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The Tin Woodman

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The Tin Woodman

For the science fiction novel, see Tin Woodman (novel).
Nick Chopper
The Tin Woodman
Oz character
William Wallace Denslow (1900)
First appearance

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Created by

L. Frank Baum
Portrayed by

Jack Haley et al.
Nickname(s) The Tin Woodman
Aliases The Tin Man, Rusty Tin Man
Species Former human (in the novels, not in the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz)
Gender Male
Occupation Ruler of the Winkies
Title Emperor
Significant other(s) Nimmie Amee
Relatives Chopfyt (made with some of his human parts)
Nationality Unknown, presumably Munchkin

The Tin Woodman, sometimes referred to as the Tin Man or (incorrectly) the Tin Woodsman, (the third name appears only in adaptations, the first—and in rare instances, the second—was used by Baum), is a character in the fictional Land of Oz created by American author L. Frank Baum. Baum's Tin Woodman first appeared in his classic 1900 book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and reappeared in many other Oz books. In late 19th century America, men made out of various tin pieces were used in advertising and political cartoons. Baum, who was editing a magazine on decorating shop windows when he wrote The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was reportedly inspired to invent the Tin Woodman by a figure he had built out of metal parts for a shop display.

The books

Originally an ordinary man by the name of Nick Chopper (the name first appearing in The Marvelous Land of Oz), the Tin Woodman used to make his living chopping down trees in the forests of Oz, as his father had before him. The Wicked Witch of the East enchanted his axe to prevent him from marrying the girl that he loved, after being bribed by the lazy old woman who kept the girl as a servant, and did not wish to lose her. (In a later book of the series, The Tin Woodman of Oz, the girl is said to be the Witch's servant, and it is the Witch herself who decides to enchant Nick's axe.) The enchanted axe chopped off his limbs, one by one. Each time he lost a limb, Nick Chopper replaced it with a prosthetic limb made of tin. Finally, nothing was left of him but tin. However, Ku-Klip, the tinsmith who helped him, neglected to replace his heart. Once Nick Chopper was made entirely of tin, he was no longer able to love the girl he had fallen for.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale befriends the Tin Woodman after they find him rusted in the forest, as he was caught in rain, and use his oil can to release him. He follows her to the Emerald City to get a heart from The Wizard. They are joined on their adventure by the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. The Wizard sends Dorothy and her friends to the Winkie Country to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. The Tin Woodman's axe proves useful in this journey, both for chopping wood to create a bridge or raft as needed, and for chopping the heads off animals that threaten the party. When the Winged Monkeys are sent by the Witch of the West against the group, they throw the Tin Woodman from a great height, damaging him badly. However Winkie Tinsmiths are able to repair him after the death of the Witch.

His desire for a heart notably contrasts with the Scarecrow's desire for brains, reflecting a common debate between the relative importance of the mind and the emotions. This occasions philosophical debate between the two friends as to why their own choices are superior; neither convinces the other, and Dorothy, listening, is unable to decide which one is right. Symbolically, because they remain with Dorothy throughout her quest, she is provided with both and need not select.[1] The Tin Woodman states unequivocally that he has neither heart nor brain, but cares nothing for the loss of his brain. Towards the end of the novel, though, Glinda praises his brain as not quite that of the Scarecrow's.

The Wizard turns out to be a "humbug" and can only provide a placebo heart made of velvet and filled with sawdust. However, this is enough to please the Tin Woodman, who, with or without a heart, was all along the most tender and emotional of Dorothy's companions (just as the Scarecrow was the wisest and the Cowardly Lion the bravest). When he accidentally crushes an insect, he is grief-stricken and, ironically, claims that he must be careful about such things, while those with hearts do not need such care. This tenderness remains with him throughout the series, as in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, where he refuses to let a butterfly be maimed for the casting of a spell.[2]

When Dorothy returns home to her farm in Kansas, the Tin Woodman returns to the Winkie Country to rule as emperor. Later, he has his subjects construct a palace made entirely of tin — from the architecture all the way down to the flowers in the garden.

Baum emphasized that the Tin Woodman remains alive, in contrast to the windup mechanical man Tik-Tok Dorothy meets in a later book. Nick Chopper was not turned into a machine, but rather had his flesh body replaced by a metal one. Far from missing his original existence, the Tin Woodman is proud (perhaps too proud) of his untiring tin body.

