Cold Reading and The Wizard of Oz

I just pulled out Wizard of Oz from the vaults of the library and viewed it on my home projector. It really holds up after all this time, especially the switch from sepia tone to full color.

The movie, as many know, is based on the 1900 book by Frank L. Baum, but there are some significant differences. For instance, you may not know that the wizard in the book is meant to be her uncle, Henry Gale. This is far different than the movie version, which introduces the wizard’s  counterpart as a traveling con man named Professor Marvel.

Professor Marvel takes one look at Dorothy and performs a cold reading…


Well, well, well — house guests, huh? And who might you be? No, no — now don’t tell me. Let’s see — you’re — you’re travelling in disguise. No, that’s not right. I — you’re–  you’re going on a visit. No, I’m wrong.

That’s… You’re — running away.

How did you guess?

Professor Marvel never guesses — he knows!

Now, why are you running away?

Why –

No, no — now don’t tell me. They — they don’t understand you at home. They don’t
appreciate you. You want to see other lands — big cities — big mountains — big oceans –

Why, it’s just like you could read what was inside of me.

Dorothy forgets the misses and remembers the hit, a classic sign that she’s being duped by a cold reader. Professor Marvel sees how vulnerable she is, an easy mark, and he brings her into his trailer to con her some more with a “psychic reading”.

Dorothy is so desperate that she asks this huckster if she can join him. Here we see that this guy really does have a heart; he, like the wizard, ultimately just wants to help Dorothy get home. So, Professor Marvel peers into his little crystal ball, and convinces Dorothy to go home, that her Aunt is in danger. Of course, he also roots around her basket, looking for something that will help him seem clairvoyant. He finds a picture of her aunt and uncle and takes his best shot…


Yes, there’s — there’s a woman — she’s… she’s wearing a polka-dot dress… her face is careworn.

Yes…That’s Aunt Em.

Her — her name is Emily.

That’s right. What’s she doing?

You see how she did that? She just provides Professor Marvel important information that he uses to make himself seem psychic. Watch how she does it again…

Well, she’s – she’s going into a little bedroom

Has it poppies on the wall paper?

I said it had poppies on the wall paper! Eh — she’s — What’s this? Why, she’s –
she’s putting her hand on her heart — she’s — she’s dropping down on the….

When Dorothy goes to Oz, she finds a land of people who have faith in this mysterious wizard, but Dorothy only finds a simple ordinary man behind the curtain. People have tried to find meaning in everything from Toto to the Tinman, but the moral of the deceptive all-powerful wizard comes across as a hidden message of atheism and skepticism.

Do not arouse the wrath of the Great and Powerful Oz! I said — come back tomorrow!

It’s kind of hard to make my point when the movie is full of witches, flying monkeys, talking scarecrows, and cities made of emerald. But, we should remember that the entire premise of the movie is that her adventure was a fantastical dream. There’s no indication that her fantasy was real.

The lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man are given psychological placebos by the old wizard, and they happily gulp it up. Having a diploma doesn’t make you wise, having a medal doesn’t make you brave, having testimonials doesn’t mean you have a heart. These characters are learning that true virtue comes from within, even if the lesson is deceitful in nature. Dorothy herself learns that she never required divine intervention. Instead, she discovers that she’s had the power all along – she didn’t need a god or wizard to save her. And why didn’t Glinda just tell her in the first place? In the spirit of freethought…

Because she wouldn’t have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.

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2 Responses to Cold Reading and The Wizard of Oz

  1. Great post. I haven’t seen TWOO for years, but it’s amazing how we forget the lessons we learn as a child.

  2. Fantastic book made more memorable because of the success of this movie.

    Frank L. Baum continues to inspire, especially here in Chicago. I hope a planned historical bio of Baum is finally made. We are long overdue.

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