When I was younger, I remember reading (also having read to me) all fourteen of L. Frank Baum's Oz books. One thing that always confused me was that the maps of Oz that showed a compass rose had east and west switched. I thought maybe it was a mistake or there was something magical about it, but I didn't know.

And then, years ago, I read Robert Heinlein's The Number of the Beast and the characters in the book discuss this as an issue as well. I have heard that Heinlein also wrote Oz stories, so I would think he would have known if there was an explanation for that, but he never gave one.

I also remember that the books that showed Oz and the magical lands around it, in the middle of the Nonestic Ocean had a compass rose with the correct directions.

Is there any explanation for this? Is it magical? Did Baum have issues with directions? I've wondered about this on and off for decades now.

  • Perhaps it alludes to the not-so-obvious motivations and personalities of the witches? The good one is evil, the evil one is good.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Jan 23 '12 at 2:40
  • 2
    It makes it pretty clear in the book that the witches of the South (Glenda, who's really a sorceress) and North are good witches and that the one Dorothy killed and the Witch of the West are bad. (Good witches don't imprison little girls like Dorothy and make them do all their work for them.)
    – Tango
    Jan 23 '12 at 2:42
  • This is why it's a comment and not an answer ;)
    – AncientSwordRage
    Jan 23 '12 at 2:47
  • Perhaps it was to emphasize the surreality of Oz, and/or that it was a mirror to our own world.
    – Kevin
    Jan 23 '12 at 3:05
  • @Kevin: Maybe to emphasize the magic, but Baum wasn't heavy handed enough to make it a mirror image. There was commentary in his work, but it was all light.
    – Tango
    Jan 23 '12 at 3:12

According to this FAQ:

Some theorize that this is a result of Baum looking at the earliest known map of Oz when designing this map. It was a glass slide used several years earlier in his Fairylogue and Radio-Play traveling show. If Baum had looked at the slide from the wrong side, the Munchkin and Winkie countries, and the compass rose, would all be reversed.

Apparently there's also some contradiction between various versions of the maps, thanks to "helpful" editors correcting and uncorrecting and thoroughly confusing things.


One of my theories is that it was originally correct (Ev should have been on the Munchkin side and the Winkie Country's bottom corner should have touched the Great Sandy Waste) but that something went wrong and he colored the Munchkin Country yellow or the Winkie Country blue or labeled them wrong and didn't realize his mistake until he was too far in. The shape of the Munchkin Country in this odd map matches the description of the Winkie Country in the earlier books much better.

I suppose when he realized the mistake he just flipped the compass. Does anyone know for sure if Baum made the maps? If it was someone at Reilly and Briton it would make sense that they would have flipped it or messed it up since they were constantly making mistakes in coloring Neill's art.


I've been wondering this forever too! But never looked it up until now, from what I found, the map was originally a flag, and when it is on a flag pole, one side is correct, but one is reversed! What I'm not sure of is if the flag was a real thing people saw and that's what started this, or what? But that's what I found out!

  • 4
    Could you possibly provide the source to the information you found, it seems like you have a couple of questions in there. An answer should really provide conclusive evidence to the question asked.
    – Edlothiad
    May 25 '18 at 7:34

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