The 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” has made that moment when Dorothy first opens her door and walks out into the Munchkin kingdom magical and iconic. It’s hard to forget that moment when sepia tones turn to bright, vivid color and then a woman descends from the heavens in a bubble to greet Dorothy. I mean, even setting aside the amazing color reveal of the world, what kind of magical person can travel by bubble?
When we first meet the Good Witch of the North in the book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, she doesn’t arrive by bubble. She walks up to Dorothy like anyone else flanked by three Munchkin men. She is even dressed like them, with the same pointed hat ringed in bells that tinkle as she moves (although hers is white while everything they wear is blue). Dorothy observes that the men each appear about her Uncle Henry’s age, “but the little woman was doubtless much older: her face was covered with wrinkles, her hair was nearly white, an she walked rather stiffly.” And that is our first introduction to her. Sort of…
The first chapter of the book is “The Cyclone” and starts a while before we meet the Witch or see Oz at all. In the editions that Baum and Denslow designed for the original printing (and which have been reprinted many times since), like every other chapter, it starts with a splash page stating the chapter title and featuring an illustration. In this case, it happens to be opposite the dedication page, which also features an illustration. What’s interesting about these illustrations is that they work together as if related, which can hardly be an accident when Baum and Denslow designed the layout so specifically throughout the book. This pair of illustrations makes it almost look like the Good Witch of the North is controlling the cyclone. As if maybe she summoned it, and Dorothy, deliberately.
In this first (and only for several books) meeting, the Witch of the North does explain that she is a good witch, one of two – North and South – and that there are two wicked witches – East and West – of which the Eastern one is dead under Dorothy’s house. She gives the little girl the silver shoes, but by merely picking them up, shaking out the remains of the Wicked Witch of the East, and handing them to her. Her two feats of visible magic are to turn her hat into a slate and to spin around three times and disappear.
Nevertheless, this is clearly a woman of great power. Before Dorothy leaves on her yellow brick road adventure, the Witch of the North gives her a kiss on the forehead. Where she kisses Dorothy, her lips leave a “round, shining mark” and the Witch says that “no one will dare injure person who has been kissed by the Witch of the North.” And throughout the story, this appears to be true. When she meets the Wizard, he observes and asks about the kiss, but does not comment on it. It’s not until she meets the Winged Monkeys and the Witch of the West that the power it represents becomes evident.
The Wicked Witch of the West sees Dorothy and her band approaching and sends (among other sentinels) the Winged Monkeys with instructions to “destroy them all except the Lion” (whom she wants to harness like a horse). When they reach the band, though, they do not harm Dorothy. The leader “saw the mark of the Good Witch’s kiss upon her forehead and stopped short, motioning the others not to touch her.” They know they cannot harm her, so they carry her carefully to the Wicked Witch instead.
The Wicked Witch was both surprised and worried when she saw the mark on Dorothy’s forehead, for she knew well that neither the Winged Monkeys nor she, herself, dare hurt the girl in any way.L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
What power does this kiss, and the Witch who gives it, have that holds everyone else in such fear? The Witch of the North herself claims that she is not that powerful, but one has to suspect that perhaps that is not entirely true. She certainly seems to be affecting things, even simply by kissing a little girl’s forehead, more than any other single character in the story besides perhaps Dorothy herself! Even Glinda only explains the power of the shoes, she doesn’t actually do much of anything and displays no magic powers. In fact, the Witch of the North is the only character in the entire book who actually does display magical powers!
For the 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz” MGM for some reason decided to merge the two Good Witches and make Glinda the Good Witch of the North. She does not give Dorothy the protective kiss in the movie, but she does make it clear to the audience that she is watching over the companions when she makes snow fall on them to awaken them from the poppies. Gregory Maguire kept this compilation character in his book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and the sequels. It carried into the subsequent musical based on the book as well.
Other adaptions have chosen to keep the two characters separate. The musical “The Wiz” turns the matronly Good Witch of the North into Addaperle, a guide who sets Dorothy off in the right direction when she arrives in Oz. In the 1978 film version of the musical they call her “Miss One”, but the idea of the character seems the same. Several of the animated and video game adaptations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz also keep the Good Witch of the North as her own character. Even “The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz”, where Miss Piggy plays all four witches, keeps the characters distinct instead of merging them.
L. Frank Baum didn’t even give the Good Witch of the North a name in the books. He did call her Locasta in his 1902 stage musical version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but the name never appeared in the books. Ruth Plumly Thompson named her Tattypoo. Adaptations have had a range of names for her. But for a character with no definitive name, she has a big impact!
Not only does the Good Witch of the North display the only true magical powers not tied to a magical object in the original book, but her power is impressive and lasts. Indeed, that kiss on Dorothy’s forehead is still there twenty-nine books later in 1935’s The Wishing Horse of Oz. That’s an impressive kiss!
I love how understated the Good Witch of the North is. She clearly has great power and is likely causing and guiding a huge amount of what happens in the story, but she takes no credit for anything. Indeed, her touch is so light that it’s not actually clear how much she is involved in the story at all! I love the mystery of her and the glimpse she gives of actual magical power. She’s a wonderful grandmotherly figure, unlike the rest of the witches, which helps her fly so far under the radar that many people forget she existed at all. And that’s real power.