The character of Dorothy Gale, one of the most iconic movie characters and to be sure one of the most beloved movie icons of them all, had relatively humble beginnings. Her presence in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is surprisingly characterless in L. Frank Baum’s original novel. Being whisked off on a whim in the vein of Alice and her adventures in Wonderland, it’s easy for kids at bedtime to put themselves in her silver slippers; there may not be much in the way of commonalities between the reader and Dorothy, but consequently, there’s little to feel alienated by.

Creating Dorothy

Chiefly, she is small, precocious and curious (just like you!). She doesn’t suffer nonsense and isn’t afraid too often. She can be prone to bratty outbursts, as when she chucks a bucket of water on the Wicked Witch out of spite for being tricked out of her shoes. And that’s just about where her quirks begin and end.

Film is a less flexible medium, Hollywood spectaculars even less so, and to bring the character to life, Dorothy had to take on much more appeal; the filmmakers had to give her desires and a temperament to brush up against the bizarreries of Oz. A major difference involves Dorothy’s longing for ‘somewhere over the rainbow’. In the later novels of Baum’s series, Dorothy goes on living in Oz and starts to feel at home, though for the movie’s purposes, there can be no place like home.

Her yearning for something more than her provincial life is important enough to receive its own musical number, and we spend a good amount of time in the humdrum of Kansas, though her love for Ant Em can never be in question, or else the film would risk losing the audience’s sympathy. We don’t judge Dorothy for leaving Kansas (a decision she must make in order to learn the value of home life), as she makes it in order to save Toto from the cruel Ms. Gulch (an invention of the film).

This Dorothy is decidedly less adventurous, emphasizing that Oz can be a scary place. As it should be; the strength of Dorothy’s friendship with the Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Woodman only makes an impression of value in the face of an imposing threat like the Wicked Witch. We see a pattern; the majority of adaptational alterations in the film’s protagonist were made in the name of shifting the story’s Odyssean quality towards unpretentious moral lessons for the kids in the audience about the frightening wide world, the importance of home, and the power of friendship. That’s not hard to believe when we remember the film’s opening credo: “For nearly forty years this story has given faithful service to the Young in Heart; and Time has been powerless to put its kindly philosophy out of fashion. To those of you who have been faithful to it in return …and to the Young in Heart …we dedicate this picture.”

Creating Dorothy for The Wizard of Oz
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