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April 7, 2005 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Did The Wizard of Oz inspire Lord of the Rings? "The first film version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz was released in the summer of 1939, less than a month before World War II officially began. Though started as early as 1937, The Lord of the Rings was largely composed during the war years, but not published until somewhat later. Therefore, it is by no means impossible that J.R.R. Tolkien saw the magnificent MGM movie before he wrote most of his magnum opus. Could Oz have influenced his tale somehow, consciously or unconsciously?"
posted by Joey Michaels (35 comments total)
yes? no? maybe?
posted by jimmy at 6:43 PM on April 7, 2005

Wouldn't it have more likely been the OZ book(s) instead of the movie? The movie wasn't a big hit when it opened--i'm not even sure it came to the UK in its original release.

I say sure, why not? : >
posted by amberglow at 6:50 PM on April 7, 2005

no. definitely no. i think the timelines support that. not to mention there is that whole "shared mythology and symbolism" thing that writers are always going on about. you could probably do the same thing with stories that were written *before* Oz.

[snarky bit] the comparison of munchkins to hobbits? i don't remember any munchkins helping Dorothy out at all, other than to show her the door after she crashed their party [/snarky bit]
posted by raygun21 at 6:54 PM on April 7, 2005

Oh, joey, joey... what have you wrought?
posted by squirrel at 6:56 PM on April 7, 2005

I agree with this from the site's disclaimer:

Though the similarities are numerous and interesting, I believe it’s more likely due to the mythic archetypes both drew upon...
posted by orange swan at 6:58 PM on April 7, 2005

Paging Dr. Jung, please pick up the white curtesy phone...
posted by DaShiv at 7:02 PM on April 7, 2005

I've always felt that The Wizard of Oz inspired Star Wars, actually.

Restless teenager longs for adventure, tires of life "down on the farm" with aunt and uncle. After encounter with mysterious old stranger, tragedy intervenes, sending teenager off on adventure. There's an incident with little people. Helpful companions along the way include a cute pet/non-verbal robot, a metal man, and a big furry guy. The arch-villain lives in a giant fortress, has magic powers, flies around, and sends out hordes of scary quasi-human warriors. The ultimate lesson is about following your heart.

At one time I think I found a bunch of other similarities, but I can't recall them at the moment. Does anyone else care to play this game?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 7:03 PM on April 7, 2005

P.S. Yes, I know about The Hidden Fortress theory also.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 7:04 PM on April 7, 2005

Reminiscent in many ways (poor Web design, insanely stupid but strangely compelling claims) of the ridiculous comparison of Harry Potter / "Tanya Grotter" (can anyone find this?). [And Dark Side of the Moon doesn't synch up so well with Star Wars, fyi.]
posted by Ricky_gr10 at 7:21 PM on April 7, 2005

Similarly, William Gibson was in the middle of his draft for "Neuromancer" when he watched Blade Runner in the theater, and it blew him away. Here was a director who had put the book that was in his head up on the screen...before he got it published.
posted by zardoz at 7:26 PM on April 7, 2005

posted by angry modem at 7:48 PM on April 7, 2005

Or maybe LOTR was inspired by ancient Ethiopia: the names themselves – Gondar, Roha, Lalibela, Yeha, Harar, Fasilidas – seem to conjure up JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth rather than our own world. But it is no mere fantasy. Ethiopia boasts an ancient civilisation whose monuments rival any....

After all, he was a scholar of ancient languages and studied Ethiopia's language, history & mythology.
posted by Doohickie at 7:52 PM on April 7, 2005

Ahem, also from the site:
"Please note that ever since I was young, I’ve loved both stories and deeply respect their authors. As far as I know, this idea was first put forth by my glorious brother Aldo, largely (I think) as a joke, so blame him. Though the similarities are numerous and interesting, I believe it’s more likely due to the mythic archetypes both drew upon, than a case of Tolkien plagiarizing, especially considering that weird Jitterbug – Shelob thing."

