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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz | Chapter 12 : The Search for the Wicked Witch | Summary

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Summary

The next morning the travelers leave the Emerald City and head west. The land is rough, treeless, and unoccupied. Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion get so tired that they fall asleep in broad daylight.

With her single, powerful eye, the Wicked Witch of the West has spotted the group. She sends her minions to destroy the group: first a pack of wolves, then crows, then bees, then armed Winkies. When all of these fail, she uses the power of her golden cap to call the Winged Monkeys. These soaring simians drop the Tin Woodman into a rocky gully and tear the Scarecrow to pieces. Then they carry Dorothy, the Lion, and Toto to the palace.

Seeing Dorothy's silver shoes and the mark left by the Witch of the North on Dorothy's forehead, the Wicked Witch dares not harm the girl. Instead she makes Dorothy her servant and locks the Lion in a cage. (Dorothy secretly brings food to the Lion.) Dorothy grows increasingly unhappy, fearing that she'll never see Kansas again.

The witch knows that Dorothy's shoes have a secret power, and she plots to get them for herself. She succeeds in snatching one shoe, which makes Dorothy so angry that she picks up a nearby bucket of water and throws it over the witch. The witch melts away "like brown sugar"; Dorothy sweeps the melted mass out the door and runs to tell the Lion that the witch is dead.

Analysis

Chapter 12 is strongly influenced by myths from several cultures. The creatures the witch sends to attack the travelers resemble biblical plagues, and the fact that there are 40 wolves and 40 crows strengthens the resemblance; 40 is a key number in the Bible (although it's actually a translation of the word many).

As the Witch of the East had silver shoes, so the Wicked Witch of the West has a golden cap. Enchanted hats and shoes are common in fairy tales and mythology. Hermes, messenger of the Greek gods, wears winged sandals; Perseus, a Greek hero, and Odysseus both wore The Helm of Hades, a helmet that made them invisible; Perseus borrows Hermes's winged sandals when he sets out to kill Medusa.

It may seem strangely anticlimactic that the worst thing the witch does to Dorothy is make her a servant. But Baum tried not to terrify his child readers unduly, and he doesn't want to make his heroine a hardened killer. Remember Dorothy is sorry when her house kills the Witch of the East, and she is horrified when Oz commands her to kill the Witch of the West. In fact she doesn't mean to kill the witch; she just wanted to soak her. Yet Dorothy's powerful, and justified, burst of anger also shows that she is not easily dominated.

The witch's golden cap is beautifully described. Baum loved plays and theatrical costumes and loved describing them as well. And having the witch carry an umbrella rather than a broom is a nice touch. Here Baum fulfills his promise to offer an alternative to fairy tale stereotypes!

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