A recurring problem for the Tin Woodman in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and afterward was his tendency to rust when exposed to rain, tears, or other moisture. For this reason, in The Marvelous Land of Oz the character has himself nickel-plated before helping his friend the Scarecrow fight to regain his throne in the Emerald City. Even so, the Tin Woodman continues to worry about rusting throughout the Oz series.

This is inaccurate, in that tin does not rust; only iron does. This may reflect the usage where an object made of iron or steel but coated with tin (in order to prevent rusting) is called a "Tin" object, as a "tin bath", a "tin toy", or a "tin can"; thus, the Tin Woodman might be interpreted (in English, at least) as being made of steel with a tin veneer. One passage in The Road to Oz, by Baum himself, wherein the Woodman attends Ozma's birthday party accompanied by a Winkie band playing a song called "There's No Plate Like Tin," strongly implies that this is the case. Another explanation may be that the Woodman is chiefly made of tin, with iron joints; in some of the illustrations, his joints are a different color from the rest of his body.[3] In Alexander Volkov's Russian adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Volkov avoided this problem by the translation of "The Tin Woodman" as the "Iron Woodchopper".

The Tin Woodman appeared in most of the Oz books that followed. He is a major character in the comic page Baum wrote with Walt McDougall in 1904-05, Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz. In Ozma of Oz, he commands Princess Ozma's army, and is briefly turned into a tin whistle. In Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, he serves as defense counsel in the trial of Eureka. He affects the plot of a book most notably in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, in which he forbids the young hero from collecting the wing of a butterfly needed for a magical potion because his heart requires him to protect insects from cruelty. Baum also wrote a short book titled The Scarecrow and the Tin Woodman, part of the Little Wizard Stories of Oz series for younger readers.

In The Tin Woodman of Oz, Nick Chopper finally sets out to find his lost love, Nimmie Amee, but discovers that she has already married Chopfyt, a man constructed partly out of his own dismembered and discarded limbs. For the Tin Woodman, this encounter with his former fiancée is almost as jarring as his experiences being transformed into a tin owl, meeting another tin man, Captain Fyter, and conversing with his ill-tempered original head.

Baum's successors in writing the series tended to use the Tin Woodman as a minor character, still ruling the Winkie Country but not governing the stories' outcome. Two exceptions to this pattern are Ozoplaning with the Wizard of Oz, by Ruth Plumly Thompson, and Lucky Bucky in Oz, by John R. Neill. The biggest exception is in Rachel Cosgrove's The Hidden Valley of Oz, in which the Tin Woodman leads the forces in the defeat of Terp the Terrible and cuts down the Magic Muffin Tree that gives Terp his great size.

The fact that Nick includes the natural deaths of his parents in the story of how he came to be made of tin has been a major element of debate. In his eponymous novel, he proclaims that no one in Oz ever died as far back as Lurline's enchantment of the country, which occurred long before the arrival of any outsiders such as the Wizard. (It should be noted, however, that although the living creatures of Oz do not die of age or disease, they may die of accidents or be killed by others.)

The Tin Man in recent fiction

In the 1998 novel The Tin Man, by Dale Brown, the eponymous protagonist is a power-armored vigilante whom the media and police have dubbed The Tin Man for his physical resemblance to the Wizard of Oz character.

The Tin Woodman is a minor character in author Gregory Maguire's 1995 revisionist novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, its 2003 Broadway musical adaptation and Maguire's 2005 sequel Son of a Witch. In the book, Nessarose - the Wicked Witch of the East - is seen enchanting the axe to swing around and chop off Nick Chopper's limbs. She does this for a peasant woman who wishes to stop her servant, probably Nimmie Amee, from marrying Nick Chopper. This seems to be close to the Tin Man's origin in the original books, but from the Witch's perspective.

In the musical adaptation of Wicked the Tin Man is revealed to be Boq, a Munchkin whom Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East, fell in love with when they were at school together. When she discovered his heart belonged to Glinda, she botched a spell that was meant to make him fall in love with her by taking his heart, but instead shrunk his heart to nothing by taking it away without 'giving' it to Nessa. To save his life, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, was forced to turn him into tin. Not understanding her reasons, he pursues Elphaba with a single-minded vengeance for his current form. The Tin Man's humble origin in the novel conflicts with him having been the aristocratic Boq.

In Oz Squad, Nick was shown in a sexual relationship with "Rebecca Eastwitch" in order to get closer to Nimmie Amee and attempt to elope with her.

