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Literature / Was

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Was is a 1992 novel based off of the Land of Oz mythos. It was written by Geoff Ryman.

Taking place in 1860s through the 1980s, Was tells the tragic story of a woman named Dorothy Gael. After the death of her mother as a child, Dorothy creates "Oz" as a way of dealing with her misery. The novel centers around a dying gay man in The '80s who wants to meet the woman who inspired his favorite movie.

Was mixes Oz canon with real life. Judy Garland and L. Frank Baum are characters within the novel.


Was contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Dorothy's experiences turn her from an innocent child to a bitter woman.
    • Dorothy's aloof and serious Uncle Henry is neglectful for most of her childhood. Later on he starts to molest Dorothy.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Aunt Em don't know how to take care of a child. As a result she's cold towards Dorothy.
  • Canon Foreigner: A few, such as Wilbur and Jonathan.
  • Creepy Uncle: Henry is neglectful of his niece until she hits puberty. Then his interest in Dorothy turns less than familial.
  • Darker and Edgier: It's a dark take on L. Frank Baum's Oz works where Oz was All Just a Dream used as escapism for Dorothy.
  • Death by Adaptation: It's implied that Toto didn't run away from Dorothy. Aunt Em and Uncle Henry killed him because they disliked Toto.
  • LGBT Fanbase: Referenced in-universe with the main character. He's a gay man who loves The Wizard of Oz.
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  • The Musical: Was has had two different musical adaptations.
  • Nephewism: Dorothy is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her parents die of diphtheria.
  • The Quiet One: As a child Dorothy was quiet due to her unstable home life.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Dorothy's name is spelled "Dorothy Gael", not "Dorothy Gale". Presumably L. Frank Baum changed the spelling of his fictionalized Dorothy.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Jonathan is an actor dying of AIDS in the 1980's. He's obsessed with The Wizard of Oz and is out to find the real Dorothy before he dies.