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Dystopian Oz

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Pay no attention to the man who'll try to change you
He's a dark, familiar stranger.
But that's the danger.
The storm is strong but it won't be long
And no matter where you'll roam, there's no place like home
— "No Place Like Home", Straight Outta Oz

L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, its many sequels, and especially its 1939 MGM film adaptation are classic American stories about a utopian "fairy-land" known as Oz. Surrounded by a huge desert, it's cut off from the world and few can access it. Oz is ruled by the young Queen Ozma (more commonly called "Princess Ozma") and the sorceress Glinda the Good; Ozma's best friend Dorothy Gale is also later dubbed a princess but it's a title more than anything. In Oz, you don't need to age, you can't die, and almost everyone is content.

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The series is known for its Surprise Creepy, with a fair amount of Family-Unfriendly Violence and Nightmare Fuel for a children's series. Many readers have also noticed some oddities about how Oz is presented (often due to Values Dissonance), such as how no one but the two regents are allowed to use magic, Ozma having a Magic Picture that lets her see anywhere, Glinda having a Book of Records that records anything the instant it happens, or how the former Wizard of Oz is treated as a "good man" despite all his previous misdeeds. It's essentially a dictatorship, but it's a benevolent one, so few citizens are unsatisfied. Still, these implications are enough to make writers brainstorm.

Just as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been routinely reinterpeted as being darker and/or more drug-related than intended, the Land of Oz books is reinterpreted as more political than intended. This dates back to the 1900s but it became especially prominent after a 1964 article by Henry Littlefield theorized that the first book was an allegory on the 1890s debate regarding monetary policy.

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As a result, Oz and its characters routinely get referenced in dark, political manners and many adaptations politicize the setting. Glinda the Good Witch and the Wizard of Oz are especially prone to getting reinterpreted as more amoral than intended, as is Ozma. The Emerald City will also be turned into a Stepford Suburbia that looks pretty and shiny but hides darker secrets underneath.

Sub-trope to Fractured Fairytale. Related to Off to See the Wizard and the main Referenced By page for The Wizard of Oz. Compare to Alice Allusion for another famous "modern fairy-tale" that often gets alluded to darkly.


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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Chipotle's ad The Scarecrow features allusions to the Land of Oz. The dirty, corporate city that the Scarecrow escapes from is styled after the Emerald City. The Scarecrow himself is a reference to Oz's Scarecrow.

    Films — Animation 
  • Wreck-It Ralph actually has their own allusion on this story when Ralph lands in the Sugar Rush game. Some are cute like the Oreo guards chanting the "O-ee-o" and the inhabitants essentially being munchkins, all ruled by King Candy who seems like a benevolent ruler. But he encourages his citizens to shun the "Glitch", Vanellope, and does all in his power to get her captured and locked up. And, like the original Oz, ends up tricking the protagonist into doing their dirty work (in this case preventing Vanellope from racing). And likewise like this original, it's revealed that he's not the true ruler, but a game jumper named Turbo who, after causing his arcade to crash, messed with the coding of the game to make the inhabitants of Sugar Rush forget about Vanellope so he could rule it and be the star racer (as his original game centered around racing) and been keeping the charade going for years till Ralph ended up "wrecking" things.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One of the reasons Return to Oz failed at the box office was due to playing the horrific elements in the books it adapts from completely straight as well as adding new ones, with Dorothy being locked in an asylum and threatened with electroshock therapy, the Laughing Mad Wheelers, Princess Mombi and her interchangeable heads, and the Nome King turning into a giant rock monster giving many kids nightmares. While the Nome King attempts to take over Oz in a couple books, he never actually succeeds like he did in the film (thereby creating a Dystopian Oz), and while the character Princess Mombi is based on, Princess Languidere from Ozma of Oz, does have a creepy head collection, she is otherwise benign and not a true villain.

