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  • Amy MacKinnon

What do the Wizard of Oz and Star Trek have to do with Aristotle?

Updated: Oct 18, 2019

Wizard of Oz

In the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy Gale is swept off to the Land of Oz by a tornado. She makes three friends: the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. And in the end, they win.

But how do they win?

It’s true that they all come together and defeat the Wicked Witch of the West in the end of the story, but even before they defeated her, they were traveling along the Yellow Brick Road together. But they were also constantly arguing with each other!

So what changed?

What were each of their challenges?

The Scarecrow needed a brain, the Tin Man needed a heart, and the Cowardly Lion needed courage.

Doesn’t that just seem weird? I can understand not having courage, but how could you not have a brain or a heart, and still live?

And what does that have to do with Star Trek—or Aristotle?

Star Trek

In the original TV series of Star Trek, there were three main characters (who didn’t wear red shirts): Captain Kirk, “Bones” or Doctor McCoy, and Spock.

What do these three characters have in common with Dorothy’s three friends in Oz?

Spock was all about logic. Not emotion (except for the occasional slip). Just reasonable, but sometimes to the point where his decisions could be chilling. And in the “rebooted” version by J.J. Abrams, his decision to banish James T. Kirk to certain death based on “pure logic” was truly horrific.

McCoy always wanted to help everyone heal, and he was passionate about it! He was pretty much the only one to get away with yelling at the ship’s captain. He was also always at odds with Spock.

Captain Kirk, who made mistakes by siding with either Spock or McCoy in the beginning of the episode, but succeeded in the end when he united with both Spock and McCoy.

So What Does This Have to do With Aristotle?

The roles they take on, and the way they interact with each other and eventually succeed in their quest, is based on Aristotle’s idea about what a human being is.


What is his idea? That a human being has both a body and a soul, and the soul has an intellect and a will.

The intellect is made for, and seeks out, the truth, the will seeks and chooses the good, and the body is the source of the passions (not feelings, like hot and cold, so much as emotions and desires).

When they work together in harmony, the passions drive us to take action, but are guided by the intellect pursuing the truth, and the will making the choice of what action to take in pursuit of the good.

This doesn’t usually happen in the beginning of a story, unless the point of the story is for the character to suffer and fall apart. Most stories that use this three-character model start with two of the characters at odds with each other: the passion and the intellect. It’s the character representing the will that unites them.

In the Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow represents the intellect, the Tin Man the heart, and the Cowardly Lion the body.

Courage (or fortitude) is the virtue that helps us to face fear, and the root of every fear is fear of death. This is why the cowardly lion is afraid of everything, including his own tail!

The Scarecrow antagonizes the trees (and almost everyone else) until the Tin Man takes charge and they rescue Dorothy from the Wicked Witch.

It’s only when they unite and work together,

and stop the in-fighting,

that they’re able to save Dorothy

In J.J. Abram’s reboot of the movie version of “Star Trek,” Spock is the captain who banishes Kirk to certain death on the ice planet (where he is saved by “future Spock”). It’s only when Kirk takes over as the captain by deposing Spock—into his rightful position, and the three work together that they succeed.

Spock is “logical” and he represents the intellect—just like the Scarecrow.

McCoy is the one who is passionate about healing people, and he represents the passions—so does the Cowardly Lion.

Kirk is the one who tempers Spock’s cold logic with McCoy’s heated and emphatic desire to heal. He represents the heart—as does the Tin Man.

Each character symbolizes part of a person, and it’s only when the person acts as as one person, that the challenge in the story is overcome and the hero succeeds.

So these three characters symbolize the heart, the mind, and the body.

Once you “get” this, you’ll see that a lot of books and movies use this model for characters in their stories.

If you want to see examples, you can start with:

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