Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Dorothy with the silver shoes, illustrated by W. W. Denslow

Although The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) features Dorothy as the main character, she had no surname until the third Oz book, Ozma of Oz (1907). Most readers associate Gale with the cyclone that swept Dorothy to Oz in the first place, but the book in which she is named transports her to Oz via a maelstrom at sea: Dorothy and Uncle Henry are traveling to relatives in Australia so that he can rest from all the hard work he's done on his Kansas farm. But Dorothy Gale and a "gale" of wind make a logical association. Interestingly, when L. Frank Baum was editor of the Aberdeen (Dakota Territory) Saturday Pioneer, he published long and frequent accounts of Great Plains weather. In 1879 six Gales of Irving, Kansas, were killed in a nationally famous double tornado. The Kansas state song, "Home on the Range," widely adapted to many locations during the nineteenth century, starts its second verse with "Oh, give me the gale, of the Solomon vale." Perhaps Baum was simply echoing the surname of his mother-in-law, Maude Gage.

However Dorothy came by her last name, she is a famous Great Plains citizen and a true westerner. She is an agent for change: she kills two witches in Oz (one with a house, the other with water, just as many pioneers used those weapons to great effect on the Plains), and she substitutes benevolent rulers in their places. She is loyal to home and once in Oz determinedly sets her mind to returning to it. Nothing sways her resolve. She unites various people and creatures in democratic fashion, she's very practical, she's conscientious and clean (mopping up the "mess" of the melted Wicked Witch of the West), and she acts calmly, without fear, in spite of her age. Finally, she knows life on the Plains, explaining that her desire for a quick return home comes from her assumption that Aunt Em will think she's dead and that the poor woman cannot afford mourning clothes if the crops are no better than they were the year before.

In subsequent books, Baum tired of disasters as vehicles to transport Dorothy to Oz, and she left the Great Plains and Kansas in 1910, in The Emerald City of Oz, to take up permanent residence as part of Ozma's court. L. Frank Baum lasted only three years in the Great Plains; Dorothy Gale lasted ten. Together they gave the region one of its admirable citizens, someone with the heart, brains, and courage to thrive in a difficult environment.

See also LITERARY TRADITIONS: Baum, Frank L..

Thomas Fox Averill Washburn University

Averill, Thomas Fox. "Oz and Kansas Culture." Kansas History 12 (1989): 2–12.

Greene, David L., and Dick Martin. The Oz Scrapbook. New York: Random House, 1977.

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