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Deadly Desert

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"I am very anxious to get back home, for I am sure my poor Aunt Em and Uncle Henry will worry about me and Toto. Can you help me find my way back to Kansas?" Asked Dorothy. The Munchkins and the Good Witch of the North first looked at one another, and then at Dorothy, and then shook their heads in dismay. "At the East, not far from here," said one of the Munchkins, "there is a great Deadly Desert, and no one could live to cross it, it is far to harsh in climate and very vast." "It is the same at the South," said another Munchkin, "for I have been to that country of the Quadlings. "I am told," said the third Munchkin, "that it is the same at the West. And that country, where the Winkies live, is ruled by the Wicked Witch of the West, who would make you her slave if you dared to pass her way." "The North is my home," said the Good Witch, "and at its edge of the country of the Gillikins, is the same dangerous desert that surrounds this realm of the magical Land of Oz. "
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Deadly Desert!

"Dorothy opened her eyes and saw she and Toto were sitting in the grass on the broad Kansas prairie. Just before them was the new farmhouse Uncle Henry had built, as the cyclone had carried away the old one to Oz. Dorothy stood up and found she was barefoot in her stocking-feet. For the Silver Shoes had fallen off in the magical flight through the air, and were lost forever in the Deadly Desert..."
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
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Return to Oz Deadly Desert.

"...if this is the Land of Oz, then this is the Deadly Desert. It surrounds Oz. Last time me and Toto flew over it in the old house. Anything living that touches it; turns to sand..."
Dorothy Gale in Return to Oz (1985)

The Deadly Desert is the magically cursed desert that completely surrounds the enchanted continent where the magical Land of Oz  can be found. On maps, the eastern quadrant of the desert is called the Deadly Desert, while the other three quadrants of desert are called the Shifting Sands, the Impassable Desert, and the Great Sandy Waste. Despite the different names given, each side of the desert is as dangerous as hot lava. And anyone who sets foot into the sand of any of these deserts instantly dies within a matter of seconds. First there will be many disagreeable fumes and then dark smoke and other foul gases will rise from the sands as the victim is consumed as they disintegrate and end up becoming apart of it forever.

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"Princess Langwidere's palace ended only a little ways from the edge of the vast Deadly Desert. And as Dorothy squinted her eyes, she could see miles and miles of sandy desert that stretched further than her sight could reach. It was this very desert, she thought, with much interest, that separated her from the magical Land of Oz. And she remembered sorrowfully that she and her little pet dog Toto, had been one of the only few outsiders who had ever been able to successfully cross it. She remembered how her old friend, the humbug Wizard had crossed it by chance in his hot air balloon. And how once at her home, in Kansas, a fierce cyclone had blew her and Toto over it, and a charmed pair of Silver Shoes with pointed toes had magically flew them back again. But now there wasn't a cyclone around, nor did she still own the Silver Shoes, that she had accidentally lost. So, the little girl could not get to Oz, even if she wanted to do so. For here, in the neighboring Land of Ev, she had become the prisoner of a vain, disagreeable princess who insisted that she must exchange her head for another one that she did not like, and which might not even fit her. There seemed no hope of help for her, really, and thoughtfully she gazed from her narrow window of the tower, and felt as if she could cry..."
Ozma of Oz (1907)

Princess Ozma travels through the Deadly Desert on a magic rug.

The desert was originally a desert, being as dangerous as any natural desert but no more. Indeed, in Baum's second Oz book The Marvelous Land of Oz, published in 1904, the old Witch Mombi tries to use her dark magic to escape through it but Glinda the Good Witch uses her magic and chases her over the sands and stops her. In Baum's third Oz book Ozma of Oz, published in 1907, it has become a deadly desert with life-destroying sands, so dangerous that no source of magic; no matter how powerful can be used on it to be crossed. This feature remained constant through the rest of the Oz series. The desert is used as a literary device to explain why Oz is essentially cut off from the rest of the world.

  • L. Frank Baum's dying words reportedly were: "Now we can cross the Shifting Sands..."
"As Dorothy sadly stared out the window, suddenly she saw something stirring on the Deadly Desert--something her eyes had not caught at first. It was coming from the same direction where the land of Oz was located. And as she observed, she thought it seemed like a bright, luminous cloud of dust; now it seemed like a spot of gold; now it seemed to be a mass parade of rainbow colors that gracefully moved swiftly across the desert with ease. What could it be, she wondered? Then, gradually, but in a brief space of time nevertheless, the vision drew near enough to Dorothy to make out what it was. A never-ending carpet of dark green was unrolling itself upon the sands, while advancing across the carpet was a wonderful procession that made the girl open her eyes in amazement as she looked. First came what seemed to be a golden chariot, drawn by a great Lion and an immense Tiger, both of whom were well groomed. They walked shoulder to shoulder and trotted along as steadily as a well-matched team of horses pulling a carriage. And standing upright within the chariot was a young and very beautiful girl clothed in flowing, elegant robes of white silk and glittering gauze. Upon her dainty head, she wore an emerald studded diadem. In one hand she held green satin ribbons that guided her astonishing team, and in the other a long golden wand that separated at the top into two jeweled encrusted prongs, the prongs being tipped by the letters "O" and "Z"..."OZ"!"
Ozma of Oz (1907)

Notable Crossings

Other Versions of Oz's Deadly Desert...

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The Deadly Desert was used as an element in the 1985 Walt Disney cult classic film Return to Oz. When Dorothy Gale finally returns six months after the first trip, she crosses over from Kansas to Oz in a chicken coop with Billina the hen from the Kansas farm. Later on in the story, Princess Mombi sends her pack of 13 Wheelers to chase after Dorothy who escaped from Mombi's palace as a prisoner by creating the flying Gump, but not before meeting Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead.


The horrifying effects of the Deadly Desert.

The little party successfully flew over the desert and continued on to the Nome King's mountain to rescue his Majesty the Scarecrow. While chasing the party of Dorothy, 6 of the Wheelers accidentally fell right into the Deadly Desert when they reach Oz's border and were subsequently turned into sand and killed. The 7 remaining Wheelers returned the next day back to Mombi, and went through the tunnel dug underneath the Deadly Desert that allowed them to eventually reach the Nome Kingdom with Mombi.

In the Magic Land, the life-destroying property of the sand is absent. However, it is revealed in the second book that Gingema has placed a ring of giant black rocks around the land. These rocks attract any stranger attempting to enter the Magic Land (natives are unaffected), dooming them to death by thirst. The effect can be countered by eating magic grapes growing in a remote part of the Magic Land. It is also possible (although risky) to try slipping in the middle between two stones, where their powers cancel each other out.


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