The structure of “The Wizard of Oz” is, of course, a common traditional “quest” formula commonly seen in movies. A character must leave their comfort zone to go on a quest through a dangerous land, eventually finding something vital about themselves. It’s a lesson in Screenwriting 101. Indeed, more ambitious essayists can extend the structure of the “Wizard of Oz” to the oldest history currently known to mankind, the epic of Gilgamesh, written for the first time in Akkadian around 2100 BCE. In both stories, the hero (Gilgamesh, Dorothy) goes on a quest for a magic item (a fountain of youth, the way back to Kansas) but finds that the quest was more important than the item, and the magic s escaped by a snake (a snake, Professor Marvel).
The Coens didn’t go all the way back to Gilgamesh, but they ended up drawing inspiration from an epic poem that was, no doubt, influenced by Gilgamesh (if you’ve read the “The East Face of the Helicon: West Asian Elements in Greek Poetry and Myth“, you know what we’re talking about). They ended up settling for “The Odyssey”. Coen explained:
“It didn’t start with this idea. It started out as a kind of three-way movie on the run, and then at some point we looked at each other and were like, ‘You know, they’re trying to come home’ – let’s just say it’s ‘The Odyssey’. We thought of it more like ‘The Wizard of Oz’. We wanted the tag on the film to be: ‘There is no place like home.'”