Ruby Slippers: A Journey with Colour in the Land of Oz We're Not in Kansas Anymore : Colour for a New World With a few exceptions, I've chosen to focus almost exclusively on the themes in L. Frank Baum's original children's novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), instead of the more widely known 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland. The main reason for this is the way the two versions deal with fictionality as a concept. In the book, Oz is a real place- as real as Dorothy's Kansas anyway- but exists in an ambiguous location that can only be accessed by outsiders from the air (think hot air balloons and tornadoes) because of the deadly desert that surrounds the Land of Oz. The film version of Oz, however, only exists in Dorothy's dream. Because of this, the Oz of the novel has its own reality consisting of distinct characters, mythologies, rules, and architecture, whereas the Oz dreamworld exists as representations of experiences from Dorothy's waking life. Book Dorothy is dealing with the problems of existing in a foreign land, while Film Dorothy's subconscious is working through the problems she deals with at home- mainly her irritating Toto-hating neighbor who becomes the Wicked Witch of the West in her mind. The introduction to the Land of Oz and the treatment of colour in both mediums furthers this comparison. Both versions of the story start in the grey, dusty land of Kansas which, in the novel, while the only colour term used in the description is grey, the effect it gives is one of dullness and a certain poverty of life: When Dorothy stood in the doorway and looked around, she could see nothing but the great gray prairie on every side. Not a tree nor a house broke the broad sweep of flat country that reached to the edge of the sky in all directions. The sun had baked the plowed land into a gray mass, with little cracks running through it. Even the grass was not green, for the sun had burned the tops of the long blades until they were the same gray colour to be seen everywhere. Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.1 The conditions in which she lives strip the colour and the life out of her world. After the tornado sets Dorothy and her house down in the new land, we are gradually introduced to colours, first the green grass, then the blue clothing of the Munchkins and the Good Witch's white dress and hair. Kansas and its inhabitants in the film are rendered in pure sepia tones until the spectacular moment when Dorothy opens the front door onto the hyper-saturated world of Oz. There is a breathtaking moment when we are still standing inside the doorway and the sepia house but see the fantastical, colourful world beyond the door.
Still from The Wizard of Oz (1939) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The discovery of colour in a previously desaturated existence is a common metaphor for the loss of innocence and the discovery of knowledge. Other great examples of this are when the child protagonist in The Giver sees the red apple for the first time2 after receiving memories from the society and in the movie 1 L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), 12 2 Lois Lowry, The Giver (1993). Apples, of course, are another common metaphorical device for the loss of innocence with a rich history- Eve, Kafka, et al.
Pleasantville when characters experience a moment of self-discovery. 3 Despite the dynamic Technicolour entrance, the lesson inherent in the movie, understood once again through colour, falls depressingly short of the book, and this is the other reason I will focus on the novel's narrative and characters from here on out. Our protagonist in the book is brave and resourceful and longs for Kansas because she is worried about her family and their financial situation, but the movie version of Dorothy wants to return because she is scared and unhappy. When she wakes up in her desaturated world surrounded by her family and friends, Dorothy is adamant that she will never leave home again, metaphorically rejecting knowledge and experience and instead choosing a life of subservient ignorance. The message of the movie is that the outside world is dangerous for a young girl, as is an active imagination. A girl's place is at home. Despite the tempting vividness of the Land of Oz, the moral of the movie is that Grey is Good. Somewhere Over the Rainbow : Colour and the Identity of Place Colour plays an enormously important role in the novel marking the location of the characters within the Land of Oz. Each of the five regions has its own distinct colour: Munchkin Country in the East is blue; Winkie Country to the West is yellow; Quadling Country to the South is red; and the Emerald City and its surrounding area is green. Gillikin Country lies in the North and favors purple, but we only learn about the name of this region and its attributes in the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz.4 The inhabitants of each region wear only their signature colour and paint their houses to match. In the first edition of the book, the illustrations made use of the region's colour in both monochromatic pages and full-colour plates to help orient the reader to the location of the travelers.5 The story starts in Kansas, which is described only in shades of grey, and so the pages of the book during this part in the tale are grey.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Kansas, pages 10, 11, 13
The cyclone sets Dorothy, Toto, and their house down in Munchkin Country, the land of blue. The travelers are greeted by a group of Munchkin men, all wearing head-to-toe blue, and the Witch of the North, dressed in pure white. After the Witch gives directions to the City of Emeralds and leaves, Dorothy goes back into her house to prepare for the journey. She changes into a gingham dress checked with blue and white squares and trades her old leather shoes for the silver shoes left behind when the Witch of the East dried up underneath Dorothy's house. As our protagonists walk along the yellow brick road toward the City, they pass by houses and fences painted the same shade of blue as the clothing worn by the Munchkin men earlier. They meet a rich Munchkin landowner, Boq, and spend the night in his house, which is decorated with blue linens and rugs. 3 Pleasantville (1998) New Line Cinema 4 L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Wizard of Oz (1904) 5 All of the images of pages used are from the Library of Congress's Rare Book and Special Collections Division Digital Collection. I have fixed some minor imperfections on the scanned images and cropped when necessary, but otherwise the colours have not been altered from the original publication. All of the illustrations are drawn by W. W. Denslow
