The Empress Speaks: On Glinda The Bitch of the North

by Helen Cox on 03/07/2013

Empress Figure As Oz the Great and Powerful is released to DVD and Blu-ray this week our Editor in Chief has a few issues to iron out with Glinda – the Bitch of the North. 

I’ve always been deeply suspicious of Glinda from the Wizard of Oz (1939). In fact, that’s an understatement. She has always seemed, to me, the equivalent of a catty girl friend who smiles and says: “you look pretty” when in reality you have unwittingly smudged lipstick on your teeth. She wouldn’t tell you about a ladder in your tights either. She’s a manipulator; a schemer – she’s the kind of person Louise Redknapp was singing about in her hit song: 2 Faced. And I can prove it.

In his BFI Film Classics volume on The Wizard of Oz , Salman Rushdie asks a pertinent question: “Of the two witches, good and bad, can there be anyone who’d choose to spend 5 minutes with Glinda?” He references her overly-powdered face, her “smile that seems to have jammed” and asserts that she is a “trilling pain in the neck.” Furthermore, Rushdie claims that she belittles women who are less conventionally beautiful than she: “only bad witches are ugly” whilst the Wicked Witch is off avenging the death of her sister, showing a close kinship with her family and fellow womenfolk. Although I agree with everything Rushdie has to say in his work, being grating and a little bit shallow are the least of Glinda’s problems. For a start, she doesn’t fight her own battles.

When Dorothy crash lands on the Wicked Witch of the East, undeniably committing manslaughter but apparently that’s okay because it was a witch, Glinda makes Dorothy an instant enemy of the Wicked Witch by magicking the ruby slippers on to her feet. Now, as well as accidentally killing the sister of the sole surviving bad witch she’s also forced to clomp about in the dead woman’s shoes – that wouldn’t go down well with anyone, let alone a wicked witch. Those shoes are Westie’s rightful inheritance and Dorothy is getting yellow brick dust all over them. Glinda could have teleported the shoes onto her own feet but instead she decided to let Dorothy take the fall, a move which ultimately leads to Dorothy’s life being endangered and to her murdering in cold blood. Or cold tap water if you’re of a literal mindset. Thanks a lot Glinda.

Perhaps Glinda’s cowardice would be forgivable, Margaret Hamilton is pretty scary, if she didn’t then send Dorothy off on a completely unnecessary wild goose chase to the wizard when, apparently, she had the power to go back home to Kansas all along. Don’t forget that Dorothy is, at this time, deeply concerned about the impact of her absence on Auntie Em and Uncle Henry after Professor Marvel’s well-meaning but deeply deceptive vision (the main moral of The Wizard of Oz is that grown ups are useless liars by the way – especially men). She wants to get home as quickly as possible to reassure her guardians of her safety but Glinda has other ideas and decides a scenic trip to the Emerald City is a much better idea. She conveniently forgets to mention the poisonous poppy fields, the fire-ball throwing witches, the winged monkeys and, perhaps most importantly given that Dorothy wants to see the wizard, that the wizard doesn’t accept visitors.

Again, all this could have been explained away if Glinda  at the end of the story had, for once in her life, been up front about her motives. “I could see you were the only one who could defeat the Witch of the East” she could have said “and so I used the promise of going home to motivate you.” Or even: “You clearly come from a small town and I thought that the journey on the yellow brick road would teach you some valuable life lessons and help you grow as a person.” When the Scarecrow, quite rightly, probes her over why she didn’t tell Dorothy she had the power to go home all along however, Glinda simply replies: “Because she wouldn’t have believed me.” Er. Hang about there Powderella. When crash-landing in an unfamiliar environment is it not logical to take directions from knowledgeable locals? I’m pretty sure if you’d said to Dorothy: “Just click those magic slippers 3 times and think of home” she’d have been naive and desperate enough to do it. You had other designs on her naivity though, didn’t you Glinda? You basically wanted her to carry out an assassination that seemingly leaves you as the only important political figure in the land of Oz (save the Wizard who you knew was useless anyway and thus easy to overthrow for yourself). You used Dorothy to become a tyrannical dictator. Admit it!

Given the existence of the musical Wicked, and what Rushdie and other writers have contributed to this line of thought, it’s evident that I’m not the first person to feel this way towards the Powdered One. The release of the prequel film has, however, made hating Glinda even easier. Michelle Williams is beautiful in this film; that’s not up for debate – she’s wears an awesome tiara and there’s not a powder compact in sight – but Glinda’s early character arch makes the actions of Billie Burke’s Glinda in the 1939 film all the more sinister.

Before the release of Oz the Great and Powerful, we could have at least tried to convince ourselves that Glinda, just like all the other residents in Oz, didn’t know what an utter fraud the wizard really was. We wouldn’t have really bought it, but it was an option for us. Now we know that in her youth she not only discovered that Oz was bluffing all along, but that she actively encouraged him to deceive the whole kingdom in order to gain control over its riches and military power. Clearly, this was all part of her  master plan to eventually seize control for herself, she even uses her sexual power over him to seal the deal. Well, alright they only kiss.  But I’m pretty sure it’s a kiss symbolising something a bit more risque that you can’t really put into a 12A film. Step 1 of plan to take over the world: get boyfriend to manipulate his way onto the throne of Oz. Check!

To conclude, before this becomes a thesis-length rant rather than a ruthlessly-delivered piece of editorial, perhaps the most unnerving thing about Glinda, and in a way the wizard, is that her deception is covert. She hides behind a sacharine smile and a glittery headdress that any impressionable mind would associate with the powers of good. The Wicked Witches may be corrupt and hell-bent on obtaining power and riches, but at least they’re up front about it; you know exactly where you stand with them. Glinda on the other hand is the Judas of Oz; the Cypher; the Elsa Schneider and nothing good lies ahead in the future of such snakes. Lando Calrissian may have redeemed himself in Jedi but rather than see Glinda’s sly streak explained in some Hallmark happy ending it’d be much more satisfying to see a sequel in which she gets her comeuppance. Do they have Sarlacc pits in Oz?

You can read more columns from the Empress in our print editions.

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