Myths Surround 'Wizard of Oz' As Festival Opens

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The meaning of home. The question of identity. Compassion, courage. Be true to yourself. America.

"It's the first American children's classic," said Garner. "There are snake-oil salesmen, not princesses and fairy dust. Kings are toppled and rulers are challenged. Strong characters with things at stake. In an immigrant society like America, people had to fight for what they had."

If the turn of the century wasn't the best of times or the worst of times, it was a time of change.

"We were shifting from a country of producers to a country of consumers," said MacLeod. "People were being ripped off the land. Immigrants from Europe were coming from a peasant background and being thrust into cities. Transformation is wrenching, not only for millions of immigrants but for old-stock American. Often culture is the place where we navigate and negotiate these changes.

For Baum's Wizard, MacLeod said, "I prefer the open interpretation. It can represent whatever we want it to, like so much in art."

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