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Munchkin Country, pages 21, 30, 42
Over supper that night, Boq tells Dorothy that he assumed she is a sorceress because of her dress. When she asks him why, he explains: 'Because you wear silver shoes and have killed the Wicked Witch. Besides, you have white in your frock, and only witches and sorceresses wear white.' 'My dress is blue and white checked,' said Dorothy, smoothing out the wrinkles in it. 'It is kind of you to wear that,' said Boq. 'Blue us the colour of the Munchkins, and white is the witch colour. So we know you are a friendly witch.'6 As the journey continues, Dorothy and Toto add the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion to their clan. Even though they are still technically in Munchkin Country (and the middle of a chapter) when they first experience danger as a group, the colour scheme of the pages changes from blue to red. Their fight with the Kalidah beasts, turbulent crossing of the river, and trek through the poisonous poppy field all take place in the wilder and less civilized territory between Munchkin Country and the rural region of Oz surrounding the Emerald City.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) wild territory, pages 82, 86, 88
The pages change to green before the problem of the poisonous poppies is solved, but this change lets the readers know that the group is almost safe and will be back on their journey shortly. We are now in the region of Oz, where houses are painted green and the Emerald City sits at the center. Once inside the walls of the City, Dorothy and her friends are led to individual rooms to rest and freshen up. Dorothy chooses a new green silk dress for herself and a ribbon to put around Toto's neck. When they leave the City and remove the green spectacles that everyone must wear inside the walls, Dorothy notices that her dress and the ribbon have become pure white. 6 Baum (1900), 35
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Oz, pages 117, 120, 124
The Wizard of Oz sends the group of friends to Winkie Country in the West, the land of yellow, to defeat the Wicked Witch of the West who rules there. Their arrival in her territory is marked once again by a change in page colour, but this time the region isn't actually described in colour terms until after the Witch has been defeated.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Winkie Country, pages 146, 155, 168
They return to the Emerald City to collect their rewards from the Wizard.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Oz, pages 178, 179, 217
After discovering that the Wizard is actually just a humbug, the Scarecrow is given the brains he sought, the Tin Woodman receives a heart, and the Cowardly Lion is rewarded with courage. The Wizard offers to bring Dorothy back to Kansas in his balloon but it rips away from its tethers before she can make it to the
basket with Toto. At the suggestion of the Soldier with the Green Whiskers, the friends travel south to Quadling Country, the land of red, to meet with the Witch Glinda and ask her for help in returning Dorothy home. In between Oz and the Land of the South, our protagonists must pass through another area of wilderness and unrest, this time distinguished by pages of brown. This part of the world is described as "disagreeable", using imagery of mud, bogs, and gloom.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) wilderness, pages 236, 231, 233
They pass out of the forest and into Quadling Country where red is the favorite colour. Strangely, these pages are coloured with the same red as the territory of poppy fields and other dangers, even though Glinda's land is highly civilized and ultimately where Dorothy finally receives the help she has been searching for all along.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) Quadling Country, pages 242, 249, 250
Rather than returning to a grey colour scheme when Dorothy finally makes it back to Kansas, the final pages retain the red of the poppy fields and Glinda's castle, suggesting, in direct contrast to the movie version, that Dorothy has brought a piece of Oz back home with her, that it will forever be a part of her life and that she has embraced her new knowledge of the outside world. John Portman's Westin Bonadventure Hotel is one of the most fictional of built worlds. Fredric Jameson, in his canonical essay says that it "aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city." 7 It is a new territory existing apart from the fabric of surrounding Los Angeles. Like the Land of Oz, a traveler must fall through the air from her room to reach this new world, this time by means of a glass elevator. After the completion of the building, the interior space was too confusing for visitors and the spaces were therefore colour-coded to give some semblance of directionality and allow its inhabitants to orient themselves within the foreign world. Jameson posits that this was necessary because the public was still 7 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), 42
trying to view a Postmodern space through the lens of Modern perception.8 Coincidentally, the colours adopted by the four cores of the building are blue, yellow, red, and green. The colours of Oz have most certainly become a part of the collective unconscious and the clearest examples revolve around the yellow brick road. The simplest way to call out the act of moving along a path as a performance is to colour the route yellow, like the escalators in OMA's Seattle Public Library or Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Wrapped Walk Ways project in Kansas City (1977).
