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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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This has also led to countless other theories such as the Wicked Witch of the West being an allegory for the American west, the Scarecrow representing the troubles of American farmers in the late 19th century, and the Tin Woodsman representing the American steel industrial workers. That's even ignoring darker reinterpretations of the characters, such as how W. Geoffrey Seeley wrote in 1993 that the story is about Glinda convincing an innocent child to kill the last remaining Wicked Witch so that she can have full reign of Oz.

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

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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.


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.

    Comic Books 
  • This was attempted in the Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! miniseries "The Oz-Wonderland War," with Oz having been conquered by the Nome King, its heroes transformed into objects and scattered to the four winds, and its people yoked in a brutal dictatorship. The "neighboring dimension" Wonderland sends for superheroes for help. Unfortunately, the writers went for accuracy, and once the invincible spellcasters and their omnipotent artifacts had been recovered the rest was an inevitable Anti-Climax.
  • Dorothy Gale: Journey To Oz is a 2004 comic series that reimagines Dorothy's friends as her enemies. Dorothy and her dog Toto are sucked through a portal to Oz, a dark land ruled by a cruel Wizard.
  • Woe Is Oz revolves around the Winkies rebelling against their new queen, Ozma, after the Wicked Witch of the West is killed. Munchkin County is in chaos due to mass murder. Killing for any reason is illegal in Oz, which is why it's especially hard for Ozma to resolve the rebellion.

    Films — Animation 
  • Wreck-It Ralph alludes to the 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.
  • While the original stage version of The Wiz is a Race Lifted but straightforward retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the 1978 film adaptation puts more emphasis on its darker aspects, starting with its Dorothy being a shy, insecure twentysomething kindergarten teacher from Harlem. This Oz is a fantasy version of the rest of New York City (where she's never been before) in its then-contemporary Big Rotten Apple state: the Tin Man dwells in an abandoned amusement park, there's a Sinister Subway with Everything Trying to Kill You (from the trash cans to the pillars), the poppy field is replaced with "Poppy Girls" (re: streetwalkers) drugging Dorothy and the Lion with magical dust, and the Wicked Witch of the West runs a sweatshop. The Emerald City is as glamorous and colorful as its name, but its Beautiful People residents are shallowly obsessed with fashion, and the Wiz is actually a failed Atlantic City politician so desperate to avoid being revealed as a fraud that he risks the lives of Dorothy and her friends by sending them to kill the Wicked Witch before she learns who he really is and kills him. Dorothy gets a serious Adaptational Angst Upgrade for all this, often terrified to tears from the moment she lands in Oz and furious when she learns the Wiz's true identity, though she softens as it becomes clear how terrified and lonely he is. On top of all this, the audience knows that Dorothy was intentionally brought to Oz by Glinda the Good Witch of the South — but, in a subversion of the typical "manipulative Glinda" portrayal, she's a combination of a downplayed Trickster Mentor and Messianic Archetype (verging on a Physical God) who did this so that Dorothy could realize her own inner strength via The Hero's Journey, which is implied to be needed for the Silver Shoes to take her back home. Dorothy is ultimately glad for the experience as she returns to Harlem (unlike in most adaptations, the Wiz does not follow suit, with Dorothy explaining to him that he needs to follow her example and quit hiding from the world), and the film ends up being upbeat (in particular, the immediate aftermath of Dorothy's defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West is the essence of And There Was Much Rejoicing).

