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Scarecrow (Oz)

The Scarecrow is a character in the fictional Land of Oz created by American author L. Frank Baum and illustrator William Wallace Denslow. In his first appearance, the Scarecrow reveals that he lacks a brain and desires above all else to have one. In reality, he is only two days old and merely ignorant. Throughout the course of the novel, he demonstrates that he already has the brains he seeks and is later recognized as "the wisest man in all of Oz," although he continues to credit the Wizard for them. He is, however, wise enough to know his own limitations and all too happy to hand the rulership of Oz, passed to him by the Wizard, to Princess Ozma, to become one of her trusted advisors, though he typically spends more time playing games than advising.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

In Baum's classic 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the living scarecrow encounters Dorothy Gale in a field in the Munchkin Country while she is on her way to the Emerald City. The "mindless" Scarecrow joins Dorothy in the hope that The Wizard will give him a brain. They are later joined by the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion. After Dorothy and her friends have completed their mission to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, the Wizard gives the Scarecrow brains (made out of bran, pins and needles – in reality a placebo, as he has been the most intelligent of the travelers all along). Before he leaves Oz in a balloon, the Wizard appoints the Scarecrow to rule the emerald city in his stead.

His desire for a brain notably contrasts with the Tin Woodman's desire for a heart, reflecting a common debate between the relative importance of the mind and the emotions. Indeed, both believe they have neither. This, indeed, occasions philosophical debate between the two friends as to why their own choices are superior; neither convinces the other, and Dorothy, listening, is unable to decide which one is right. Symbolically, because they remain with Dorothy throughout her quest, she is provided with both and need not select.

Scholarly interpretations

Economics and history professors have published scholarly studies that indicate the images and characters used by Baum and Denslow closely resembled political images that were well known in the 1890s. The Scarecrow, like other characters and elements in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was a common theme found in editorial cartoons of the previous decade. Baum and Denslow, like most writers, used the materials at hand that they knew best. They built a story around them, added Dorothy, and added a series of lessons to the effect that everyone possesses the resources they need (such as brains, a heart and courage) if only they had self-confidence. Although it was a children’s book, of course, Baum noted in the preface that it was a "modernized" fairy tale as well.

Those who interpret The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a political allegory often see the Scarecrow, a central figure, as a reflection of the popular image of the American farmer—although he has been persuaded that he is only a dumb hick, he possesses a strong common sense, remarkable insight and quick-wittedness that needs only to be reinforced by self confidence.

Later Oz books

The Scarecrow also appears in other Oz books, sharing further adventures with Dorothy and her friends. His reign as king of the Emerald City ends in The Marvelous Land of Oz when General Jinjur and her Army of Revolt oust him in a coup. He manages to escape the palace and joins Tip and his companions in seeking the aid of Glinda the Good.

He spars with H. M. Woggle-Bug T. E. on the value of education. Although he claims to be educated himself and to value education, he finds the Woggle-Bug's learning rote and without wisdom. Although he cannot eat, he tells Billina that she might be better cooked and generally seems to favor the use of animals as food, sometimes making snide remarks to that effect to his animal companions, although he himself only gathers nuts and fruit for his traveling companions, such as Dorothy and Tip, to eat.

By The Road to Oz he is acknowledged, at least by the Tin Woodman, to be "probably the wisest man in all Oz," and this is the caption of an illustration, suggesting that the reader take his comment at face value. Dorothy herself, in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz praises the Scarecrow's wisdom and says the Scarecrow seemed just as wise before the Wizard gave him brains as after.

In The Emerald City of Oz, the Scarecrow lives in a house shaped like an ear of corn in Winkie Country. In The Scarecrow of Oz, the Scarecrow travels to Jinxland, where he helps Cap'n Bill, Trot and Button-Bright overthrow the villainous King Krewl.

In Glinda of Oz the Scarecrow serves as Regent to Ozma of Oz, demonstrating that he is Ozma's third in command. Mostly all he does is play croquet until Ozma's advisers, including himself, band together for a rescue operation.

