Skip to Content

What are flying monkeys?

Flying monkeys, also known as monkey servants, are fictional characters created by American author L. Frank Baum in his classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). In the book, the flying monkeys are minions of the Wicked Witch of the West and are sent by her to capture Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto. The flying monkeys have gone on to become iconic characters and appear in many later Oz works and adaptations.

Origin and description

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the flying monkeys are first introduced in Chapter 12 when the Wicked Witch of the West sends them to capture Dorothy and Toto. She commands the monkeys by wearing a magical golden cap that has a charm on it to control them. The flying monkeys are described as having wings like a bat and being able to fly very fast. They capture Dorothy and Toto and fly away with them to the Witch’s castle.

Baum never provides much detail about the origins of the flying monkeys. He writes that they are “a great flock of black crows…not crows after all, but monster birds with human faces…and the wicked witch had harnessed them all to an enormous juggernaut.” Beyond this description, their exact nature and origins are never fully explained.

Appearance in The Wizard of Oz

After capturing Dorothy, the flying monkeys lock her in a room in the Witch’s castle. When she manages to escape with the help of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion, the flying monkeys chase after them. However, Dorothy throws the magical Golden Cap to the monkeys and they are forced to obey her commands. She orders them to fly away and never return, freeing them from the Witch’s control.

After the Wicked Witch of the West is melted, the flying monkeys are never seen again in the book. It is said they will never bother anyone again thanks to Dorothy freeing them from the Golden Cap.


The flying monkeys serve as frightening henchmen to the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. They add an ominous and creepy element to her presence and give her immense power and reach beyond her castle.

The monkeys illustrate the idea of her controlling the unwilling – she uses the magical Golden Cap to command them against their will. This makes her seem even more tyrannical and villainous. The monkeys themselves seem to just be regular monkeys who are forced to serve her through magic.

Once Dorothy gets ahold of the Golden Cap, she benevolently frees them. This demonstrates her kind and compassionate nature. She does not choose to control them, but rather grants them their freedom.

The flying monkeys’ role in the story is relatively small but highly memorable. Even though they appear only briefly, they add a sinister touch and have become ingrained in popular culture visions of Oz.

Later Oz works

After the huge success of The Wizard of Oz, Baum went on to write 13 more Oz books. The flying monkeys appeared again in some of these later works:

  • In The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904), the flying monkeys are briefly mentioned as having been scattered and leaderless since being freed by Dorothy.
  • In Ozma of Oz (1907), Dorothy encounters the flying monkeys again. Their leader reveals they originated on an island in the sky that was uprooted during a storm. They flew down to Oz and were enslaved by the Witch.
  • In The Lost Princess of Oz (1917), several flying monkeys have returned and become willing servants of Princess Ozma, the benevolent ruler of Oz.

Various other Oz authors and writers have also included flying monkeys in their stories over the years. The flying monkeys remain a recurring part of the Oz mythology.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The most famous depiction of the flying monkeys is in the beloved 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In the movie, the designs and characterization of the flying monkeys hew closely to the book:

  • They are shown as having bat-like wings and vaguely humanoid faces. The costumes and effects portrayed them as sinister and frightening.
  • They capture Dorothy and her companions and return them to the Wicked Witch’s castle.
  • After getting control of the Golden Cap, Dorothy commands them to fly away for good.

The Wizard of Oz film cemented the flying monkeys’ place in popular culture. Even people unfamiliar with the Oz books know about the flying monkeys from the classic movie.

Differences from the book

There are a few key differences in the portrayal of the flying monkeys between the 1939 film and Baum’s book:

  • In the movie, Dorothy sees the flying monkeys before they capture her when they pick up the Scarecrow in the cornfield. This early glimpse amplifies their ominous presence.
  • The movie gives the leader of the monkeys the name Nikko and depicts him verbally communicating with the Witch. In the book, the monkeys do not speak.
  • The film shows the witch threatening to reduce the flying monkeys to “a pile of feathers” if they fail her. This emphasizes her cruel nature.

Overall, the film adaptation remains faithful to Baum’s vision while expanding on some details.

Later Oz adaptations

The flying monkeys have appeared in numerous other Oz films, shows, and books over many decades, including:

  • Return to Oz (1985 film) – Features very creepy and animalistic flying monkey costumes designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.
  • The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2005 film) – The flying monkeys are depicted as chain-swinging biker dudes.
  • Wicked (1995 book, 2003 musical) – Reimagines the flying monkeys as misunderstood winged creatures called Monkeys who are discriminated against.
  • Dorothy and the Witches of Oz (2011 film) – Brings the flying monkeys into a modern day, sci-fi setting. Dorothy can control them via a mobile app.
  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return (2014 film) – Animated film that shows the flying monkeys as domesticated pets who help rebuild Oz.

The flying monkeys continue to be reinterpreted and used in fresh ways across various Oz retellings.

Analysis of symbolism

Beyond their literal role in the story, the flying monkeys can be seen as symbolic in several ways:


The flying monkeys’ enslavement by the Wicked Witch can be seen as paralleling slavery. Their forced servitude represents the oppression of an enslaved race by a controlling master. Dorothy freeing them becomes a metaphor for emancipation and civil rights.


By transforming regular monkeys into flying monkey slaves, the Witch has deprived them of their natural monkey lives and autonomy. This dehumanization echoes real world totalitarian regimes that dehumanize groups to oppress them.


The flying monkeys serve to intimidate enemies and enforce the Witch’s rule through fear. This reflects how dictators use frightening shock troops to intimidate the population into submission.

The flying monkeys’ role as the Wicked Witch’s thuggish enforcers makes them powerful symbols of oppression, slavery, dehumanization, and intimidation tactics by authoritarian rulers.

Pop culture influence

The flying monkeys have had a substantial pop culture influence since their film debut. They are frequently referenced or spoofed in modern media:

  • Many movies and TV shows use “flying monkeys” as shorthand to describe thuggish henchmen or minions, e.g. referring to a gang leader’s enforcers as his “flying monkeys.”
  • Bands like Flying Monkeys and Priestess reference flying monkeys in their names or songs.
  • Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass novel features antagonists called “monkey-boys” that seem inspired by flying monkeys.
  • Computer programmers use the term “flying monkeys” to describe tests programs that look for security vulnerabilities in software.
  • In business and organizational behavior, the term “flying monkeys” refers to people who act on behalf of a narcissistic or abusive leader to attack their critics.

The Wizard of Oz flying monkeys have left a strong imprint on the cultural imagination and language.

Psychological interpretations

Psychologists and theorists have analyzed the symbolic role the flying monkeys play in The Wizard of Oz’s archetypal coming of age story:

  • Jungian analysis – Sees the flying monkeys as dark collective unconscious forces contrasting the individuation journey of the ego (Dorothy).
  • Political interpretation – Views the monkeys as oppressed proletariat under the dictatorship of the Witch, reflecting class struggle. Dorothy represents revolutionary leadership.
  • Feminist analysis – Interprets the winged monkeys as an oppressed masculine force contrasting female power represented by Dorothy and the Witches.
  • Psychosexual theory – Suggests the flying monkeys symbolize primal sexual energies that must be overcome in adolescent development.

These perspectives see the flying monkeys as representing archetypal psychological forces Dorothy must master to complete her coming of age quest.


The flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz were an innovative and memorable creation by L. Frank Baum. These winged henchmen have captured the public imagination for over a century and become one of the most iconic elements of the Oz mythos. With their sinister appearance, frightening actions, and symbolic significance, it is clear why the flying monkeys continue to fascinate audiences and inspire new interpretations in popular culture.