Don’t turn our backs on the Brothers Grimm

by DRM

08 oz

She’s getting carried off to the evil witch, captured by her demon monkeys who were sent out to collect the innocent intruder.  Look at the Tin Woodman doffing his cap, Dorothy sitting at the edge of her seat like a little girl at the movies, and the winged monkeys wide-eyed and intent.

Where’s the fear?

There’s terror lurking in the dark edges of The Wizard of Oz: the story begins with death and destruction, and throughout the little girl is under assault, protected only by a motley, impaired ragtag of friends and allies.

That’s how art can help children make sense of life, by making the terrors of the unknown known.  The Brothers Grimm knew that.

But what frightens in words can scar in images — our imagination manages the power of fearful images when they are left abstract, spoken.  An illustration makes the image separate from our imagination and structures it into difference.  When the image is terror, and married to words, it can haunt someone for ever.

So, when Baum’s illustrator sat down, he took that first step to diluting the wizardry of the Wizard of Oz, the modern fairytale that was loyal to the Brothers Grimm.  Maybe an editor told him to take the edge off the scary image.  Maybe he didn’t have the true sense of terror in his fingers.

Dorothy would be stark with terror being carried off into the unknown.  A child would understand that terror and take comfort in knowing that it could be spoken, be heard and be tolerated.  Bearing fear is a critical step to walking confidently into the uncertain future.  And, the only thing that we all share is an uncertain future: it’s at the essence of the human condition.