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Yellow brick road

The Land of Oz, Where Placebos Work Their Magic


This land lives in the folkloric imagery of the West, and reminds us that the essential basis for happiness is not what is imposed on us by society.

The Land of Oz is a place we know well. It is a rectangular, multi-colored, fertile and joyous land that ceased to be considered the work of its author (L. Frank Baum) to be appropriated by folklore. We don’t know its precise location —which categorizes it as a utopia— but we know it’s found in the middle of several deserts, probably in the United States.

In the center is Emerald City, the country’s capital and home to the dubious wizard with his crystal ball. And here, unlike other American fantasy realms, there are no princesses, not all witches are evil and likewise not all wizards are good. Also women are not submissive and they do not need a hero to save them. As a matter of fact, there is no male hero. The wizards is actually a fraud that led people to believe in his supernatural powers, scaring them and governing them until young Dorothy and her friends unveil his scam.

Dorothy and friends walking towards the Emerald City

But after following the yellow brick road, Dorothy and her companions arrive in the city seeking that which they are missing: a home, a brain, a heart and courage. Despite the fact that he comes from civilization, all the magician has left to give are tricks, metaphors and placebos –– but mind us, these work perfectly well (as the cloth heart he gives the Tin woodman, or the fake brain he gives the Scarecrow). This is why, at the end, the story suggests that trust in oneself is the only essential requirement for happiness. Placebos work their magic.

The world Dorothy travels to has its own laws and its own geography, and like Salman Rushdie once pointed out, Oz is characterized by being “a world where nothing is considered more important than the loves, cares and needs of human beings”. In this way, Oz is not just a utopia because it is not represented in the maps of the world, but because it opposes civilization in the most wonderful of ways.

Let us recall one of the Scarecrow’s lines: “I cannot understand why you should wish to leave this beautiful country and go back to the dry, gray place you call Kansas.” Or, of course, Dorothy’s memorable phrase when she arrived in Oz “Toto, I think we are not in Kansas anymore.”

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Witch of the North tells Dorothy something that is essential to understand the nature of the place.

In the civilized countries I believe there are no witches left; nor wizards, no sorceresses, nor magicians. But, you see, the Land of Oz has never been civilized, for we are cut from the rest of the world.

In more than one way, Oz has become part of the myths that create the identity of the United States as a nation. In Oz everything is abundant and prosperous. It is a non-place that we access only by following a yellow brick road and where social structures are seen through a mirror to find the magician in each of us.

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