The third book that saved my life was again not a book but this time a film: The Wizard of Oz. A film can act in the same way as a book. In books we escape into a different world where we make up what the characters look like, where their world is and what and who is in that world whilst being guided by the narrator. It is being connected to the STORY that allows this engagement (and in some instances learning and change) to take place and this is also the case with a film. This a story in a couple of hours, a journey, and perhaps for a child made more powerful because of the images on the screen: the colour, the music, and the characters.
Have you ever wondered why 'The Wizard of Oz', is such a popular film?
My mother took me and my brother to see this film, I was about 6 and my brother was 5. For me, this film was one of the most important films I ever saw. Coincindentally I saw it at a time when my understanding of what had happened to me, made no sense.
I had only been living with my mother for a few months and to me she was a stranger. Previous to this, I had been placed with a foster mother whom I called Auntie Joan. She had two sons and lived in Burnt Oak. I was placed with her at two and half and I think it was quite an unusual situation. Usually children were placed with a mother and a father.
Auntie Joan was recently widowed and I imagine she decided to foster both to help out financially but also to take her mind off her loss. She had two grown up sons and I guess that Social Services thought they would act as a sort of male role model in the absense of a father.
Auntie Joan and her two sons, Tony and Frank, were the epitomy of the sixties. Tony had a motorbike with a side car and sometimes he took us to Canvey Island. I seem to remember being squashed in the side-car with Aunty Joan who spent the whole journey petrified and hanging on to me as tightly as possible. I was welcomed into the family and well looked after. I loved them all and was very happy there.
Unbeknown to me, my birth mother had been to see Social Services to give her a council house. It was a lot easier in those days, and there were a lot of new developments appearing across London. She was offered a council house in Cricklewood on the understanding that she would have to take me out 'of care'. I remember being taken to see her and screaming the place down before leaving the flat in Burnt Oak. The only way I would quieten down was on the proviso that Auntie Joan would be coming with us.
So the Social Worker agreed but of course they didn't explain things properly in those days and no sooner had I been introduced to 'my mother' than Aunty Joan disappeared and I was left with this strange woman and my 'new' brother.
L.Frank Baum first published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in 1900, and the success of that book led to several sequels. A number of adaptations of Baum's Oz stories for stage and screen appeared before MGM's classic movie was released in 1939.
The cyclone in the Wizard of Oz could be symbolic of a chaotic journey into the unconscious. It could also be a metaphor of the upheaval which Dorothy must have experienced when her parents died. Dorothy is lonely in her black and white - dark, surroundings with an aunt and uncle who never smile. Indeed, her only connection to her happy past life is Toto, her dear dog. "It was Toto that made Dorothy laugh, and saved her from growing gray as her other surroundings" (p. 4). There are many explanations of the psychological impact connected with The Wizard of Oz - lonliness, loss (Dorothy has lost her home), emptyness (Scarecrow has an emptyness in his head and needs a brain), (The Tin Man is empty inside and needs a heart) and not forgetting the evil mother represented by the Wicked Witch of the West whom Dorothy must conqueror and thereby release herself from the bad feelings towards the dead mother who abandoned her. And of course we must not forget the wonderful yellow brick road that is symbolic of a journey, travelling from one place to another (moving on) and of the bright yellow hope that Dorothy radiates at the start of the journey. Whatever its pshychological meaning, children relate to the film and for me it is still as powerful and popular today as it was back then.
The physical act of watching the film acted as a way for me to escape the confusing and frightening new place I was in. I joined Dorothy in escaping the grey, world of reality and flew over the rainbow to a beautiful world. But even there all was not as it seemed. Evil witches lurked around corners ready to take Dorothy away from her new friends and stop her reaching her hearts desire, to return home. There's no place like home! Dorothy was told she had the power to get back home all along. And for a while I too believed I could get back home.