OMA: Seattle Public Library, 2004 (The Seattle Times Company) Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Wrapped Walk Ways, 1977-78 (Wolfgang Volz)
Green is the most influential colour in the Oz, marking not only the center and capital of the Land but symbolizing both places of safety and, as we will see, trickery. The first colour other than grey we see after Dorothy's house touches down in the Land of Oz, a country of marvelous beauty, is green. The house has stopped spinning, the storm has passed and Dorothy looks outside to see "lovely patches of greensward" covering the idyllic countryside.9 Throughout the journey to the Emerald City, the appearance of green landscape is a recurring theme that marks a place of safety and the end of a trial. On her first day journeying alone along the yellow brick road, just as Dorothy starts to worry about finding food and shelter for the night we come a green lawn in front of a large house and it is here that she is offered a hearty meal and a bed. After meeting the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, Dorothy and her new clan travel deeper into the forest as the atmosphere continues to darker. They narrowly escape the fearsome beasts called the Kalidah only to come to a river that is too wide for the Lion to leap across. They stand in the gloom at the edge of the dangerous wood staring across the river at the green meadows on the opposite bank, which we know now signifies a place of respite. When the friends finally make it past the dangerous current, they step out of the river onto the pretty green grass. As they continue forward, we see the green grass being slowly replaced by scarlet poppies and therefore know they are entering dangerous territory, and it is when they are completely surrounded by a field of red that the poison from the flowers starts to take effect. Once back in the beautiful country and on the yellow brick road, they come upon fences and houses that are painted green and people dressed in emerald green. Because of this, they know they are officially in the Land of Oz and will be coming to the Emerald City soon. In the distance, they see a beautiful green glow in the sky and know that it is their destination. We have been taught up to this point by the narrative that an area marked by green means an end to danger and a chance to rest and recover, but because the colour within the walls of the City of Emeralds is in actuality just an illusion, the innocent reading of colour in the text becomes, if not problematic, at least much more complex. Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain : Colour, Perception, and the Architectural Humbug The Emerald City is surrounded by an enormous bright green-painted wall, tall enough to block the view of the city behind. Our travelers pass through a gigantic entrance gate, sparkling with emeralds into an anteroom that is also crusted with the gemstones. Here, they meet the Guardian of the Gate who instructs
8 Jameson, 44 9 L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, (1900), 20
them on the proper entrance procedure and shows them a box of spectacles with green lenses10, saying: 'But first you must put on the spectacles... Because if you do not wear spectacles the brightness and glory of the Emerald City would blind you. Even those who live in the City must wear spectacles night and day. They are all locked on, for Oz so ordered it when the City was first built, and I have the only key that will unlock them.'11 Whereas in the other territories outside of the City walls everything was painted, cladded, or clothed in the signature colour of the area, within the high walls of the City of Emeralds, every single thing is greengreen roads, green clothes, green skin, green lemonade. When Dorothy looks up, she notices that even "the rays of the sun were green."12 This is, of course, because of the spectacles, but even though the characters know that the glasses have tinted lenses, they are still overwhelmed by the effect. They buy into it completely and embrace the new reality of a total world of green. After the Wizard is discovered to only be a clever manipulator rather than one possessing magical powers, he explains the beginning of the City and the spectacles to the group of friends: 'Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City; and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.' 'But isn't everything here green?' asked Dorothy. 'No more than in any other city,' replied Oz, 'but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy...'13 When one wears the Wizard's spectacles, everything in view is green and therefore everything is of the City. Just as when Dorothy looked up at the sky and saw that it was green, the limits of the City are bounded only by the limits of site. The City of Emeralds exists as an extension of perception, a new reality defined by colour. The inhabitants are given new eyes with which to view the modern City and this view becomes one of collective subjectivity. The spectacles erase the traditional differences between exterior and interior, nature and the city, and the special and the mundane. While aiming to reproduce the forces of nature in a completely artificial way, the spectacles produce a world of complete virtual excess. What is especially interesting about this new treatment of perception is that the City now requires an audience for its existence. The Wizard is the only character within the City walls never seen wearing the green spectacles, which suggests that the privileged view in the Land of Oz is the one free from illusion. Without the illusion, however, one does not get to experience the spectacle. Even though the Wizard's identity is contingent on his ability to manipulate others through clever tricks- humbugs- the view he chooses is the natural one.
10 The ancient Egyptians crushed malachite, a deep-green mineral, into powder and wore it around their eyes to protect them from the sun's harsh glare. In a way, they are responsible for the first sunglasses. According to modern gem-lore, malachite is said to protect travelers who wear the stone. 11 Baum, 117 12 Baum, 121 13 Baum, 188
Atelier FCJZ: Vertical Glass House, 2013 (fcjz.com)
The architectural twin of the Wizard's spectacles is Atelier FCJZ's Vertical Glass House. Windowless concrete walls enclose the domestic spaces within and this rejection of the exterior allows for the creation of a new interior reality. While there are no views to the exterior, the floors/ceilings are made of emerald green glass which become layers of windows. The green glass orchestrates all of the views within the new reality. The house itself is both a window onto domesticity and a window onto fiction, the green layers constituting a new worldview of extreme voyeurism, framed artificiality, and a new set of possibilities. Within this green existence, all perception comes into question. Dorothy first showed up in our culture over a century ago, but the impact her journey with her strange band of friends had was immense. The themes of identity and perception in L. Frank Baum's world are still pertinent to our contemporary understanding of the City and questions of how to use our own sets of spectacles to produce new realities.
First published in 1900, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was revolutionary in its treatment of fictional worlds and the book as a...