Artifice_Eternity: I've heard good arguments that Star Wars was pulled from the Lensman series.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:00 PM on April 7, 2005

Hey; I am from Kansas, so that makes me an ABSOLUTE AUTHORIRIRTEIE on OZ.
Anyhow. I read the trilogy in jr. high to the point where I had to shipping tape the book spines to keep them from tearing apart.
This is a ridiculous comparision. Not nearly as bad as my speiling, but very close.
posted by buzzman at 9:05 PM on April 7, 2005

Okay so the 1939 version was definitely not the first film version of those books.

Second, based on Joseph Campbell's work one could say that the Wizard of Oz was inspired by Jesus.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:33 PM on April 7, 2005

It's really just that so many fantasies use archetypes and classic themes--journeys, growth, good v. evil, forming communities/families and sharing adversity, false gods...the earliest surviving stories contain the same basic themes, and for eons before that, we told each other stories that at their core were similar too.

It is fun to think about (in a sitting around stoned way).
posted by amberglow at 9:33 PM on April 7, 2005

freckle--i have that '25 version and it's incredibly weird. Dorothy is a sexpot, and there's more slapstick than story.
posted by amberglow at 9:35 PM on April 7, 2005

amber - Sounds awesome. Too bad about the "code" wrecking all the fun there used to be with inappropriate sexiness.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:38 PM on April 7, 2005

Did The Wizard of Oz inspire Lord of the Rings?
Davis's Law: If a headline ends in a question mark, the answer is 'no'.
posted by drdanger at 9:59 PM on April 7, 2005

amberglow, yet again you demonstrate impeccable taste in pop culture - impeccable because I share it, of course. :) Larry Semon's bizarro 1925 version is definitely worth watching, not least for the early attempts at lightning and other special effects. As I recall, he overspent like mad and fucked with Baum's story in completely strange and unnecessary ways, which may explain why the film was a flop. But for what it's worth, Semon was the most popular director in the USA (ok, after Chaplin) for a while there.
posted by mediareport at 10:35 PM on April 7, 2005

Acutully, a munchkin named Nick Chopper, (also known as the Tin Woodsman) was very helpful to Dorthy.

Raygun21: " i don't remember any munchkins helping Dorothy out at all, other than to show her the door after she crashed their party"
posted by Axandor at 11:38 PM on April 7, 2005

JRR Tolkien, an erudite professor of language at Oxford watching (let alone drawing inspiration from) a morality tale set in the form of a garish Hollywood musical? Yeah, it must have happened just like that.

Wait, was I typing that out loud??
posted by joedharma at 1:40 AM on April 8, 2005

Yes, I know about The Hidden Fortress theory also.

A bit more than a theory I think; an interview with Lucas appears on the Hidden Fortress DVD wherein he discusses his Kurosawa influences and how he got some ideas from HF, particularly with regard to R2D2 and C3PO.
posted by biffa at 3:15 AM on April 8, 2005

A companion who is a king without subjects, and whose lack of self-confidence gives him trouble living up to his own regal expectations. Yet he is able to take command when the chips are down.

Aragorn is only lacking self-confidence in the film, in the books it plays out completly different.
posted by Orange Goblin at 4:01 AM on April 8, 2005

Just to end the Star Wars / Hidden Fortress issue... Go here (or anywhere else that collects Star Wars scripts) and read the original 13 page draft. The first several pages are scene-for-scene copies of The Hidden Fortress, just with a sci-fi setting. There's no doubt on this one whatsoever. Lucas eventually toned down the influences to the point you'd need to be told about Hidden Fortress to see the link, but make no mistake, the link is there.

And Tolkien was mainly influenced by Norse mythology. Most of the names of the dwarves - and Gandalf! - were taken from the Viking myths.
posted by InnocentBystander at 4:40 AM on April 8, 2005

Baum’s first publisher went bankrupt. So how widely available was the book to begin with?
posted by thomcatspike at 8:06 AM on April 8, 2005

I always thought that the Wizard of Oz was the inspiration for Apocolypse Now.
-- Stranger goes on a journey, meets companions, and kills the king's rival.
posted by faceonmars at 9:35 AM on April 8, 2005

Shh! Don't tell anyone! This site was intended as a joke.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:58 AM on April 8, 2005

William Gibson... watched Blade Runner in the theater, and it blew him away.

