A Heart for the Tin Man

This month we honor the character of the Tin Man.

In celebration of the month in which Valentine’s Day falls, we thought it would only be fitting if the February blog was dedicated to that character of divine paradox, the “heartless” yet tender Tin Man. In L. Frank Baum’s original story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man is referred to as the “Tin Woodman,” as he is a second-generation woodchopper who lives in a modest cottage in the woods, not far from the Yellow Brick Road. In the 1939 film, the Tin Man is, of course, played to gentle perfection by song-and-dance man, Jack Haley.

In the interest of moderating the film’s running time, however, much of the Tin Man’s backstory did not get translated to the silver screen. According to Baum’s book, the Tin Woodman was once a man of flesh and blood who fell in love with a Munchkin maiden whom he intended to marry. The maiden, however, was a servant to an old woman who didn’t wish to lose her help. The woman struck a bargain with the Wicked Witch of the East (long before Dorothy’s house fell on her), promising the witch livestock in exchange for preventing the matrimony between the Munchkin girl and the woodman.

The Wicked Witch’s spell enchanted the Tin Woodman’s ax, causing it to successively amputate his limbs, head, and torso, which the man had replaced with tin replicas until he was made entirely out of metal. Being without a heart, he lost his love for the Munchkin girl, and the Tin Woodman’s sole desire in his quest for a heart was to regain his feelings for her. In the classic film, the Tin Man’s story was distilled to a brief mention of the tinsmith and the Tin Man’s hope that the Wizard of Oz would restore his heart was a purely romantic incentive. Even in print, the Tin Woodman’s tale is a gruesome one—and it is perhaps just as well that it was deleted from the movie!

Jack Haley’s dedicated embodiment of the Tin Man character has convinced generations of The Wizard of Oz fans that, as the Wizard (Frank Morgan) tells him, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

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