A darker twist to the beloved woodman is made by author James A. Owen in the fourth installment of his series, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica when his identity is revealed to be Roger Bacon.[4]

Depictions on stage and screen

  • In 1902, Baum helped to adapt The Wizard of Oz into a wildly successful stage extravaganza. David C. Montgomery played the Tin Woodman, Niccolo Chopper (who played the piccolo), opposite Fred Stone as the Scarecrow, and the team became headliners. The piccolo would continue to appear in early adaptations, such as the 1910 film, but was largely forgotten, and the name "Niccolo" never appeared in one of the books. Revisionist books like Oz Squad have referred to him as "Nicholas," a name not found in the books, either.
  • In the classic 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man was played by actor Jack Haley. Ray Bolger was originally cast to play the role, but he always wanted to play the Scarecrow, so he was unhappy about it because he wanted to switch with Buddy Ebsen, who was playing the Scarecrow. The Tin Man's makeup originally contained aluminum powder which got into Ebsen's lungs, bringing him to the edge of death, while Bolger was pleased with his role as the Scarecrow. He was rushed to a hospital and had to give up the role (ironically, Ebsen would outlive both Haley and Bolger). A safer paste was devised for his replacement. Haley based his breathy speaking style in the movie on the voice he used for telling his son bedtime stories. His portrayal of the character is by far the most famous. There is no explanation in the film of how the Tin Man became the Tin Man. It is subtly implied that he was always made of tin; the only reference to the tinsmith is the Tin Man's remark "The tinsmith forgot to give me a heart". Unlike the costumes of the Scarecrow (in the National Museum of American History) and Cowardly Lion (two sets in private hands), that of the Tin Man "was largely destroyed".[5][6] Haley also portrayed the Tin Man's Kansan counterpart, Hickory (one of Aunt Em and Uncle Henry's farmhands). He helps Zeke (Lion's alter ego) lower a bed into its place on a wagon at the farm. Unlike Zeke, Hickory and Hunk (Scarecrow's alter ego) lose their hats with Uncle Henry as they struggle to pry open the cellar when the tornado approaches the farm. Hickory reunites with Dorothy when she awakes from being unconscious. He is seen with Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, Zeke, Hunk and Professor Marvel (The Wizard's alter ego).
  • Nipsey Russell played the "Tinman" in the film adaptation of The Wiz. In this version, as in the 1939 movie, there is no explanation of how he became tin, just a reference of the "genius who created me". He worked as the carnival barker and when the park was closed, he was abandoned, rusted and squeezed by his fourth wife, "Teeny" (a heavy tin sculpture of a fat lady). He was saved by Dorothy and the Scarecrow. Tiger Haynes played the role on Broadway, but as a woodcutter, as in the book.
  • Other notable actors who have played the Tin Woodman include Oliver Hardy in a 1925 silent version of The Wizard of Oz directed by and starring Larry Semon, in which a villainous farmhand briefly fell into a tin pile and emerged as a "Tin Woodsman" [sic]. In subsequent scenes the tin was removed and he became "Knight of the Garter". In the 1960 television adaptation of The Land of Oz, he was played by vaudeville comedian Gil Lamb, in the 1969 film, The Wonderful Land of Oz he was played by Al Joseph, and in the 1985 film Return to Oz, he was played by Deep Roy, a little person who was able to fit inside a costume that looked nearly identical to John R. Neill's artwork.
  • In the 1970s, the Tin Woodman appeared in a series of short animated educational films about heart health from Joleron Productions.
  • In 1985, the Tin Woodman appeared in the educational film Act on Arthritis as well as in promotional commercials.
  • In 2006, the Tin Man was the protagonist in a pair of television commercials for Chef Boyardee brand canned Beef Ravioli, in a costume identical to the design used in the 1939 Oz film. In the commercials, the Tin Man (played by Australian actor David Somerville) is pursued by groups of children due to the fact that an oversized Beef Ravioli can label has been affixed to the back of his cylindrical torso (which he doesn't notice until the midpoint of the first commercial); thus, he appears to be a very large, mobile can of ravioli. In the first ad, the Tin Man escapes from his pursuers only to discover that the building he ducked into is an elementary school cafeteria full of hungry children and a teacher. The second ad begins with the Tin Man running through a residential neighborhood, accidentally adding to his pursuers when he stumbles across a backyard birthday party; after fleeing across a golf course (while dodging balls from the driving range), he is cornered in another backyard and threatened with a garden hose (playing on the Tin Man's classic weakness of rusting). As the scene shifts to the image of a Beef Ravioli can, sounds of water hitting metal and the Tin Man's cries for help are heard.
  • In 2006, the Chicago Under Ground Film Festival premiered Lee Lynch’s feature film titled Transposition of the Great Vessels. Based on the story of his own parents, who moved from Redding to Los Angeles, in hopes of making a better life. His father wanted to work for the forest service, and his mother wanted to be a cook, but their baby was born with a rare heart condition. They were forced to give up those dreams, and make choices that would give them insurance and stability. A naturalist movie interspersed with dream sequences; the “Tin Woodman” makes an appearance while on his deathbed, at UCLA Medical Center.
  • At Sundance of 2007, a film premiered by young director Ray Tintori entitled Death to the Tinman. It is a somewhat modernized retelling that takes place at sometime in the 1900s, in the town Verton, rather than Oz. However, the book of the same name, which tells the origins of the character, is cited by opening intertitles as the source. Although the basic premise is nearly identical, much of the details and all names and locations have been changed. This is partially due to the film's satirical look at criminal reenactments, as it states at the beginning that names "have been changed to protect the innocent." Perhaps the most interesting change that story makes, though, is the origin of the curse upon the Tinman's Axe, which is changed from being the Witch to being a curse from God. This film won a short filmmaking award at Sundance.
  • A 2007 CG animated short film called "After Oz", produced by the film students at Vancouver Film School, centered on a stylized version of the Tin Man, after he has received his heart from Oz. The movie shows him moving through a colorful Oz city with his brand-new mechanical heart, before meeting a reddish female Tin Woman (or robot?) to whom he gives the heart. She proceeds to cruelly play with the heart.
  • An internet-collaboration, CG animated feature based on Baum's book The Tin Woodman of Oz was produced by A:M Films, and completed in 2009.
  • In 2010, Whitestone Motion Pictures produced a 23-minute live-action short film, Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man. The film is based on the book The Tin Woodman of Oz, where Woot the Wanderer visits the Tin Man and asks how he came to be made of tin. In the film, the Tin Man appears to be more steam- or coal-powered. His chest cavity is covered by a door which reads "Pedudoe Tin Co." but this is a reference to the workings of the film company, and not a reference to any Oz book or material. The movie was made available for free viewing online and free downloading of its soundtrack.
  • In the 2013 prequel, Oz the Great and Powerful, although the Tin Woodman does not physically appear, the film introduces his creator, the Master Tinkerer, portrayed by Bill Cobbs.[7]

