Today I had some time to kill before work so I checked out a new local coffee shop where I grabbed a latte and settled at a corner table to finish Wicked by Gregory Maguire. About an hour and a half later, and in between my spurts of people watching, I had grudgingly finished the last 60 or so pages of the novel.
There are only spoilers in the following summary if you have never had any kind of experience with The Wizard of Oz in any shape or form.
This novel documents, as the subtitle states, “The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.” This is sort of like a spin on the Wicked Witch of the West’s character from The Wizard of Oz, but it also generates some backstories for the characters and places from the movie/novel –granted, I’ve never read The Wizard of Oz (although it’s on the Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge), I’ve only seen the movie, so perhaps L. Frank Baum does go into more detail about Oz and its characters in the original book or its sequels (who knew there were sequels?!). Wicked begins with the Wicked Witch’s birth, and as readers, we learn she actually has a real name–Elphaba. During her childhood, we learn some theories behind her green skin, about her fear of water, and that she has a younger sister named Nessarose, who turns out to be the Wicked Witch of the East. When Elphaba goes off to school, she meets Galinda (Glinda the Good Witch). There’s some conflict and relationship drama, and Glinda, Nessarose, and Elphaba all become involved with sorcery. Throughout the novel there is a lot of social and political commentary concerning different classes of people and animals/Animals in Oz. In the end, Dorothy and the gang (the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man) enter the novel and the story aligns somewhat with the original, although with the author’s own twist.
I will start out by saying that I was really excited to find this book in a used bookstore, as I had been wanting to read it for quite some time. I knew a little about the musical, not so much the plot, and had listened to the soundtrack numerous times. Unfortunately, the book was not what I expected–I really wish I had done some more research on the novel before jumping in.
Starting with the things I liked about the novel, I will say that the world is deeply constructed. I can tell that Maguire took some time developing the different elements of Oz, Munchkinland, and The Emerald City; however, not in a J.K. Rowling way, but just in a way where someone wants to attempt to cover all the bases, if that makes sense. I did like how the novel seemed antiquated but simultaneously modern; Maguire incorporated both characteristics seamlessly. And the contrasting humor and seriousness really helped the novel as well. Nanny’s character provided the much-needed comic relief to Elphaba’s moral righteousness that was sometimes hard to enjoy. In the beginning of the novel, when we learn about Elphaba’s childhood, fears, and origin, Maguire expertly created sympathy for the Wicked Witch’s character, as none was shown toward her in the movie. Similar to the way he creates curates sympathy for Elphaba, Maguire also causes the reader to question Glinda’s true character–is she not as “good” as we think?
I have to admit, despite the good I found in this novel, I did skim most of it, as I wasn’t involved enough with the characters or plot to pay attention. The social and political commentary felt a little too literal for me, again, sorry to keep bringing Harry Potter into this, but Rowling’s treatment of good vs evil seemed more skillfully executed than Maguire’s. I didn’t feel attached to any character nor care about their ultimate outcomes, which is rare for me. I also found some of the plot and scenes added little to nothing to the novel. I didn’t care enough to remember certain places and names and their connections to other things; I’m not sure if this was due to the weirdness of the names or just the fact that I skimmed through probably 75% of the book. I also thought some of the more important plot points were muddied by the unnecessary scenes and writing. Honestly, when I was looking at the book’s Wikipedia page to refresh parts of my memory, I realized that I had completely missed some major facts that were revealed at various parts throughout the novel.
To read or not to read?
Overall, I would say pass on this book, unless you’re completing the Rory Gilmore Challenge, and in that case, just get through it–you can do it! I still would love to see the musical, as I think the two pieces differ in their plots/themes and perhaps it would be more interesting to see rather than read.
Have you read or seen Wicked? What are your thoughts on this rendition of Oz?