Monday, September 16, 2013
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
However, much later, I thought that I should probably re-read the book. I was in my late teens then. Now I'm closer to thirty. Well, not long ago, needing a book to read on the way to work, I spotted my copy (it's a paperback, but I've been trying to find a hardcover with the same cover design to match my copies of the rest of the series) and decided to give it its much needed re-read.
First off, I do not recommend anyone under 18 read Wicked. I've heard of people younger than that reading the book, but the book contains profanity, some nicely written sex scenes, and plenty of suggestive themes. Frankly, kids, there's stuff in here you probably shouldn't know about yet.
The concept of Wicked is not to tell "the real story of The Wizard of Oz" or be a prequel to Baum's book (though Maguire cleverly uses elements from Baum's book not in the famous film version, which there's plenty of references to). The book was released in 1996, when Baum's tale had been in the public consciousness for 96 years and had become firmly part of American folklore. Instead of providing the whimsical adventure fairy tale of Dorothy's quest, it is a reinvention of the original Oz story based around the grim reality of the life of Elphaba Thropp, a girl born with green skin who grows up to become the mysterious Witch of the West.
Elphaba was born in Munchkinland, but after her parents befriend a Quadling (who might be the father of her armless sister Nessarose), the family moves to his home country. The story jumps ahead years later to find Elphaba attending Shiz University in the Gillikin Country where she learns from Doctor Dillamond, a Goat (a capital letter denotes the difference between non-speaking animals and talking Animals), who gets her interested in freedom and equal protection for Animals as Oz citizens. She rooms with Galinda Arduenna Upland, a girl from high society who will one day be known as Glinda the Good. After some terrible events at Shiz, Elphaba and Glinda go to the Emerald City to see the Wizard.
Elphaba decides she has to go rogue and she becomes a mysterious figure, though during her life in the Emerald City, she has a physical relationship with Fiyero Tigelaar, a married man and former classmate. After a failed assassination attempt, Elphaba becomes a nun after a lost year in her memory, where she discovers herself joined by a boy named Liir. Having been in every other part of Oz, Elphaba goes west, where she begins building the image of the Wicked Witch of the West and begins to discover a few secrets of the framework of Oz's current government, magic, and even her own life.
Maguire doesn't call Elphaba a Witch until about two-thirds through the book. It's not until very late in the book that she is finally the Wicked Witch of the West. A big part of the book is the perception of Good and Evil. Elphaba doesn't consider herself good, and it's true: she does some rather awful things in the course of the book. Yet, by getting under her green skin, Maguire lets us see a broken woman who never had the best life and in the end just wanted to be at peace. She isn't good, but is she truly evil? Writing at a slow, leisurely pace, Maguire draws the reader into an odd version of Oz that mashes together Baum's original book with iconic images from the classic film.
I most like Maguire's original characters. When I first read the book, I imagined Liir as one of those creepy wide-eyed kids from a horror movie, but after the sequels, I found myself liking his character much more and he seemed more natural, though there is definitely something not quite right with this kid. Another favorite is Nanny, Elphaba's nursemaid who helped her mother shortly after her birth, then again with Nessarose, even accompanying her to Shiz, serving as her Ama. Nanny is an old woman at the start of Wicked. She's around at the end of Out of Oz. She gets older and older and is simply a hoot to read.
The Oz depicted in Wicked and its sequels is very different from Baum's original. Again, it must be remembered that Maguire (though very aware of the later books: references to the line of Ozmas and "Lurlina" are made) is not playing in Baum's Oz. Again, this is a reinvention of what has become American folklore. This Oz contains religions (one scene finds a young man seemingly sacrificed by being strapped to a Tiger, he is seriously ill after this and dies years later), a hard government with military force, occult magic, and a very different take on some of our beloved characters, particularly the Wizard. (Maguire seems to have no love for Toto, either.)
Wicked is not for everyone. Some outrightly despise it. Some unabashedly love it. Some appreciate it, but prefer other versions of Oz. Others are confused as to the vast differences between the book and its popular musical adaptation. As for me, I'm glad I gave the book another chance. I certainly enjoyed it much more with a more seasoned mind. It will never be my Oz, but I can appreciate it for what it is.