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In The Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and Dorothy ask the Wizard for a brain, a heart, courage, and a way home, respectively. The Wizard refuses to grant their requests until they have brought him the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West. So the characters set off, kill the Witch, and return to the Wizard to present him with the broom. At this point, the Wizard starts stalling and demands that they come back tomorrow. He only acquiesces when it is inadvertently revealed that he is not the giant, disembodied head the characters have been talking to, but rather an ordinary man operating the head with a machine.

The real Wizard turns out to be a self-described "good man" who readily gives Dorothy and her friends everything they want: he has on hand a number of educational diplomas, one of which he gives to the Scarecrow, and a heavy cloth bag that is presumably full of awards and trinkets, of which he gives one each to the Tin Man and Lion. He also reveals that he has been keeping a hot air balloon ready for a return trip to Kansas.

Given that the Wizard had already prepared everything Dorothy and her friends asked for (or at least coincidentally had all them within arm's reach or just outside), why did he stall after receiving the broom? Why didn't he, in his persona of the disembodied head, acknowledge that the task he issued had been successfully completed and arrange for the awards to be presented more or less immediately? Is there any sensible story-internal explanation for this?

  • The way I understood it he never intended to give them anything, so sent them out on a quest which he was sure they couldn't accomplish. But when they actually came back with the thing he wanted he started trying to stall them. I don't remember the scene currently but the only reason the people in Emerald City fear him is because they think he a magical giant head? Once he was found out to be a phony he had to escape anyway, so might as well look like a good guy in front of everyone before leaving, and take Dorothy home with him. If he hadn't been forced into that situation I don't think ... – user13267 Oct 30 '20 at 5:45
  • ...would have used the balloon at that time. – user13267 Oct 30 '20 at 5:45
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Because (as explained in the plot description on the movie's Wikipedia page) he isn't a wizard, but a con man. The gifts are merely symbolic items:

Upon their return, the Wizard stalls in fulfilling his promises until Toto pulls back a curtain, exposing the "Wizard" as a fraud operating machinery. Admitting to being a humbug, he insists he is "a good man, but a bad wizard." He gives the Scarecrow a diploma, the Lion a medal, and the Tin Man a ticking heart-shaped clock, helping them see that they already possessed the qualities they wanted. He offers to take Dorothy and Toto home in his hot air balloon, revealing that he is also from Kansas and was originally a carnival showman before his balloon escaped his control and brought him to Emerald City.

The hot air balloon is a practical solution to the problem which he couldn't have provided until he was unmasked: how would Dorothy have piloted it? Also, why would a wizard not simply magic her back to Kansas?

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    The fact that the first three gifts are merely symbolic wouldn't preclude them from being awarded by the Wizard in his giant-head persona. Ditto for the balloon, which he was planning on using himself anyway—he could have introduced Dorothy to his human persona without having to break character. – Psychonaut Oct 29 '20 at 14:48
  • You'd probably have to take that up with the original book author, though he unfortunately died in 1919, long before the movie was made… That scene is in essence the same in both. – Tetsujin Oct 29 '20 at 15:36
  • @CGCampbell I'm not quite following what the age of the work actually has to do with it, though. – Napoleon Wilson Oct 29 '20 at 17:02
  • @CGCampbell: You must be unaware of the sheer volume of literature and other media (books, magazine and scholarly articles, audio commentaries, documentaries, interviews with and memoirs of the cast and crew, etc.) dedicated to this film. There is very certainly scope for an authoritative answer to exist outside of the immediate source material. – Psychonaut Oct 29 '20 at 18:08
  • It does follow the well-worn theme which could be termed "magnanimous in defeat" ie if not found out, cruel & heartless; once discovered, almost obsequious. The 'discovery' being the turning point. It's not a rare plot device, though this may be the epitome of it. – Tetsujin Oct 29 '20 at 18:10
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This is mostly speculation, but the wizard either hadn't thought to give them the trinkets (only came up with them out of desperation), or didn't expect them to placate them, and only after he was unmasked did he decide he had nothing left to lose in trying them. He also likely wasn't certain about whether the balloon would work, and didn't expect Dorothy to be willing to leave her friends behind before they got what they wanted.

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