I take it he hadn't read Electric Sheep, then?
posted by five fresh fish at 12:50 PM on April 8, 2005

OK, so the Oz -> LOTR thing is silly, and the Oz -> Star Wars thing kind of a stretch. But what about Oz -> Narnia?

I just finished reading the Narnia series for the third or fourth time (I have two kids) and only this time around was I struck by several weird similarities (to the Oz books, not necessarily the movie(s).

I mean, sure, the alternate-land-you-can-get-to-in-unexpected-ways thing is common currency in fantasy tales, as are talking animals and assorted odd creatures - but there are other things...

* Alternate world first discovered by a little girl, who returns to an incredulous family but eventually manages to get them all transported there to live out their lives
* One of the main characters is a lion who, unlike the standard lion (and to a degree often remarked upon), does not prey upon humans
* The title country is protected from outside influence by a near-impassable desert
* The personality of Puddleglum in The Silver Chair is an updated Cowardly Lion - constantly disparaging his own ability and bravery while contrariwise, being extremely brave and capable when it counts (this aspect of the Cowardly Lion was largely lost in the 1939 movie)
* Capture of the protagonists by a race of short gnomelike creatures who live and work with minerals far below the earth's surface
* Tree-people who prove to be formidable adversaries

There are others I can't think of right now, a lot of little moments that make you go hmmmm... For instance, when I was reading the part in Magician's Nephew where Aslan calls the cabbie's wife instantly into Narnia, and she shows up with soap suds on her hands as she was in the midst of washing dishes at the time, my daughter exclaimed "just like Aunt Em!" (in The Emerald City of Oz).

Not saying Lewis was plagiarising or anything - he certainly had some, ahem, other sources he was drawing on (actually, his ripoff of The Snow Queen in TLTWTW actually does border on plagiarism) - but it's funny how many things he seems to have borrowed, probably subconsciously. Especially funny since his aim with the Narnia books was almost diametrically opposed to Baum's with the Oz books.
posted by soyjoy at 1:24 PM on April 8, 2005

Acutully, a munchkin named Nick Chopper, (also known as the Tin Woodsman) was very helpful to Dorthy.

i'm sorry, did you mean pedantic (heh heh, it's a meta-joke!)? and as far as the "film" version goes, I don't remember the tin woodsman being the size of a child. but hey, it's all for charity, right?
posted by raygun21 at 3:03 PM on April 8, 2005

I take it he hadn't read Electric Sheep, then?

I'd assume he has, since I seem to recall he was a PK Dick fan. But Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is different enough from Blade Runner that you'd more or less have to be told one is based on the other -- and I think Ridley Scott has been clear that he got so far afield that he doesn't think of BR as an adapation of DAoES.

Anyway, what Scott's doing in painting his world is something totally different from what Dick was doing. There had been plenty of similar portrayals in new wave SF, but few of them had made it to American screens in any recognizable form. (Soylent Green excepted.) FWIW, Gibson always reminded me much much more of Samuel R. Delaney than of PKD -- stylistically, and in his areas of interest.

Aside: I read DAoES while on vacation in Vancouver. I walked down through the tenderloin thinking of PKD holed up in some flophouse buzzing like a worker bee....
posted by lodurr at 3:28 PM on April 8, 2005

posted by five fresh fish at 3:57 PM on April 8, 2005

"Tanya Grotter" (can anyone find this?)

Oh, yes; check it out via Google. It's a way-cool Russian pastiche on the Potter mythos, in my view a damn sight more interesting than the original, that has been stamped on by Rowling litigation. See here and here.
posted by raygirvan at 4:10 PM on April 8, 2005

posted by McBain at 8:28 PM on April 8, 2005

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