From Endora to Oz: A Gilbert Grape-inspired retelling

I might have rewritten The Wizard of Oz in half a thought at 2 a.m. while not quite napping with my cat. And as most thoughts go when you’re somewhere between asleep and awake, it was born from a strange place and took an odd journey.

oz group

I’d finished watching “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” cried about it — because that’s what you do when you watch “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” — and was snuggling with the cat while contemplating one line.

In the 1994 film, Johnny Depp plays Gilbert, the son and older brother to his reclusive widowed mother, sisters and mentally handicapped brother Arnie — in a tour de force from (Oscar winner!) Leonardo DiCaprio. Gilbert doesn’t really know anything outside of his situation, and when he meets Becky (Juliette Lewis), she asks him what he’d want if he could have anything.

“A new brain for Arnie,” he says, among other things for his family.

gilbert grapeWhich naturally got me to thinking about The Wizard of Oz and the Scarecrow, who wanted a brain more than anything. Anyone who’s seen The Wizard of Oz (and yes, I’m basing this post on the movie not the series of books that bear little resemblance to their progeny) knows that the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, who wants to be courageous; the Tin Man, who wants a heart; and Dorothy, who just wants to go home, embark on a journey to the Emerald City where the great and powerful Oz can grant them their wishes. And of course they get there only to learn that they already had everything they needed.

“Know thyself,” is a lesson you could take away from those stories. But sometimes you can know who you are and still not be happy. What if the takeaway had been “Love thyself.” How would it have been different?

And maybe it was the purring cat trying to smother me, but my thoughts jumped from Scarecrow to Lion. I started to look for ways to make his cowardice a benefit, and realized if he was always afraid of things ending badly, he’d probably spend a lot of time planning. Maybe he could be the strategist who finds the best route to the Emerald City or who figures out how to rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch’s clutches.

As for the scarecrow: I didn’t have a lot of fear as a child. I was always climbing trees, taking my dog for walks with headphones on well-past pitch dark, and refusing to conform to quite a lot of gender norms. Granted, one of those things is not like other, but what it boiled down to was that, for a time, I didn’t know to be wary. Falling out of a tree was of no concern, my knee-high pooch could take on anyone who messed with me, and those Captain Planet tennis shoes were awesome, no matter what my classmates said about them.

And what you have there is a potential recipe for boldness. Whatever courage the lion lacks, the scarecrow can pick up tenfold — and in fact we saw him do it in the movie, taunting apple trees and fighting for Dorothy.

Now that I’m awake, Tin Man is still giving me a little trouble. I guess there’s an analogy to be had about asexuality and still being able to love and have meaningful relationships, but since I’m not actually rewriting The Wizard of Oz — in a half-thought or otherwise — I’m going to move on.

And that brings us to Dorothy. Sure, she wants to go back to Uncle Henry and Auntie Em, because they’re her family. But in the absence of magical slippers — or even giant circus balloons — maybe she has to wait on another tornado to carry her back to Kansas. Maybe she has to learn and manufacture some sort of apparatus that will carry her back on its own steam. These sound like time consuming endeavors, and what better an opportunity for Dorothy to learn — maybe less about accepting herself, but more about accepting her situation, and realizing that home can be anywhere you are, whether that’s a farmhouse in the heartland or a stop along a yellow brick road.

And I’m sure that thought has nothing to do with Gilbert Grape’s girlfriend, who’s camper broke down as it was passing through town.

Of course, none of this seems likely if the jaunt to the Emerald City from Munchkinland is just two days away.  So push it farther. Make it a month’s trek. Or a year, even. Of course, by then, do you really even need the wizard? For a modern audience with little patience for “mansplaining” I predict the answer to that is no.

Here’s a thought: They all went off to see the wizard, but along the way they saw each themselves for the first time instead and realized they were wonderful already.


These are the thoughts I have at 2 a.m.

Leisure Time is on Twitter! Follow @theLTtweet for post updates and smaller thoughts.


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