I recently ran across this posting (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1984/why-does-water-make-the-wicked-witch-of-the-west-melt) by “Dex,” and felt I needed to express something that’s been bothering me for a while. While Dex’s answer is well written and makes a lot of sense, I feel like it, like every other wizard of Oz analysis I’ve ever read, is missing the obvious.
The casual google user can easily find out that L. Frank Baum was a noted member of the American Theosophical Society, which has roots in studying many different arcane religions, including the resurgent religion of Wicca, and indeed, there were members of the American Theosophical Society that had a hand in bringing Wicca over to the US and creating the Neo-Pagan, American Wicca movement.
Having that background, it seems like a huge oversight not to look at the map of Oz and not see directional and elemental associations. In Standard American Wicca, East is Air and beginnings, South is Fire, youth and beauty, West is Water, change, and travel, and North is Earth, aging, and wisdom.
The story starts in the East (beginnings, remember?) where the ruler of that kingdom was killed by a tornado (Air?). The Witch of the West was killed by water. I doubt very much that this is a comment on an economic drought. The Witches of the East and West were cruel. They subjected their people and were at odds with their own being. As “Dex” mentions, the Witch of the West had no blood, for it had all “dried up.” They were trying to suppress a part of themselves, and they turned that part into the strongest weapon against them (their Kryptonite?).
Take a look at the map of Oz. The Witch of the North is an old woman who meets Dorothy at the beginning and gives her advice. Glinda is a young, beautiful woman who wears red dresses made out of rubies. The Emerald City is, in fact colorless, the neutral center of all four elements. This seems so glaringly obvious that I’m having trouble figuring out why I can’t find a similar analysis online somewhere? Where did all the moderately intelligent literary critics go?