Hero's journey

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Aug. 19, 2010

Dear Julie,

To learn that you didn't see "The Wizard of Oz" until your 40s wasn't that surprising. I knew your parents the music educators probably weren't sold on the educational value of television. And they were right. But for most of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, the summer TV broadcast of "The Wizard of Oz" was an event. Families gathered around. Popcorn ricocheted in a pan on the stove. "The Wizard of Oz" became part of the American Dream we were living.

What did surprise me is to hear you say that after watching the movie you didn't see what the big deal is. I suppose I've just known without knowing why it is.

This might be why: "The Wizard of Oz" is the hero's journey Joseph Campbell described in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." Here's how he describes the journey: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

The story has been told many times, from the "Odyssey" to "Star Wars," and it occurs in the lives of everyday people. Each of us is the hero of our own life. We can begin or refuse or resume the journey at any time.

Each of the companions Dorothy encounters along the way is searching for qualities in themselves that all of us wonder if we possess enough of. Do we have the intelligence, the compassion and the courage to deal with the "fabulous forces" we will encounter in life? We find out by testing ourselves. There will be death, there will be tragedies, there will be what Campbell calls "impossible delight," and there will be surprises around every turn. There will be poppies. Are they good or bad?

There will be help along the way.

Mystics say there's nothing "only" about dreams or about our everyday lives. In "The Waking Dream," Ray Grasse writes about the symbolism and synchronicities to be found in our lives if we're open to them. He begins by describing the search by Frank Morton, the actor who played the Wizard in the movie, for the right costume. Morton didn't like anything the studio offered him to wear so he went through racks of secondhand clothes in the MGM wardrobe department until he found an old cloak that was just right. During filming, Morgan happened to find the name "L. Frank Baum" sewn into the cloak's lining. It once belonged to the author of "The Wizard of Oz."

My parents and I went to see the musical "Wicked" in St. Louis last month. DC and her family had already seen it, so she stayed home, mostly because she didn't like it much. No memorable songs like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Oz is mere back-story in "Wicked," and instead of a well-meaning buffoon the Wizard is seen as a corrupt ruler who would use flying monkeys as spies. "Wicked" tells the Oz story from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West, who uses her magical powers to defend the natural world. Is that wicked?

Every story has infinite sides. And California is Oz to me. I returned from my visit there remembering its boons and that the home there is no place like is that place where we are true to ourselves.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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