Volume 4, Number 1; March 2012
The Way of Oz: Guiding a Life of Wisdom, Heart, and Courage
Written by Bob Smith
Illustrations by Dusty Higgins
“Frank Baum would discover that there's but one surefire way of finding one's innermost self—and that is to embark when the time comes on a journey. And the more arduous the adventure, the more perilous the path, the steeper the cliffs, the more dangerous the demons, the more choices one is forced to make—all the better for determining one's true character.”
Evan I. Schwartz (1964- )
Think about Oz! And the love you may have for the 1939 movie, the original book published in 1900 or perhaps any of its thirteen sequels.
Think about L. Frank Baum, and how this author of The Wizard of Oz—through his life experiences—crafted a marvelous archetypal story about journeys, relationships, loving, and serving.
L. Frank Baum
Now, imagine how the principal characters of Oz might be cast into a model for lifelong wisdom, heart, and courage. The Scarecrow relates to wisdom and learning; the Tin Woodman to heart and loving; and the Cowardly Lion to courage and service.
Dorothy? She is the leadership person—the character with a focus on the future—who brings out the best in others through understanding, heart, and her own courage—all cast in a spirit of kindness and service. And, with Dorothy's savvy about planning, diversity, sustainability, scientific and political understanding, and personal responsibility—she is a character who makes significant differences in the lives of others—men, women, and creatures (including Toto), alike!
The Wizard? He offers a model for humility because he was humiliated in the first book and the movie but in the Oz sequels becomes a truly humble and honest servant through the guidance of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South.
Besides commentary on the characteristics and the overall importance of humility, the Wizard in The Way of Oz inspires us to think of the wisdom of Confucius, who proclaimed:
"Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues."
And through The Way of Oz, we understand the power of integrity, empathy and beneficence to guide one's life, all with ethics in the lead.
Now, put the story, the characters and the lessons of the author's life together and you have The Way of Oz: A Guide to Wisdom, Heart, and Courage. Or, stated differently, a guide for lifelong learning, loving, and serving—all with a future focus and ethics in the lead. Thus, The Way of Oz offers a framework for the journey down the Yellow Brick Road of Life. The Way of Oz framework is built on these key components:
- Learning—committing to a life of reading, writing, communicating, and experiencing other cultures broadly—knowing that wisdom comes from the integration of scholarly study and service
- Loving—understanding the critical need to integrate a love of others, places, and lifelong learning to serve well our state, national, and world communities
- Serving—knowing that unselfish service to noble causes reinforces caring for others, and a greater understanding of the human condition and the myriad creatures of our world
- Focusing on the Future—realizing that vision and effective action come from personal and institutional planning; diversity, sustainability, and an understanding of science; the power of democracy to serve the planet's peoples; and personal responsibility
- Humility and Other Virtues—embracing humility as a platform for integrity, honesty, empathy, and beneficence—all as bases for putting ethics in a lead role for life
So, The Way of Oz is at once, part drama and part history—blended with practical and philosophically sound advice drawn from many and varied sources—and woven with the principles of secular democracies.
The Oz Way elements are powerful because they are cast through an archetypal story written by a man who, despite his foibles and frailties, knew how to relate to others in unique ways. In other words, Frank Baum made a difference, and The Way of Oz can make a difference in many peoples' lives.
As you leave this commencement ceremony, I hope you will consider five parting messages from The Way of Oz:
- Develop wisdom through learning and caring for others!
- Fill your heart with love for all creatures and our planet.
- Serve with courage!
- Think about your future—every day.
- Strive for honor with humility, honesty, and integrity!
As the Wizard of The Way of Oz, I hope to see you again on the yellow brick road of lifelong learning, loving, and serving!
About the Author
Bob Smith serves as provost and senior vice president, and professor of chemistry at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, TX. He may be contacted at email@example.com.
This paper is based on a commencement address given on October 11, 2011, in Vitoria, Brazil, to Leonardo da Vinci School graduates of the TTU Independent School District's English language high school diploma program, now in its eleventh year in Brazil (see companion article in this issue of ATTT).
To learn more about the Oz Way, consider reading The Way of Oz: A Guide to Wisdom, Heart, and Courage, which will be published in September 2012 by TTU Press (ttupress.org).
Publication of The Way of Oz comes coincidently at a time when there is a renaissance of interest in the first Oz book and its sequels. Many are aware of the original book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, written by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by W. W. Denslow as published in 1900. It was an instant hit and served as a basis for plays, movies, and thirteen sequels that were written, performed, or published between 1902 and 1920. After Baum's death in 1919, Ruth Plumly Thompson (primarily) and others in the U.S. and abroad wrote and published dozens of derivative works up through the 1990s. But arguably, the greatest interest emanated from the movie, The Wizard of Oz, which premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on August 15, 1939, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (among nine other nominees: Dark Victory, Gone With the Wind, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, and Wuthering Heights). The only Academy Awards received, however, were for Music-Original Score (Herbert Stothart) and Song ("Over the Rainbow," music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by E. Y. "Yip" Harburg). Judy Garland was acknowledged through a special award for her "outstanding performance as a screen juvenile during the past year." The Academy Award for Best Picture went to Gone with the Wind.
The 1939 film was not a big box-office hit during the seventeen years after its release. However, an exhibit organized through the Columbia University Libraries from January 16-March 16, 1956—to honor the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of L. Frank Baum (a native of New York)—portended the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz movie on television (first broadcast on November 3, 1956, and continuing through the early 1980s). The popularity of the film soared thereafter, especially with the introduction of videotapes and DVDs. Today, the film is the number one fantasy film, and is tenth among the "100 Greatest Movies of All Time" as rated by the American Film Institute. Starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow, Jack Haley as the Tin Woodman, Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, and Frank Morgan as the Wizard, The Wizard of Oz is one of the all-time favorite films of Americans of all generations.
In 2011, Andrew Lloyd Webber premiered in London his musical production of The Wizard of Oz. The play is very close in content to the 1939 movie complete with much of the original music and actors with New York accents (!). Webber includes some additional elements of the original book (e.g., portrayal of the Hammerhead people), and a Toto (one of four West Highland terriers) who stole the show the night my wife, Marsha, and I saw it in London during the summer of 2011. Original songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice (e.g., "Nobody Understands Me" [Dorothy], "Red Shoes Blues" [the Wicked Witch of the West], "Wonders of the World" [Professor Marvel]) supplement well the great 1939 music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg.
Also by coincidence, a South American live production of The Wizard of Oz (billed as Magico de Oz, with words and lyrics in Portuguese) premiered in Vitoria, Brazil, during my visit in October 2011 at the time of Leonardo da Vinci School commencement. Magico de Oz is produced as a multimedia show complete with live stage acting and 3-D projections for animations of the tornado scene (accompanied by cascading foil confetti, blowing wind, and rain droplets) and the trip to the Wicked Witch of the West's castle (accompanied by foil confetti and blowing snowflakes), and original music (except for "Over the Rainbow" and an interesting use of "Sing, Sing, Sing") along with plot twists. Magico de Oz is being performed throughout South America (in Spanish and Portuguese).
Of course, these latest productions come on the heels of the Broadway musical Wicked, which premiered in 2003 and has since been seen by more than 30 million people worldwide. If that isn't enough, at least five live-action and animated movies are in production with anticipated releases in 2012 and 2013. So, Frank Baum's immortal story goes on!