In L. Frank Baum’s classic book, the Wizard of Oz, the main character Dorothy meets one of literature’s most wily predators – a dishonest, conniving, manipulative individual who uses a web of lies to control an entire country, even managing to orchestrate the murder of an opponent through unethical persuasion.
Of course, we’re not referring to either of the “wicked” witches, but the Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain. Although the brilliant 1939 movie, which has almost eclipsed the original, is a classic in its own right, it is in the book where the Wizard’s manipulations are most clearly portrayed. For instance, in the original novel, the capital of Emerald City is not green at all – but all citizens are required to wear green goggles, supposedly to “protect” their eyes from the glare of the emeralds, but, in reality, to make everything in the normal-colored city appear green.
Through the use of such confidence tricks, the Wizard gains a reputation as the one person who can solve everyone’s problems: Oz the Great and Powerful is so revered that everyone Dorothy meets assures her that he can send her home. Dorothy becomes a staunch believer in the Wizard before she even meets him; when she encounters the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion in turn, she convinces them that they, too, can have their every wish granted by the magical Oz.
When Dorothy and her friends arrive at the Emerald City, the Wizard first puts them off, refusing to see them; when they insist on an audience, he uses intimidation and isolation, seeing each of them alone, and appearing as a giant ball of fire, a beautiful woman, a horrific monster, and a giant head to the travelers – when they compare notes they find nothing in common in their experiences.
Like many con artists and manipulative groups, the Wizard assures the heroes that he can give them everything they wish, promising the Tin Man a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, courage for the Lion, and a way home for Dorothy. The Wizard uses his empty promises to send them on a “task” for him, directing a young farm girl from Kansas to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, and come back with her broomstick.
When Dorothy and her friends somehow manage to survive this suicide mission and return to him with his opponent’s broomstick, he attempts to put them off again with a mixture of fear and trickery, but this time, the heroes are wise enough to notice the man behind the curtain pulling the levers.
However, the manipulation does not end there: like a classic “collapsed” narcissist, the Wizard uses the heroes’ empathy, persuading them to take “pity” on him. Unable to fulfill his promises, he tells the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion that they already have the qualities they seek, but when they are not satisfied with this, he resorts to fraud again, giving them placebos: he stuffs the Scarecrow’s head with pins, inserts a piece of heart-shaped silk into the Tin Man’s chest, and feeds the lion a “courage” potion.
Placated by his gifts and wheedling, the heroes, rather than exposing him to the citizens of Oz as a fraud and con artist, assist him in making his escape back to our world – “accidentally” leaving Dorothy behind. Although Dorothy and her friends never seem to see the Wizard as the manipulative predator he really is, those who practice healthy skepticism can learn from this American classic, and beware those who promise us our wishes, only to use us for their own ends.
This blogpost was inspired by this discussion by our friends at ExJWCritical Thinkers YouTube channel. What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read the Wizard of Oz? Do you have a story about a manipulative predator that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!