In The Royal Book of Oz by Ruth Plumly Thompson, Baum's authorized successor as "Royal Historian of Oz", Professor Woggle-Bug accused the Scarecrow of having no ancestry, so he returns to the pole at the cornfield where he was once hung. Sliding down it and descending underground, he first encounters the Midlings and then the Silver Islands, whose people believe themselves to be the ancestors of the Chinese. Apparently, when Emperor Chang Wang Woe defeated the king of the Golden Islands in battle, the king hired a sorcerer to sneak into the palace and transform the Emperor into a crocus, which later sprouted into a bean pole, preceding a prophecy that the first being to touch the bean pole would become possessed by the spirit of the Emperor. As it turned out, the first thing to touch the pole was the straw-stuffed human, which would become the Scarecrow. This account is not consistent with the Scarecrow's story in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz of becoming aware of each sense as the relevant organs were painted on his head.

Early films

The Scarecrow has appeared in nearly every early Oz film, portrayed by different actors each time.

The 1939 movie

In the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow was played by Ray Bolger in what is arguably the actor's most famous role. Bolger's costume consisted of a straw-stuffed suit and a light face mask of rubber designed to simulate burlap. The mask was fragile, and usually had to be completely replaced at the start of each new day of filming. Bolger's Scarecrow costume, minus the mask, is part of the collections of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. Bolger was a talented dancer, so The Scarecrow was given an extended dance sequence in the movie. However, to shorten the movie, much of this sequence was edited out. While Bolger admitted in a 1939 radio broadcast that he was too young to have seen Fred Stone play the Scarecrow in the 1902 musical extravaganza, he told Stone on the broadcast that the first play he was allowed to see was The Red Mill featuring Stone, and that his performance in that play was an inspiration.

Bolger also portrayed the Scarecrow's Kansas counterpart, Hunk the farmhand, newly created for the film. A scene which was written in the script, but dropped before filming commenced, ended the movie by sending Hunk off to agricultural college, with Dorothy promising to write. The scene implied the potential for a romance between the two characters.

Other adaptations

In the animated film Journey Back to Oz (produced in 1964 but not released until the 1970s), the Scarecrow was voiced by Mickey Rooney.

Hinton Battle originated the role of the Scarecrow in the 1975 Broadway musical The Wiz, and Michael Jackson played the Scarecrow in the 1978 film adaptation. This version of the Scarecrow was a more tragic character before Dorothy rescues him; while hung on his pole, the crows he is unable to scare, who force him to humiliate himself and entertain them, torment him day and night. They force him to sing the song, "You Can't Win", meaning that he cannot escape the crows' rule. While Stan Winston created Jackson's makeup, it was applied to Jackson's face by Michael R. Thomas who portrayed the Scarecrow in Barry Mahon's The Wonderful Land of Oz (1969), as well as doing the makeup for that film.

Justin Case, a English bicycle acrobat, appeared briefly as the Scarecrow in the 1985 film Return to Oz.

Modern works

  • The Scarecrow is also a minor character in author Gregory Maguire's revisionist novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and is made a more prominent character in its Broadway musical adaptation Wicked. In the musical, the Scarecrow is revealed to be the remnants of Fiyero after he was captured by the Wizard's officials, but made impervious to injury by Elphaba's incomplete spell. The Fiyero-Scarecrow executes a plan to save Elphaba through using the rumor that water will melt her; thus she stays alive and the two move into the Bad Lands. This has no basis in the book other than that in the final scenes Elphaba hopes that the Scarecrow is really her beloved Fiyero in disguise, which is proven to be a false hope when he is attacked and she sees that he is nothing but straw. The Scarecrow is featured more prominently in Son of a Witch, Maguire's sequel to Wicked. In that novel, the Scarecrow helps the Witch's son Liir avoid political turmoil in the Emerald City after the Wizard's departure. Later, various powerful interests place a different Scarecrow on the throne of Oz to serve as a puppet ruler; the suggestion is that most residents of Oz are unable to distinguish one Scarecrow from another.
  • In The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, Kermit the Frog plays the role of the Scarecrow.
  • In the 2007 Sci Fi television miniseries Tin Man, the Scarecrow is re-imagined as the character named "Glitch" (played by Alan Cumming). Formerly a chief advisor to the queen of the Outer Zone (O.Z.) named Ambrose, he resists her usurper (and daughter), the evil sorceress Azkadellia and has his brain removed by the physician as a reeducation measure. In the series, he wanders the O.Z. searching for his brain and becomes a companion of the protagonist, a girl named DG.

References

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