Leo’s Introspection (Behind the Scenes)

Ever since I read Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz at the age of 9, I was captivated by its world and characters. While initially unaware of its sequels, I later discovered Baum penned 13 more at fans’ behest before his death, with his family and associates continuing his legacy.

I adore all the characters, but my top pick is the Cowardly Lion due to my fandom for Lions. Notably, while he, like Dorothy and Toto, desires courage from the Wizard, the Scarecrow aims for a brain, and the Tinman for a heart, the Lion consistently shows bravery on his journey despite considering himself cowardly.

In later Oz books which introduce new heroes and villains as well as Dorothy and her family moving to Oz with Toto, despite being granted courage by the Wizard, it is implied that the Lion only pretends to be a coward although, in fact, he is brave. That said, however, one part of the first book that really held my attention was when Dorothy and her friends are captured by the Wicked Witch of the West whom the Wizard asks them to kill in order for him to grant their wishes.

The Lion is kept in a cage and often ordered by the witch to pull a cart for her like a horse which he evidently and aggressively refuses to, causing the witch to starve him. This starvation ceases when Dorothy brings him food and their imprisonment comes to an end when Dorothy unintentionally melts the Witch and they are saved before returning to see the Wizard for their wishes.

I aimed to craft a Wizard of Oz narrative centred on the Lion’s captivity under the Witch. Given the uncertainty of Dorothy and her friends’ captivity duration by the Wicked Witch of the West, I presumed it to be 25 days. As the Lion lacks a specific name in the Wizard of Oz dialogues, I assigned him the moniker “Leo,” symbolizing lions and referencing the Greek zodiac sign. While not explicitly recounted in The Wizard of Oz, I believed this untold tale unfolded. I maintained the initial scene where Leo confronts Winkies delivering his food.

Since ancient times among prisoners, I recalled that they had to earn their food by serving captors. I applied this to the Lion, who also rejected his task and went hungry. The situation worsened when the witch brought a cart, commanding the Lion to pull it. Fueled by rage, he threatened her, refusing and vowing to bite her if she approached. Consequently, she withheld his food until he complied, although Dorothy and Toto managed to provide nightly meals. This indicated that the Lion’s cowardice paradoxically fueled his courage in confronting danger, despite lacking the desired bravery.

For those concerned about Lions or interested in hunting them, Leo represents a fierce, efficient fighting machine. This aspect was embedded by Baum both before and after Leo gained courage from the Wizard. In subsequent Oz books, Leo’s character evolves into a more composed and tranquil persona, in contrast to his earlier use of animal instincts against foes. I aimed to leverage this concept in giving Leo a path to inner peace and adapting to his circumstances, enabling him to explore non-aggressive forms of communication. The notion of entering a mental spirit world for finding tranquillity is something I have encountered in various stories.

One example is the story of former boxer Rubin Carter, nicknamed ‘Hurricane’ for his fighting style. His career ended when he was wrongly convicted of three bar murders in 1966, the same sentence being reimposed on him a decade later in 1976. He spent 18 years in prison and his sentence was overturned in 1985 due to racial bias and withheld evidence. This led to his release upon which he became an advocate for the wrongly accused. During his imprisonment, Carter focused on achieving inner peace and even explored spiritual connections. He transformed from an outspoken and angry person to a calmer one, much like Leo, who, being a lion, also had an imposing presence.

In my understanding of the spirit world, when we connect with the spirits of those who came before us—whether they’re our relatives or not—the advice they offer might vary when they collectively communicate with us. Dealing with divergent viewpoints from heavenly beings could be overwhelming. Only once we’ve absorbed both perspectives can we confidently reach a decision. I also explored the concept of a dual personality, similar to how an individual might assume a distinct identity. This was evident in Rubin Carter’s case. Upon entering prison, he resisted conforming by refusing prison attire, work, and even food outside his cell, all as a way of asserting his innocence. Consequently, he frequently faced solitary confinement as punishment. During these periods, he manifested three aspects of himself: Hurricane, Rubin, and Carter. The Carter aspect was passive, Rubin was fuelled by animosity, and Hurricane was tasked with choosing which facet to heed—although he ultimately embraced both sides of himself.

In the end, Carter embraced his inner self after reconviction. This allowed him to find peace by transforming fear and hate into love and compassion. Upon release from prison, he went on fought for justice and realized that his previous and mean actions were driven by a negative side, leading him to prison. He did not end up in prison for murder, but rather to confront (and in the end destroy) his hatred. Through this internal struggle, he found freedom (both mentally and physically). A similar case is seen with Leo, who entered the spirit world and faced conflicting advice from two spirit Lions. One urged him to attack enemies, while the other advised forgiveness. Leo chose forgiveness, starting by retrieving a positive thinking book, which might have been disapproved by the Witch due to its contrary values.

Often prisoners feel a sense of resentment towards those who keep them captive and that is evidently what Leo initially harboured resentment towards his captors, the Winkies serving the Wicked Witch of the West, but as he communicated with them, he gained insight into their motivations for serving the witch. They provided him with food in his cage, which he consumed. Unlike most lions who would naturally despise their captors, Leo, viewing himself as a coward, feared his anger could turn into hatred. Thus, he chose to suppress those emotions and instead channel them into feelings of love and compassion.

Ultimately, his efforts paid off when he became calmer and after Dorothy and Toto defeated the witch and freed him as well as the Winkies who restored the Tinman and the Scarecrow as well, Leo gave more thought as to whether or not the Wizard would give them their gifts because one side of him might have believed that he had courage and did not recognise it.

Writing this story has not just given me an idea for a fanfiction regarding the Land of Oz; it has also taught me the meaning of compassion.

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