Sunday, September 14, 2008

Somewhere over the Rainbow

Over the Rainbow must be one of the world's most recorded songs, its popularity partly due to the utopian wish that is at its heart, a wish planted by the creator of The Wizard of Oz, creator L. Frank Baum (1856-1919):

'His [Baum's] purpose is to bring loners and outcasts together to depict just how capable they are. Implicit is the notion that common people do not need managers or middlemen to run their affairs, that the latent creative potential in each simple person need only be awakened and encouraged to develop. Baum's major characters in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are non-competitive and non-exploita­tive. They desire neither money nor success. They have little regard for formal schooling or silly social conventions. They respect differences among all creatures and seek the opportunity to fill a gap in their lives... he wanted to educate readers to the fact that individ­ualism could be achieved in other ways - through tenderness, good will, and cooperation. To be smart, compassionate, and courageous are qualities which could be put to use to overcome alienation, The colors and ambience of Oz are part of an atmosphere which allows for creativity and harmony along with a sense of social responsibility. Dorothy sees and feels this. She is 'wizened' by her trip through Oz, and Baum knows that she is stronger and can face the drabness of Kansas. This is why he closes the book in America: Dorothy has a utopian spark in her which should keep her alive in gray surroundings...

By the time Baum came to write The Emerald City of Oz in 1910, he had developed precise principles for his utopia, and he formulated them at the beginning of this book:

'Each man/woman, no matter what he or she produced for the good of the community, was supplied by the neighbors with goods and clothing and a house and furniture and ornaments and games. If by chance the supply ever ran short, more was taken from the great storehouses of the Ruler, which were afterward filled up again when there was more of any article than the people needed.

Everyone worked half the time and played half the time, and the people enjoyed the work as much as they did the play, because it is good to be occupied and have something to do.

There were no cruel overseers set to watch them, and no one to rebuke them or find fault with them. So each one was proud to do all he could for his friends and neighbors, and was glad when they would accept the things he produced.

Oz being a fairy country, the people were, of course, fairy people; but that does not mean that all of them were very unlike the people of our own world. There were all sorts of queer characters among them, but not a single one who was evil, or who possessed a selfish or violent nature.

They were peaceful, kind-hearted, loving and merry, and every inhabitant adored the beautiful girl who ruled them, and delighted to obey her every command'.

Baum's 'socialist' utopia is a strange one since it is governed by a princess named Ozma, but there is no real hierarchy or ruling class in Oz. Ozma the hermaphrodite is a symbol of matriarchy and guarantees the development of socialist humanism in Oz by regulating magic, especially by banning black magic'.

Source: Jack Zipes, Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion (Routledge: London

Judy Garland's original version of the song from 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz:

'it is significant that Maud Gage, whom Baum married in 1882, was the daughter of an active and well-known feminist, Matilda Joslyn Gage, a colleague of the leading US suffragists in drawing up the Woman's Bill of Rights, as well as a feminist historian... Dorothy in the book is definitely a modern heroine, if not a New Woman; she is the predecessor of many a plucky, stoic, staunch girl lead - neither a milksop nor a tomboy, but a little girl who embarks on her adventures in a spirit of curiosity, wonder and self-reliance...But Dorothy makes allies, and she is convincingly loyal and brave, loving and good. With her clear, straightforward help, the Wizard will be deposed and the ideal Land will be restored to its rightful female ruler; in Oz, women won't reign through lies and illusions, but with sincere kindness. Ozites do not wage war: the enemies who tunnel through to the Emerald City in later stories in order to sack it and kill everyone are tricked by Ozma to arrive very thirsty and drink from a fountain of forgetfulness. They then can't remember why they have bothered to make the journey.

Like many progressives in the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods, both in Europe and the US, Maud Gage Baum rejected organised religion and was attracted instead by new thinking about the supernatural - spiritualism, psychic research and theosophy. The Baums became theosophists in the 1890s, and their four boys, at their grandmother's insistence, were not baptised. They were sent to Chicago's ethical school instead, where religion was not taught. Traces of the movement's beliefs show in Oz's structure - its matriarchal tendencies, and its freedom from established churches of all kinds'.

Source: Marina Warner, Over the Rainbow, Guardian, 19 July 2008

Here's a version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow sung by the late Hawaiian singer and ukulele player Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (1959-1997 - the bit at the end of the video is of his ashes being scattered in the sea):

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