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It was very nice to stay with you over the holidays. I especially enjoyed tickle-time, playing monkeys always look and all those computer games with you, Halley and Rachael! I am very pleased to have such fine nieces.
I am writing this letter to you, Jessica, because you are the oldest and you are in the first grade already. But I'm writing to your sisters as well. When they are older, I hope you'll share this letter with them.
I want to tell you some important things I have learned. Things that someone should have told me when I was your age. Grownups are playing a very bad game of make-believe. I played, too, for many years. Grownups tricked me when I was in the first grade like you. They made me think their game was real life. But now I know it's all pretend. I have stopped playing. I hope that if I tell you about the game, you may never be tricked into playing like I was. Here is one thing I didn't know when I was in first grade like you. Grownups like to play make-believe just as much as children. Only they do not admit they are playing a game.
Do you remember The Wizard of Oz? Dorothy and her little dog Toto are carried by a tornado to the Land of Oz. There they meet the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion.
They heard about the Wizard of Oz and went to see him. The story tells what they learn about the Wizard. It is a fairy tale for children. It is a very good story. But the man who wrote it, L. Frank Baum, wanted to tell something about grownups, too. All fairy tales are like that. They tell us something about real people living in the real world.
You remember, Dorothy melted the Wicked Witch with a bucket of water. Then she and her friends returned to the Emerald City to claim the promises given them by the Wizard. After waiting many days they were let into the throne room.
But the Wizard was not there. It was so quiet and still that they were somewhat frightened. Then, as the story goes:
Presently they heard a solemn Voice, that seemed to come from somewhere near the top of the great dome.
"I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Why do you seek me?"
They looked again in every part of the room, and then, seeing no one, Dorothy asked, "Where are you?"
"I am everywhere," answered the Voice, "but to the eyes of common mortals I am invisible. I will now seat myself upon my throne that you may converse with me."
(Dorothy and her friends asked Oz for what he had promised them as a reward for destroying the Wicked Witch. Oz wanted them to wait so he could think it over. But, as the story continues)
The Lion thought it might be as well to frighten the Wizard, so he gave a large, loud roar, which was so fierce and dreadful that Toto jumped away from him in alarm and tipped over the screen that stood in a corner. As it fell with a crash they looked that way, and the next moment all of them were filled with wonder. For they saw, standing in just the spot the screen had hidden, a little old man, with a bald head and a wrinkled face, who seemed to be as much surprised as they were. The Tin Woodsman, raising his ax, rushed toward the little man and cried out, "Who are you?"
I am Oz, the Great and Terrible," said the little man, in a trembling voice. "But don't strike me - please don't - and I'll do anything you want me to."
Our friends looked at him in surprise and dismay.
"I thought Oz was a great Head," said Dorothy.
"And I thought Oz was a lovely Lady," said the Scarecrow.
"And I thought Oz was a terrible Beast," said the Tin Woodsman.
"And I thought Oz was a Ball of Fire," exclaimed the Lion.
"No, you are all wrong," said the little man meekly. "I have been making believe."
"Making believe!" cried Dorothy. "Are you not a Great Wizard?"
"Hush, my dear," he said. "Don't speak so loud, or you will be overheard - and I should be ruined. I'm supposed to be a Great Wizard."
"And aren't you?" she asked.
"Not a bit of it, my dear. I'm just a common man."
"You're more than that," said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone. "You're a humbug."
"Exactly so!" declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. "I am a humbug."
(The Wizard of Oz was a humbug. A humbug is someone who tricks others by pretending to be something he isn't. He tricked all the people of Oz into believing he was something terrible. In that way he ruled over them. The story goes on as Oz says)
"Just to amuse myself, and keep the good people busy, I ordered them to build this City, and my Palace; and they did it all willingly and well. Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City. And to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green."
"But isn't everything here green?" asked Dorothy.
"No more than in any other city," replied Oz. "But when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you. The Emerald City was built a great many years ago, for I was a young man when the balloon brought me here, and I am a very old man now. But my people have worn green glasses on their eyes so long that most of them think it really is an Emerald City, and it certainly is a beautiful place, abounding in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy."
Now, Jessica, the man who wrote The Wizard of Oz wanted to tell children who read his book about the game of make-believe that grownups are playing. It seems so real, most grownups don't even know it is a game of pretend. If you try to tell them about it, they won't even listen. They have been playing too long and too hard to quit. But first graders have not really started to play yet, so they can see it's all pretend.
When I was in first grade, my teacher taught me the game but didn't tell me it was only make-believe. I was over thirty-five years old before I found out about the terrible game all grownups are playing. I want to tell you about it so they can't trick you.
Children like you are sent to school to learn to read and write and do arithmetic. Even so, many children never learn to read and write. Your Uncle Craig was one of them. He had to teach himself how to read and write when he was out of school. While children may not learn the basics, grownups make certain children are taught to play the game when they grow up. Grownups like the game so much they want all their children to play, too.
Here is how the game goes. We are living in a very fine country just like the land of Oz. The land we live in is green and beautiful. It abounds in jewels and precious metals, and every good thing that is needed to make one happy, just like the Emerald City. The name of our country is America. The part of our country where you live is called Alaska. The part where I am living is called Idaho. Just like Oz, there are many good people living here.
The people of Oz were tricked into believing that there was a wizard that ruled over them. The people of America have been tricked into believing the same thing. In America there are fifty Great Wizards! One of them is called the State of Alaska. Another is the State of Idaho. A state is a kind of wizard.
Over all these Great Wizards is one Supreme Wizard called the United States, which is imagined to rule over all of America. Just like the Wizard of Oz, the Wizards of America appear differently. Sometimes the Wizards appear to be great Heads when they tell the people of America what to do. At other times these wizards seem to be lovely ladies because they do helpful things for the people they rule. Sometimes they appear to be terrible beasts and balls of fire when they do mean things and hurt people. Before they can do a nice thing, they must first do a mean thing to someone. The Wizard of Oz never hurt his people like the Wizards of America. The Wizards of America sometimes turn into wicked witches. That is why the game is bad.
Since these wizards are only make-believe, they are always invisible and can live forever. Some people believe so hard in the State of Alaska, they think it is real, just like mountains and rivers. They will tell you it is wrong to think the State is a pretend Wizard. Ask them to show you the State. They cannot, because the State is invisible. It is only in their imagination, just like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
Children like to play make-believe. It is lots of fun. When children grow up, they still like to play make-believe. But they forget their games are only pretend. Then it isn't fun anymore. They play so hard they hurt one another. Grownups need someone to tell them to stop playing before more people get hurt. Even a child could tell them.
In my next letter, I'll tell you how Wizards of America is played. Say hello to your Mom and Dad and your sisters. Bye for now!