SCOTT SIMON, host:
Someone, maybe a college student cutting class, found this musical coincidence between the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz" and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album: Play the record as you watch the movie and the songs follow along with the story.
Now we're going to learn more about another coincidence between the book, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," published in 1900, and U.S. monetary policy in the late 1800s. An article written in 1964 argues that L. Frank Baum's novel was an economic parable about the U.S.
Quentin Taylor is a resident scholar at Liberty Fund, a nonprofit educational foundation. He joins us at member station WFYI in Indianapolis. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Taylor.
Mr. QUENTIN TAYLOR (Liberty Fund): Thank you.
SIMON: This argument traces back to a 1964 article in the American Quarterly by a man named Henry Littlefield?
Mr. TAYLOR: He had looked at this and saw what he thought were parallels. And he patched these together and made a pretty plausible argument that Mr. Baum put a deliberate subtext in there, which spoke to the monetary politics of the late 19th century.
SIMON: Well, take us through some of the items, if you could.
Mr. TAYLOR: Well, the characters, for example, have parallels with particular groups of people at the time. Dorothy is generally taken to represent a kind of everyman, a kind of girl next door that represents the good qualities of America. Kind of trusting and yet able to stand up for herself.
The Scarecrow is typically taken to represent the American farmer, who was suffering at that time during an economic downturn. The Cowardly Lion is typically taken to be a specific person: William Jennings Bryan, who was a popular leader at that time, Democratic nominee in both 1896 and 1900.
And the Wizard: either the president of the United States or the financial industrial interests that were often considered responsible for the hardships people were facing. And the various wicked witches of different parts of the country representing these other kind of malign forces out there.
SIMON: And what did the country look like in 1900?
Mr. TAYLOR: Well, it was still predominantly rural. Of course the cities had grown considerably. There was a great deal of industrial development at that time. But in 1893 there was a crash followed by a depression that lasted for several years, and it was during this time that the political movement known as populism came about, which this "Wizard of Oz" story is often taken to be a kind of a parallel of populism.
SIMON: And the significance of Dorothy's slippers; in the movie, of course, they're ruby slippers.
Mr. TAYLOR: Yes. In the book version, they're silver. And so we have the image of silver slippers going down a yellow brick road, or a gold road. And of course the principal issue in that 1896 election, it all boiled down to the monetary issue, the business of gold and silver as the basis for the currency. And the Populist Party wanted silver to be introduced as a way to inflate the currency, make money more available both for purchases and paying down debt.
SIMON: If you wanted to cast this as an allegory for these times, how much do that?
Mr. TAYLOR: Starting with Dorothy?
Mr. TAYLOR: Perhaps Sarah Palin. Attractive, wholesome, somewhat provincial, given to idealism, rather naïve.
SIMON: The Cowardly Lion?
Mr. TAYLOR: You know, the Lion is kind of bumptious and boisterous and blubbering, more smoke than fire, but beneath all the bluster really a sweetheart, and I had in mind Barney Frank.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. TAYLOR: Those are often the folks that are the victims. And as you know, victims are often the last to know, but I think in this case they know who they are.
And then there's just one last character, not in the film but in the book, and this is the Queen of the Field Mice. I thought Speaker Nancy Pelosi fit this best.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. TAYLOR: After all, she is the queen of the House and she presides over a collection of diminutive chattering rodents.
SIMON: You're a funny man, Mr. Taylor. I welcome that in an academic. Thanks so much.
Mr. TAYLOR: Well, thank you. My pleasure.
(Soundbite of instrumental, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow")
SIMON: Quentin Taylor speaking to us from WFYI in Indianapolis. He's currently resident scholar at Liberty Fund. He's usually an associate professor of history and political science at Rogers State University in Claremore, Oklahoma.
By the way, you can click through a photo gallery featuring Quentin Taylor's suggested modern-day cast, including Sarah Palin as Dorothy and Al Gore as the Tin Man, on our Web site, NPR.org. You can also share your choices there of who you'd like to cast in your version of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Don't put me in any of those casts.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.
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