Modern works

  • The song "Country Robot/A Letter to Dorothy" by The Incredible Moses Leroy is written from the Tin Man's perspective; it includes the lyrics "You gave me oil, I was a rusty load/ You even helped me find my heart."
  • In the song "Tin Man" by the band America, the lyrics state that "Oz never did give nothin' to the Tin Man, that he didn't, didn't already have." The rest of the song has nothing to do with the Tin Man or Oz.
  • Country artist Kenny Chesney recorded the song "Tin Man" for his album "All I Need to Know". The first verse and refrain state:
Saw a man in the movies that didn't have a heart
How I wish I could give him mine
Then I wouldn't have to feel it breaking all apart
And this emptiness inside would suit me fine
It's times like these
I wish I were the tin man
You could hurt me all you wanted
I'd never even know
Well...I'd give anything just to be the tin man
And I wouldn't have a heart and I wouldn't need a soul
  • In the comic book series "Oz: The Manga", the Tin Man is depicted as a large, golemesque tin creation. His personality and backstory are the same as in the original books, however
  • Not one but two Tin Woodmen appear in the comic book The Oz/Wonderland Chronicles #1.
  • In the 2007 Sci-Fi miniseries Tin Man, a "Tin Man" is a term used for the law enforcers of Central City in the Outer Zone (O.Z.) One of the story's protagonists, Wyatt Cain (played by Neal McDonough in the title role), is a Tin Man whose past left him hardened and distant from others. In addition, he is first found by Dorothy imprisoned in an iron suit that replays a non-stop loop of the capture of his wife and child.
  • Fatale, the cyborg narrator of the superhero novel 'Soon I will Be Invincible', compares herself to the Tin Man several times in the story.
  • Verses of the Future Islands 2010 post-pop, synth-ballad Tin Man contain numerous metaphorical, Tin-Man related references. The song also features a powerful and climactic end chorus consisting solely of the repeated line - "I am the Tin Man".
  • In 2010, Whitestone Motion Pictures released the short steampunk film, Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man that retells the story of the tin woodsman's origins.[8]
  • In the 2011 direct-to-DVD animated film Tom and Jerry and the Wizard of Oz, the Tin Man was voiced by Rob Paulsen. This adaptation is a midquel/parallel of the classic 1939 film featuring Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse with Droopy.
  • The Tin Man appears in Dorothy and the Witches of Oz played by Jordan Turnage. He appears in the form of a man named Rick (played by Ross Edgar).

