Getting wicked: Or why I’ll never, ever want to trade places with Dorothy

Of my many fears born in childhood, there are some that I’ve never quite been able to shake. I’m still afraid of spiders, for one — creepy; crawly; hiding in my shower, waiting to attack me when I’m just trying to get ready for work and OMG please just go down the drain already. Or I’m calling my dad. And don’t think I won’t do it.

Ahem.

We have my fear of heights — or, more accurately, my fear of falling. Fear of public embarrassment. Fear of lima beans (come on — you know they’re disgusting).

And my fear of the Wicked Witch of the West.

When other children were enjoying L. Frank Baum’s classic The Wizard Of Oz — in either book or film format — I was the kid cowering in the corner, weeping quietly to herself and shrieking whenever Dorothy would fall prey to the Wicked Witch’s schemes.

And that’s what I’ve always called her: The Wicked Witch.

I remember watching “The Wizard Of Oz” for the first time when I was around 3 years old. If you believe my mother’s  tale (which, you know, I guess I do), she was desperate for the chance to take a shower. An active child and, at that time, only child, Mom needed to occupy me long enough to get cleaned up. She plunked me down in front of the TV and scrolled through the channels until she stumbled upon the movie that would taint me forever.

“I thought it was a children’s classic!” she howls now, staring at me.

Even 20 years later, I remind her that she ruined my life.

Watching the woman in question morph from her dog-hating “human” self into the Wicked Witch of the West during a Kansas twister, my eyes were probably as large as globes. Some things happened in the movie — Dorothy gets far from home, meets a bunch of unusual characters, finds some ruby slippers, etc. — but I wasn’t concerned with any of that.

All I could see was that face. That big, green face.

The years have not been kind. Every time I think I’m “over” my fear of the Wicked Witch, something happens to send me right back to square one. Though I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” in snippets since childhood, I’ve absolutely never sat down to watch it again.

Of course, this is a source of hilarity for friends and family.

I’m going to say it loud and sincerely: I’m Deathly Afraid Of The Witch. So if you think this has kept my sister from torturing me with witch-related items over the years, you’re wrong.

Very wrong.

The first sign of trouble came on Christmas morning in 1988. My mom mistakenly believed that I’d actually loved “The Wizard of Oz” (um, what?) and bought me a set of dolls from the movie: Dorothy, of course, with a tiny plastic Toto; Glinda the Good Witch; and You-Know-Who.

We have home movies of me turning the box over in my hands, an expression of terror slowly creasing my features. I looked from my mom to my dad, wide-eyed, before I said slowly, “It’s the Wicka Witch.” (I hadn’t yet mastered words like “wicked.”)

My mom says she felt terrible, that she hadn’t realized I was afraid, but she’s laughing on the tape. Laughing.

My sister, kind soul that she is, has purchased dolls in various forms for me, plus birthday cards bearing the witch’s trademark cackle, T-shirts, etc. Since the ’80s, the Witch has followed me everywhere. I tried to combat my fears by even dressing as the witch for Halloween — pictured above in 1988 — but nothing worked.

I hate her.

When I cop to my terror about that green-faced nightmare, others smile and shake their heads. My aunt Jacki has reported that it wasn’t the witch that scared her so badly growing up, but the flying monkeys.

I’d totally take a barrel of flying monkeys over any witch. I’d even let them pick me up and fly away — as long as it was away from You-Know-Who.

So tell me. Am I alone in my witch fears? Has a character scarred you for life?

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23 thoughts on “Getting wicked: Or why I’ll never, ever want to trade places with Dorothy

  1. The first movie I ever remember seeing in a real movie theater was Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and I’m not gonna lie – Ursula scared the bejesus out of me. I think I even remember having to leave the theater. (Incidentally, I saw “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” that same year and didn’t even flinch one. Kids are weird). I still don’t like watching certain parts of “The Little Mermaid” even after all this time.

    Have you ever read Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” or seen the musical of the same name (technically the musical is very loosely based on the book, the book is much, much better)? It presents the “wicked witch” as the heroine – maybe that’s a way to see her in a new light after all these years?

    • Yeah, Ursula is pretty creeptastic — can’t argue you with you there!

      You know, I forgot to write about this in my post, but it’s important: I have read Wicked and saw the musical in Chicago years ago! It did change my perception of Elphaba a bit, but she’ll always be The Wicked Witch to me. I can’t disassociate the two!

  2. The Incredible Hulk. Every time that show came on I ran upstairs and hid under my mother’s desk. I wouldn’t come down until it was over, even if they turned it off. I knew he was out there. As long as that show was on, he was out there.

    That being said, I have gotten over my fear. Eric Bana cured all that for me 🙂

  3. I recently made EXACTLY the same mistake as your Mum and made my niece watch the Wizard of Oz. I had vague memories of being afraid of the flying monkeys, but I was like, oh, Izzy is far more sophisticated and 21st century than I was, she’ll be fine. SO. WRONG. I ended up fast forwarding through at least half of the scary bits.

    Watership Down scarred me horribly. I don’t care if it has got the ultimate cheese song on its soundtrack – BUNNIES DIE HORRIBLE SLOW DEATHS IN GRAPHIC ANIMATED DETAIL!

