Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wicked & Me

A little while ago, a couple Oz fans who contact me fairly regularly were asking me why I didn't like Gregory Maguire's Wicked series. (This is no reflection on the musical, which I've yet to see a live production of.)

I've said everyone is welcome to their own interpretation of Oz (except Todd McFarlane, and if you know what I mean, you know why I said it), but as a Baum enthusiast and Oz fan, I don't feel required to like every one of them, which is logical, because there have been so many takes on Oz.

Of course, I love Baum's original Oz, and do feel a little miffed when someone wants to include sex, violence, substance abuse, and whatnot that Baum wouldn't have had. One might even feel that if these books were not set in Oz and didn't use the Oz characters, that they wouldn't be as popular as they are now, leading one to surmise that Maguire is riding Baum's coat-tails. However, if I was to apply this criticism, it would also have to apply to other interpretations, including Tin Man, OZ (1976), The Wiz, and even Alexander Volkov's Magic Land series. (Note: I'm not saying all of these interpretations include objectionable content, just that they do take some twists the original author would not have.)

Now, before anyone accuses me of being judgmental and not giving the books a fair trial, I have read all three of Maguire's books in his Wicked series. If that's not giving them a fair trial, I don't know what is.

Now, I have to admit, Maguire does manage to tell three stories that keep the reader going through the books. My only problem is that when you look at it, they all break down to unique people being unable to fit into a normal society, very much the same story throughout. Yes, the stories are different, but the main characters' conflicts break down to the same formula.

My biggest problem with Maguire is his writing style. Every now and then, it picks up, but most of the time, it's flat and dry, as if he's relating the event, instead of telling it with zest. Maybe others disagree with how I see his style, but this is how it comes off to me. I've read authors who can write with actual vigor and enthusiasm, and I'm not talking about Baum, although he is one. (Joan Lindsay, Irvine Welsh, Anthony Burgess, even the long-winded Stephen King and the over-footnoting Oliver Sachs.)

I can tolerate the Wicked series, but it's not among my favorites of Oz interpretations. If you like it, fine. If you love it, fine. That doesn't mean I have to.

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