Wicked - by Gregory Maguire
"the other side of the story, Wicked challenges preconceived notions of Oz"
Wicked by Gregory Maguire, will change the way you look at the Wizard of Oz forever. This is the other side of the story, the part that dear old Baum didn’t tell you. It is the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, otherwise known as Elphaba (her name was cleverly crafted from the initials of L. Frank Baum). Wicked challenges all preconceived notions about Baum’s beloved Oz. Is the Wizard really good? Is Elphaba really evil? Can we ever truly know? In the book, Elphaba says, “The real thing about evil…isn’t any of what you said. You figure out one side of it - the human side, say - and the eternal side goes into shadow. Or vice versa…The real disaster of this inquiry is that it is the nature of evil to be secret.” This theme of evil and its many forms and mysteries are addressed throughout the novel.
Wicked begins with the introduction of Elphaba’s parents, Frexspar and Melena. Frex is a Unionist preacher, and Melena is practically nobility. Both are overjoyed at the prospect of a son, but instead they get Elphaba. The little girl was born a monstrous green color, with frightening teeth and an allergy to water. A few years later they are blessed with another little girl, Nessa (the would-be Wicked Witch of the East) who is also deformed. Oh, her skin is the right color…but Nessa is born without arms.
The book fast-forwards to Elphaba’s school years in the Emerald City, where she meets a charming young girl named Galinda (later Glinda), fights for the rights of Animals, and has an audience with “the wizard”. However, the wizard is unsympathetic towards Elphie’s cause, and she drops out of school. From here, she starts on her path to become the famed “Wicked Witch of the West” that we know so much about. What we don’t know is that Elphie falls in love with a handsome prince named Fiyero and that she only wants her father’s approval. This story brings out a far more human side to the Witch, that no one knew previously existed.
The end of the book is similar to the story we all know with crash-landings and ruby slippers and melted witches. Dorothy and the others march to the witch’s stronghold, but Dorothy’s real intentions will SHOCK you. Along the way, there are lots of twists and turns. There’s a very confusing character named Yackle, a mysterious book called the Grimmerie, and there is Elphie’s utterly unexpected heritage.
All in all this was a very good book. It was kind of a slow read in parts, and very risqué. I don’t recommend it at all for younger audiences. There is also some confusing plot development that you will need to re-read several times to fully understand. In addition to all of this, Maguire can be unnecessarily wordy. It is rather ridiculous at times, actually. You could probably cut out at least a third of the book, Chapter Ten and others like, and you would still get the full impact of the story.
However, he is a master of description. He paints a picture with his words like a famous painter does with a brush. When Elphie is riding on her broom, we are soaring with her: “Beneath the broom clouds began to gauze the view of the rock-freckled hills and patchwork meadows of melon and corn. The thin twists of vapor looked like the marks of erasure made by a schoolchild’s rubber, streaking whitely along a watercolor sketch of a landscape.” Can’t you just see it? How’s that for descriptive? He really is wonderful. Not only this, but he endears the characters to you. I, for one, will never look at the original Wizard of Oz the same way. I now hate the Wizard and love the Wicked Witch. I feel sorry for the poor armless Wicked Witch of the East, and wish she hadn’t been squashed. Most importantly, I’ll always secretly refer to the Wicked Witch as “Elphie”.
In conclusion, I give this book about a four out of five stars. I recommend it to anyone who is tired of fluffy fairytales, and wants some new perspective. It was a great read, and I look forward to reading more of Maguire’s work.