Sep 21, 09
Read in November, 2005
"Wicked" is the story of the wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz books from her birth to her death. Divided into five sections, the book focuses on certain times in Elphaba's life: her early childhood; her college years; her political activism and her doomed love affair; her becoming a "witch"; and her final descent into madness and her accidental murder by Dorothy.
Gregory Maguire has clearly not only seen "The Wizard of Oz" movie but read several of the books. Minor characters in "The Wizard of Oz" book, such as Boq, become major characters. There are nods to other characters in later Oz books such as the Tiktok man. He makes some interesting changes though. Glinda, the good Witch of the North, is the most surprising character as Maguire portrays her as vain, shallow, and, unlike in Baum's book, a good friend to Elphie. The Wizard, a humbug in the Oz novel and movie, is evil and manipulative. Animals, much loved and respected in the books, are separated into Animals (talking) and animals (non-talking) and are discriminated against.
"Wicked" is both a success and failure. The book succeeds at making Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, a sympathetic character, even as she is having an adulterous affair and engaging in terrorism. Her ill-fated love affair makes her especially sympathetic. Readers may protest at the dark way Maguire portrays the Land of Oz, but reading "Wicked" makes you realize that underneath the surface of L. Frank Baum's fairy-tale, Oz is filled with danger and evil characters.
Where Maguire fails is explaining how a basically sympathetic character like Elphaba becomes regarded as a witch and feared by all. He gamely tries to explain how she got all her props and why she sends them to Dorothy: such as the bees (he never explains how she can talk to them); her wolves (dogs sent to guide Dorothy to the castle); and the winged monkeys (he tries to explain how they got their wings, but it doesn't work). The magic cap is regrettably left out. And while Elphie's aversion to water is mentioned throughout the entire book, it is never explained why she is allergic to water. Her final descent into total madness feels rushed and not quite believable.
"Wicked" is an interesting, if unsettling read for Wizard of Oz fans. Parents should be aware that there are multiple sexual themes that make this book unsuitable for children.