Study Guide

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Genre

By L. Frank Baum


Fairy Tale, Young Adult Literature, Quest

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is often referred to as the first American fairy tale. The story itself starts and ends in the American heartland, on a Kansas farm. Some elements of the story are traditional (it's not like Baum invented witchcraft), but other parts feel fresh and particularly American. With the Scarecrow, for instance, Baum took a practical, everyday item—something that his readers would know from real life—and made it special.

The author was consciously working in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, but he wasn't writing a cautionary tale. In Baum's preface to the book, he described his story as a "modernized fairy tale" that was "written solely to please children." In his effort to delight his young audience, he made the conflicts in the story really brief. That's because he felt like a lot of traditional fairy tales were too frightening. And because he wasn't trying to hammer home any particular lessons. Dorothy and her friends encounter a lot of scary situations, but they're always easily (and happily) resolved, which Baum hoped would be a comfort to tiny readers.

Like many fairy tales, The Wizard of Oz involves a great quest. To get back to Kansas, Dorothy must slay a nasty enemy, the Wicked Witch of the West. (The conflict between a young girl and an evil older woman is a familiar storyline, too—from Cinderella to Alice in Wonderland, it is often used in fairy tales.) Dorothy succeeds, of course, but her reward is not a prince or great riches; it's self-knowledge. Dorothy is ultimately carried home on her own two feet.