Sources of the Tin Man image

Economics and history professors have published scholarly studies that indicate the images and characters used by Baum and Denslow closely resembled political images that were well known in the 1890s.[9] They state that Baum and Denslow did not simply invent the Lion, Tin Woodman, Scarecrow, Yellow Brick Road, Silver Slippers, cyclone, monkeys, Emerald City, little people, Uncle Henry, passenger balloons, witches and the wizard. These were all common themes in the editorial cartoons of the previous decade. The notion of a "Tin Man" has deep roots in European and American history, according to Green (2006), and often appeared in cartoons of the 1880s and 1890s.[10] Baum and Denslow, like most writers and illustrators, used the materials at hand that they knew best. They built a story around them, added Dorothy, and added a series of lessons to the effect that everyone possesses the resources they need (such as brains, a heart and courage) if only they had self-confidence. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a children’s book, of course, but as Baum warned in the preface, it was a "modernized" fairy tale as well.

The Tin Man—the human turned into a machine—was a common feature in political cartoons and in advertisements in the 1890s. Indeed, he had been part of European folk art for 300 years. In political interpretations of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Tin Woodman is supposedly described as a worker, dehumanized by industrialization. The Tin Woodman little by little lost his natural body and had it replaced by metal; so he has lost his heart and cannot move without the help of farmers (represented by the Scarecrow); in reality he has a strong sense of cooperation and love, which needs only an infusion of self-confidence to be awakened. In the 1890s many argued that to secure a political revolution a coalition of Farmers and Workers was needed.[11]

The 1890 editorial cartoon to the right shows President Benjamin Harrison wearing improvised tin armor because he wanted a tariff on tin. Such images support the argument that the figure of a "tin man" was in use as political allegory in the 1890s. The man on the right is politician James G. Blaine.

The oil needed by the Tin Woodman had a political dimension at the time because Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company stood accused of being a monopoly (and in fact was later found guilty by the Supreme Court). In the 1902 stage adaptation, which is full of topical references that do not appear either in the novel or in any of the film adaptations (unless they are satirical), the Tin Woodman wonders what he would do if he ran out of oil. "You wouldn't be as badly off as John D. Rockefeller," the Scarecrow responds, "He'd lose six thousand dollars a minute if that happened."[12]


  • Clanton, Gene. Populism: The Humane Preference in America, 1890-1900 (1991)
  • 4 (1992) 607-28. in JSTOR
  • Culver, Stuart. "What Manikins Want: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Art of Decorating Dry Goods Windows and Interiors", Representations, 21 (1988) 97-116.
  • Dighe, Ranjit S. ed. The Historian's Wizard of Oz: Reading L. Frank Baum's Classic as a Political and Monetary Allegory (2002)
  • Vol. 20, No. 3 (Autumn, 1968), pp. 616-623 online at JSTOR
  • Gardner, Todd. "Responses to Littlefield" (2004), online
  • Geer, John G. and Thomas R. Rochon, "William Jennings Bryan on the Yellow Brick Road," Journal of American Culture (Winter, 1993)
  • Green, Archie. Tin Men (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002). on the history of images of tin men in European and American illustrations
  • Hearn, Michael Patrick (ed). The Annotated Wizard of Oz. (2000, 1973)
  • Jensen, Richard. The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896 (1971), ch. 10.
  • , 1998
  • Vol. 16, No. 1 (Spring, 1964), pp. 47-58 in JSTOR
  • Vol. 45, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 80-95 online at JSTOR
  • Riley, Michael O. (1997) Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum. University of Kansas Press ISBN 0-7006-0832-X
  • Ritter, Gretchen. Goldbugs and Greenbacks: The Anti-Monopoly Tradition and the Politics of Finance in America (1997)
  • Ritter, Gretchen. "Silver slippers and a golden cap: L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and historical memory in American politics." Journal of American Studies (August 1997) vol. 31, no. 2, 171-203.
  • 98 (1990): 739-60 online at JSTOR
  • Swartz, Mark Evan. Oz Before the Rainbow: L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" on Stage and Screen to 1939 (2000)
  • also online here
  • Fall 1998
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