  4. I’m with Meredith, I think you should read WICKED and then, if you can manage, see the Broadway show. Elphaba would say that the version you know is pure propaganda, and you need to see her as she really was.

  5. ET was one that scarred me for life. I saw it in the theater with my family when I was little and I remember being petrified of ET. I’ve never been able to watch the movie again. Someone gave me the DVD when I was 17 for my birthday, not knowing how that movie scarred my childhood… I promptly returned it.

  6. Great post.

    I remember Ghostbusters scared me to death when I was a kid, so much so that I haven’t watched it since. It was those dogs that did it.

  7. I thought this was going to be about the play Wicked, LOL. I’ve had some scare me but not QUITE as bad as this, hehe. First though, I really recommend Wicked. You might see the wicked witch in a different light!!

    As for scary things, I watched a version of Alice in Wonderland that scared me when I was about 5 or 6. And the clown from Poltergeist… I saw that movie when I was 3 and I’ve been scared ever since!!

  8. I can’t help it, that gave me a chuckle. Not about your fear––but the way you wrote this, I can see the glee in your family’s eyes & the hysterics they go into when they’ve ‘gotcha.’ Oh dear, they sound relentless. I can’t remember a specific fear when I was little. But, I remember as a teen watching a scary movie about a babysitter WHILE babysitting. It was awful. [shudder]

  9. Oh Meg- I completely understand!!! I HATE the “Wizard of Oz”, my first experience was the movie as well and after that I had no interest in reading the book. Although my fears/nightmares are made up of the combination of the Witch & the Flying Monkeys I have spent many a sleepness night over these images (when I was a kid)! My sister (6 yrs. my senior) never understood why I was so scared either…She suggested that I read the book “Wicked”, she assured me that I would love it, it would explain why she became so wicket and she thought I might even grow to like the Witch. (read it about 3 yrs. ago) Well I know many gazillions of people of both loved the book & the Broadway Show, but I can tell you that I HATED the book, it was weird, bizarre and a little kinky if you ask me..AND no thank you, I do not wish to see it “live”….

    I end this commentary with this thought- My sister doesn’t have the same taste in books, she does not understand my love of all things Austen…And when she finally gave in and watched the BBC version of P&P ( 3 months ago) she STILL didn’t change her mind about Austen’s works and even more shocking…She did not think that Colin Firth was the most handsomest, hero in the world…The Keira Knightly version was better she said…So maybe the Janeites in the world have a different idea of how they want to spend the reading, writing and movie watching time, but I say it is a much better use of our time and great minds think alike!
    -Susan

  10. Pingback: Getting wicked: Or why I’ll never, ever want to trade places with Dorothy (via write meg!) | lovesjaneausten

  11. You would have liked this…my husband’s wacky cousin sent us a life sized cardboard cutout of the WW. It was awesome! But I get where you are coming from. I was particularly scared of the flying monkeys. But something always died inside me when that one witch got killed by Dorothy’s house, AND HER LEGS ROLLED UP. That scared the living hell out of me. I had to hide my eyes. I think this movie scarred half of America’s youth in its day.

  12. Oh, gosh, the Witch scared me for YEARS! I couldn’t watch the Wizard of Oz for the longest time because I was scared of that evil evil woman. BUT, my wonderful Mommom and her niece helped me conquer that fear. They took me to see a high school production of The Wizard of Oz (and naturally I was terrified and spent most of the show on Mommom’s lap…but after the show they took me over to a display where each of the actor’s had their picture showing and I saw that instead of an ugly witch…the Wicked Witch was actually played by this very lovely looking girl. My fear of the Wicked Witch suddenly dissipated and now I love the movie.

  13. Out of the two it was the monkeys for me. I wasn’t scared per se, more confused. I think if they had been CGI I wouldn’t have battered an eyelid, but because people were playing the part that made them look more real and thus quite freaky.

  14. I was also traumatized by the Wicked Witch as a child. And continue to be so since my mom does a pitch perfect impression of the creepy cackle and “I’ll get you my pretty!” And it gives me the heeby jeebies even now. Evil mothers.

  15. Maybe it wasn’t a particular character as the whole book, “Lord of the Flies” I just remember reading the book and how the taunting, the fighting, (the ending!) etc was burned into my brain.

    That’s the moment I think I learned I was not one for books that mirrored the cruelties of life.

  16. I’ve always believed The Wizard of Oz is a child’s first scary movie. That witch and her monkeys inspired fear in me for a very long time. As for lifelong fear, not so much a character, but the theme from The Exorcist-Tubular Bells, I can never hear that without getting the heenee geebees. Yikes, just thinking about it gets me spooked.

  17. Ursula from The Little Mermaid really terrified me. And while it wasn’t necessarily a character, I was scared to death of 1984.

    That said, I totally agree that you should check out Wicked. You should either read it or see the musical, because it would totally help you get over your fear of the Wicked Witch of the West. At least I think so.

    And if not, maybe you’ll be at least able to appreciate a BRILLIANT story. When I saw Wicked, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “All of this, simply because someone sat down to write a book a century ago. Truly magical.

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