Author: Gregory Maguire
Edition/Pages: Harper Collins, December 2000/406
Short & Sweet Synopsis: Wicked gives the backstory of many of the characters in The Wizard of Oz, centering on the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba.
A Note for Fans of the Musical
I myself actually knew the musical long before I ever read the book, so I came in already knowing the bare bones of the story (although the book is certainly darker, and some of the story is quite a bit different). So, picking up the book as a fan of the musical, I didn’t get exactly what I expected. The book is certainly an adult book, as opposed to the more family oriented Broadway show. However, I came to love this book very much, and I would highly recommend it to any fan of the musical, despite the thematic differences.
Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, oh my!
So, let me preface this by saying that I’ve seen a lot of awful reviews of this book, and I’m incredibly glad that I didn’t listen to them (I’ve also read a number of good reviews, for the record). Wicked is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time – with the sole exception of American Gods, which I loved slightly more – and I’ve read some other pretty good books recently as well. In a nutshell, Wicked is the untold story of the characters of Oz (yes, like the Wizard of Oz), with particular emphasis placed on Elphaba, A.K.A. the Wicked Witch of the West. An interesting note: the Wicked Witch of the West was previously unnamed. Gregory Maguire created the name Elphaba from the initials of L. Frank Baum (LFB), the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
In the novel we meet up with a number of characters with which we are already familiar from the Wizard of Oz, albeit seen from a very different perspective. These include, but are not limited to: Dorothy (in a very small part), the scarecrow, the
As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it? It liberates you from convention.
cowardly lion, and the tin man; the munchkin Boq; Glinda the Good Witch of the North (a major player in the story, as we learn her relationship with Elphaba); Nessarose (Elphaba’s sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, whose death is cause by Dorothy’s house in the Wizard of Oz); and of course, the Wizard himself.
Wicked gives a wonderful explanation of the background of these characters and numerous others (one of the downfalls of the book is the number of people to keep track of), while managing to never actually contradict anything which happened in the Wizard of Oz. Indeed, the events of the Wizard of Oz are spoken about quite frankly in Wicked; Maguire just gives them a context, and depth. The obvious storyline is why the “Wicked Witch of the West” is a so called wicked witch, but we also find out how the cowardly lion became cowardly, why Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West have the relationship they have, how the Wicked Witch of the East became known as such, a backstory for those well known shoes that Dorothy walked off in down the Yellow Brick Road, and many other anecdotes about some of your favorite Ozian characters.
This book is quite political in nature, although not necessarily relatable to current politics. One of the main issues is Animal rights. Animals with a capital A, as in the Ozian animals which have the capacity for conscious thought and speech, and who are being oppressed by the Wizard’s regime. This is central to the development of Elphaba. Remember those winged monkeys? Did it ever occur to you that she might be trying to help them? That’s one of the joys of this book – it challenges assumptions that we never even realized we had made (assuming you have seen the Wizard of Oz, or at least know the
If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move – if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems – could you even stand? Or do you need religion as, say the hippos in the Grasslands need the poisonous little parasites within them, to help them digest fiber and pulp? The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn’t an especially persuasive argument for living without it. Is religion itself – that tired and ironic phrase – the necessary evil?
story). Another of the subjects it touches on is religion: Elphaba plays daughter to a single-minded minority religion priest, and sister to a fanatically devout member of that same religion. If on top of the religion you add a bunch of things which make people squirm: scientific inquiries into evolution, racism, sexism, caste societies, and the beginning of a civil rights movement, and put it all into the context of a favorite childhood fairytale, you’ve got yourself one sensitive piece of literature.
Ink Scrawl: In L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we read only of Dorothy’s triumph over the Wicked Witch of the West. But what about the Wicked Witch herself? What made her so wicked? Where did she come from? And what is the true nature of evil? Wicked, subtitled “The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West,” is an alternative, imaginative, and clever re-creation of the land of Oz before Dorothy and her dog crash-land in Oz.On The Edge: Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again.The Ninth Word: A small smile at the clever spins Maguire gives each classic event is impossible to avoid.