the name of the 1939 film’s main theme song Over the Rainbow:
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw this. The audience kept calling out, “Do ‘The Wizard of Oz’!” and when he started this song, I thought, “Oh, they just couldn’t think of the title of ‘Over the Rainbow.” BUT NO! The man started doing the whole Wizard of Oz!!!! It was a-MA-zing. It was 1987, and I’d only even found out about the concert because I’d made a wrong turn on the way home from college and wandered into the signal of North Texas State University. Thank heaven for getting lost!” (tejaswoman)
A few things about this video and the comment stand out for me. The interaction between McFerrin and the audience reminds me of learning about Beowulf during my undergraduate; specifically the different translations of the call to listen ‘Hwæt!’ and how this was indicative of the performance of the poem, designed to carry over the noisy Hall and enthral the inhabitants.
The particular instances that are picked out also seem, to me, to be highly significant. Yes, Over the Rainbow starts the performance off, but many of the most memorable of the spoken lines which creep in belong to the Witch. So much is conveyed in the repetition of “poppies”, and it would not be The Wizard of Oz without “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too.” I was comparing Dorothy’s acquisition of the Ruby Slippers in Baum’s book and the 1939 film in my recent chapter, and so had to transcribe the dialogue from the film. I know that I have seen the film many, many times but nonetheless I surprised myself with just how much I could do from memory, without having watched the film recently.
The easiest lines to remember were Margaret Hamilton’s, and I think it is no coincidence that Bobbly McFerrin concludes with the melting of the Wicked Witch.