• Keith Mathison

Martin Luther & the Wizard of Oz

Several years ago, I was reading some of the English translations of the works of Martin Luther and while doing so, I ran across one of the strangest translation choices I think I have ever observed.

In the English edition of Luther's Works, volume 40 contains a work titled "Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments." This book was originally written in 1525 against the views of Karlstadt and some others. On page 199 of this English translation, we read the following:

If now again I ask these lofty spirits, where it is written that Christ said, "Take the bread and eat," they most likely will point to the inward witness; let the Wizard of Oz believe that, not I.

The first time I read this, I had to stop and re-read it to make sure I wasn't half asleep. But no, there it is, a reference to a character from a book first published in 1900 in the middle of a sixteenth century theological work. It's like reading Shakespeare and having one of the characters casually mention that he enjoyed Star Wars Episode 9. A bit jarring to say the least.

Thankfully, there is a footnote saying that "the original speaks of Kolkryb, a kind of demonic, chameleon-like mythical character." But that does not answer the big question. Why? Why would anyone choose "the Wizard of Oz" as the translation of a word from a sixteenth century text?

Illustration by W.W. Denslow from The Wornderful Wizard of Oz (Chicago: Geo. M. Hill Co., 1900). Public Domain.