The Odyssey and The Wizard of Oz
It has been said that there are only so many archetypal stories in the world. One of them involves the attempt to get home. Homer’s The Odyssey is perhaps the oldest known example of this story. Odysseus spends twenty years attempting to return from the Trojan Wars to his wife and son in Ithaca. One hundred years ago, L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz created a new wrinkle to this story, Kansas girl Dorothy is swept away to the mythic Land of Oz, and follows the yellow brick road in an attempt to return home.
One of the first striking parallels between Homer and Baum is the way in which nature plays a role to keep the hero/heroine away. Odysseus has offended the god Poseidon, “though he won’t quite kill Odysseus—drives him far off course from native land”. Poseidon uses the sea to create obstacles for the hero, preventing his journey from nearing Ithaca. Dorothy, as is famously known thanks to the 1939 film version, is caught in a cyclone. “The house whirled around two or three times and rose slowly through the air”. Transported to Oz, Dorothy’s journey becomes a quest to return to Kansas.
Poseidon’s rage at Odysseus comes because the hero has blinded the Cyclops. So too does Dorothy incur the wrath of a powerful foe, after accidentally killing the Wicked Witch of the East. Poseidon, as we have seen, sets the waves against Odysseus. The Wicked Witch of the West will plague Dorothy and her companions at great length, especially when she sends the Winged Monkeys to destroy Dorothy. Both Odysseus and Dorothy must undertake their journeys with the help of magical forces.