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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

July 19, 2009

Follow the yellow brick road

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote about Caroline’s first experience with the “Wizard of Oz.”

She was 3, and went to a presentation of the “Sing-Along Wizard of Oz.” She loved the people who came dressed in costume and the singing and the munchkins. But every time the Wicked Witch of the West appeared, she hid her head in my shoulder and asked why there had to be such an evil character.

I think I told her something about conflict and story structure. That’s a much easier question to answer than why there is evil in the world, which I think is what she really wanted to know.

Now Caroline is 11, and last week, I got to go watch her in her day camp drama class version of “The Wizard of Oz.”

This wizard followed the same story as the movie, albeit much abridged (they had eight days to put it together and had to bring the performance in at under an hour.

It was a low-budget (or no-budget) affair, with the student actors bringing most of their costumes from home, skipping down a paper yellow brick road and singing along with recorded music.

In this one, the Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t remotely scary to Caroline, who performed admirably as a munchkin and as a resident of Emerald City. OK, the Wicked Witch of the West was a camp-mate in a black dress without green makeup. But she did an admirable cackle when she said “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!” She also seemed to have great fun melting to the floor.

Of course, I wouldn’t expect any 11-yearold to be frightened by “The Wizard of Oz.” They are far too sophisticated to believe that anything so clearly make-believe can hurt them, and they see and hear about real-life horrors almost every day. Unlike 3-year-olds, they take the existence of evil — in stories and in life — for granted.

But now I hope Caroline is seeing more of what the story is trying to teach: that you have more capacity to achieve your dreams than you think, that help is available if you ask for it and, of course, that love and kindness trump revenge and spite. I always thought it was a lovely touch that Wicked Witch’s minions cheered as she melted into the floor, because they would no longer be compelled to do her evil bidding.

As Caroline and her friends get older, she’ll no doubt run into stories where the line between good and evil isn’t so bright (“Wicked,” anyone? That play holds that the Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t really wicked after all, just grossly misunderstood.).

But sometimes, it’s more fun to dress up in bright colors and celebrate the triumph of the good guys winning.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].