Nekouken's Reviews > Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire
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U_50x66
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Jun 22, 08

bookshelves: fantasy

** spoiler alert ** I don't get it.

OK, so I read the book thinking it would be good preparation for possibly seeing the musical while it's in Chicago. Now I'm not so sure, though I'm told the musical is vastly different from the book. I'm guessing I'm no more prepared than I was before I started.

It started strong, with experiences that lead her parents to believe her disfigurements are a curse; she's born with green skin, razor-sharp teeth and a fatal allergy to water. Maguire then spends way more time on her infancy than is really necessary, especially since she's not really the focus of that part of the story; it's about her parents and their relation to a foreign glass-blower.

There were two sections of the book that were simply excellent; the Witch's time at school with her sister and Glinda, and the following section, in which she lives in secret in Emerald City and carries on an affair with an old school mate.

The character grows a lot in these sections; she starts as a reclusive misanthrope, disinterested with social interaction until political revolution lights a fire under her and she discovers an unlikely set of like-minded revolutionaries. They work together, become friends and expand their group to include more lost souls when one of their teachers is murdered to stop his research. I felt that such a person would quite reasonably become a target of the Wizard's tyrrany. When she goes to see the Wizard with Glinda and is convinced upon meeting him that he must be brought down, she's ambitious and passionate and ready to act. In the next section, when one of her old school friends finds her and pursues her to her hideout, she continues that ambition and passion, so firey that it's not hard to believe he could fall headlong in love with her.

Sadly, when her big plan comes to a head, the narrative collapses into unremarkability. She fails to kill her target, her lover is murdered, and the entire rest of the book is a plodding story in which she occasionally encounters the chance to do something, and never, ever does, until Dorothy comes right up to her doorstep and she completely loses her mind.

The end.

Seriously, that's what I got out of the book. I thought this was about giving depth to the Wicked Witch of the West, but what little she had was cast away in a whirlwind of guilt and confusion halfway through the book, never to be recovered. Worse, reams of character development are left untold. We never see any evidence that the Witch's assassination plot is part of something larger, save her insistence that it is. Presumably her coconspirators are captured because of her failure, but when she begs forgiveness, they are left unconsidered as she heads to the ancestral home of her murdered lover to beg his wife's forgiveness, which she never gives before sharing her husband's fate. Though she speaks often and passionately of political and military movements going on within Oz, she never does anything about it! After her botched assassination attempt, she doesn't do anything else, despite several opportunities to get involved and take a leadership role, and all the important people in her life give her reason to do so! By the end of the story, she's not even a threat to the Wizard's rule; she's just a convenient scapegoat.

Then there's Liir; presumably her son by her murdered lover. She spends some time in a convent hospital, and when she leaves, this kid is right there with her, even though they don't seem to like each other and they rarely speak. The Witch's motivations are clear, but failed. Liir's motivation is never explored and appears not to serve any significant role in the story, despite being there from the midpoint of the story right up to the end. Apparently a sequel has been written about him, but I don't care -- he's not interesting.

I was really dissapointed here, and I don't understand the reviews I've read that made me want to read the book so much; why are they all so glowing?
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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zappernapper All three books so far have seemed to me to be an exploration in failure. Rather than focusing on the fact that she didn't do anything, examine WHY. Her motivations for inaction. Her actions which led to failure. Her failures which led to (in)actions. The discourses on good/evil and fate/free will are also a great part of the story, as is the examination of people's (in)actions during periods of tyranny. The final bonus is there for anyone familiar with the original works - Boq, Lurline, and killer bees were not Maguire's own creations, even if he did give them new roles.


Nekouken Zappernapper wrote: "All three books so far have seemed to me to be an exploration in failure. Rather than focusing on the fact that she didn't do anything, examine WHY. Her motivations for inaction. Her actions whi..."

Apparently I missed this comment when you posted it, and for that, I apologize, because it's the first thoughtful thing I've seen regarding this book.

I find your premise interesting. It's sadly undermined by the fact that I no longer care about the witch and I never cared about her son. It was clear that she would fail because the end of her story was also the climax of one of the most beloved musicals of all time, so yes -- she was ultimately doomed to get on the Wizard's bad side and die at the hands of Dorothy Gale. How she did it, though, marks the difference between inaction and failure, and why one is interesting and the other isn't. Failure can be spectacular; moping around the house rarely is, and in her case, it was a hundred pages of anticlimax.

I hope that those who loved this book got something out of the sequels, but I'm going to need more reason to muster the interest to pick them up.


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