    Literature 
  • In The Wicked Years, Oz is reinterpreted as an isolated late-1800s country full of racism (both Fantastic Racism and human racism), class struggles, political strife, and corruption. The first book, Wicked, stars the Ambiguously Evil Wicked Witch of the West. She started out a normal (albeit green-skinned) woman named Elphaba Thropp who felt impassioned by the troubles of the sapient, Talking Animals known as "Animals". Oz's leader, the Wizard, had been trying to take away all their privileges and rights, leaving them no better off than normal animals. Elphaba's Animal rights activism quickly turns into terrorism as she becomes more morally ambiguous and criminal. In The Wicked Years, much of the series parallels American history of the late 19th century and it's heavily implied that Oz is a literal Alternate Universe version of America.
  • In the Dorothy Must Die trilogy, Dorothy has become an evil dictator since she landed in Oz years ago.
  • In Paradox In Oz, Ozma accidentally creates a Bad Future for Oz after changing the past while time travelling. This dark version of Oz has the Obsidian City as its capital, ruled over by an evil dictator version of the Wizard, with a bloodthirsty version of Nick Chopper (who becomes the Tin Woodman in the normal timeline) as his right hand man. The novel is possibly one of the only Oz stories that managed to mostly be Original Flavour and much in the same style as the original Oz books but still contain this trope.
  • The short story "Heartland" by Karen Joy Fowler, published in Interzone magazine, is set in a 1980s Oz that has been ruined by development and tourism. The narrator is a Munchkin who works at an Emerald Arches burger bar, and who witnesses a co-worker get Driven to Suicide.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Emerald City, Oz is depicted in a Darker and Edgier manner. The Wizard is a tyrant with a Ban on Magic.
  • Tin Man is a loose mini-series adaptation of the first book. In it, The "Scarecrow" has had half his brains removed to cripple his intelligence. The "Tin Man" watched his family be tortured and spent years imprisoned inside an iron maiden as punishment for opposing the Wicked Witch who keeps tyrannical control over "the O.Z.". Resistance against the Wicked Witch's tyrannical rule is widespread.
  • Played for Laughs in a Mad TV parody of the ending to the MGM film. Glinda is a snide Bitch in Sheep's Clothing and troll who toyed around with Dorothy for kicks.
  • Lost In Oz picks up where the first Oz book left off, showing that the power vacuum from Dorothy killing the witches made things worse. When Alex is called to Oz to save it, it's being overrun by a new Wicked Witch, who killed all the Munchkins and is pressing into the other territories.

    Podcasts 
  • The Chronicles Of Oz features an Oz in the middle of a class struggle. Dorothy's accidental killing of the Wicked Witch of the East worsens everything and starts a civil war in Munchkinland.

    Theater 
  • Wicked is Lighter and Softer than the books, but still presents many of the problems the Wizard has caused in Oz and how Elphaba's attempts to speak out against him lead to her losing her friends (including Glinda) and being treated as a Wicked Witch.

    Toys 
  • McFarlane Toys had in its Monsters figurine series a miniseries called The Twisted Land of Oz. The title says it all—for example, the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, and Cowardly Lion were major-league jerkasses in their previous lives and live in their new forms as karmic punishment, and the rebellious Dorothy becomes some kind of Stripperiffic leather babe.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY takes place on a dystopian planet called "Remnant" that is devastated by monsters known as "Grimm". Beacon's headmaster Ozpin references the Wizard of Oz. He's a benevolent-seeming and aloof authority figure that is later revealed to be more amoral than originally assumed. Volume 6 reveals his backstory. He was born and died centuries ago. Ozpin, then known as Ozma, was revived by his lover Salem. One thing led to another and the Gods cursed Ozpin to be revived continuously until he can defeat his evil ex-wife Salem. Ozpin has been attempting to do this for years but always fails, leading thousands of huntsmen into a Forever War against Salem's Grimm that they don't even know of, all without even a proper plan on how to stop Salem. Ozpin has his heart in the right place but he's foolish and causes more harm than good.

    Web Original 
  • Cracked has an article that reinterprets Glinda from the MGM movie as a power-hungry dictator who has a random child go on a wild goose chase to defeat her political rival.

... the story of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" was written solely to please children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heartaches and nightmares are left out.
L. Frank Baum, Chicago, April, 1900. Last line of the Introduction to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If only he had known...
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