    Literature 
  • A Barnstormer In Oz is a Spin-Offspring that only deviates after the first book. Dorothy's son Hank Stover accidentally ends up in Oz in 1923. He finds Oz on the brink of civil war, with a new Wicked Witch as the instigator.
  • In the Dorothy Must Die trilogy, Dorothy has become an evil dictator since she landed in Oz years ago, due to Glinda, who'd been banished from Oz, corrupting Dorothy by giving her powerful "red" slippers (definitely not ruby), and convincing her that Ozma was evil. The power of the slippers eventually turns Dorothy into a selfish, paranoid tyrant, and she uses the power to wipe Ozma's mind clean and take control of Oz from her, while Glinda mines the magic of Oz out of the land and hoards it.
  • 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.
  • Steven R. Boyett's "Emerald City Blues", collected in Midnight Graffiti, shows the denizens of Oz succumbing to self-destructive hedonism in the wake of Dorothy's victory. Then a warhead flies through the rainbow...
  • 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 The Puppet Mistress of Oz by Andrew Heller, which was included in the collection The Lost Tales of Oz, does this with the canon Oz; at least as far as it could go in canon, revealing Oz to be more of a Crapsaccharine World ruled by the mostly benevolent but still unexpectedly ruthless Glinda. It begins with Ozma, Trot, Betsy and Dorothy having a simple tea party in their garden, during which the conversation turns to how each of them first ended up in Oz. When Dorothy retells her story, they begin to notice holes in the story; how did Dorothy’s house landed exactly on the witch, why didn’t Glinda tell her how the shoes worked, why did the Wizard have her assassinate the Wicked Witch of the West, etc. They come to the conclusion that Glinda was behind it all. They go to ask the Wizard what really happened, and eventually they coax it out of him. He was being manipulated by Glinda the entire time, because she knew he wasn’t a real wizard. However, as soon as he spills this secret, Glinda herself appears and explains that sacrifices needed to be made to turn Oz into a paradise, and that Dorothy isn’t even the first girl to be put through this; the other girls sent to kill the Wicked Witches before Dorothy all died. She then erases their minds with a magic spell, all except the Wizard’s, and they forget the whole thing (and apparently this isn’t the first time they’ve figured all this out for themselves before and had to get their minds erased, either).
  • Shadows Of The Emerald City is an adult-aimed anthology book about the darker side of Oz. For example, Emerald City Confidential is about an antihero guard who was demoted for his affair with Ozma. He has to help find out why the mayor of Munchkinland is missing and find out who is trying to kill Ozma.
  • 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.
  • The Shadow of Oz trilogy starts with an adult Dorothy returning to Oz. Oz has fallen into disarray since the Wizard left. Oz's capital, the Emerald City, has been conquered and people are looking for "the Ozma".

    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.
  • 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.
  • Played for Laughs in a MADtv 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.
  • Tin Man is a loose mini-series adaptation of the first book with a very long list of ShoutOuts to later books in the series. 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. Some Subversion kicks in by the third act, however. First, it's not as much an adaptation as it is a sequel, explaining the sheer number of shout-outs to obscure elements from the books. The "O.Z." really is the Oz from the books and it hasn't been a dystopia for very long. While a little crime-ridden and beat up around the edges, it's still not a bad place. DG and her sister are the great-granddaughters of the original Dorothy. The "Wicked Witch" isn't acting of her own free will, either.

    Music 
  • Scissor Sisters has a song called "Return to Oz," which uses this trope as an analogy for crystal meth addiction.

    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.
  • Hit The Bricks is a downplayed example compared to most of the others on this page. About a hundred years after Dorothy moved to Oz permanently, Oz has gone downhill after Ozma, Dorothy, the Wizard and several others have gone missing without a trace, Jack Pumpkinhead who tries to rule in Ozma's stead has gone rotten and is being used as a Puppet King for the series' villains, leading to a more dangerous Oz with a far more tyrannical rule. However, it's still Oz; even if it's going through rough times, the same friendly and colorful World of Pun from the original books still exists underneath it all.

    Roleplaying 
  • The Dystopian Oz trope is popular among novice theater-style LARP authors to the point of being cliché, frequently in combination with Cyberpunk or Steampunk elements.

    Theater 

    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 
  • Emerald City Confidential depicts Oz as a Crapsack World. It's riddled with crime and corruption, magic has been outlawed, and Oz is at threat from attack by the Phanfasms, since Oz's magical protection is out-of-balance due to the death of the four witches.
  • Fallout 4 main plot features quite a lot of reference to the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, such as:
    • The Sole Survivor as the stand-in for Dorothy and the nuclear bomb being the stand in as the tornado.
    • Paladin Danse as the direct stand-in to The Scarecrow.
    • Nick Valentine as the direct stand-in to The Tin Man.
    • Codsworth (and Travis Miles for a brief sidequest) as the direct stand-in to The Cowardly Lion.
    • Dogmeat as the direct stand-in to Toto.
    • Kellogg as the direct stand-in to The Wicked Witch of the West. Appropriately enough, he's encountered at the west of the map.
    • Father and the Institute as a whole as the direct stand-in to Glinda, although it suffered from more than a bit of Adaptational Villainy.
    • The Synth as the direct stand-in to the Winged Monkeys.

    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 given up on a permanent victory because he never imagined it would be possible.

    Web Original 
  • Cracked had an article that reinterpreted 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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