Written By: Gregory Maguire
Published By: HarperCollins Publishers
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
Gooooood morning, weblanders! It has been a long time since your friendly neighborhood reviewer brought you a brand new article based on my opinion of a popular book. But the long wait is over and for your amusement, pleasure, and soul-sustenance, I bring to you my thoughts and feelings about Gregory Maguire’s “Wizard of Oz” adaptation, Wicked. Having seen the Broadway play of the same name I was eager to read this book, hoping that it would astound and amaze me as much as the play had done.
For purposes of clarity and so that I can properly convey to you, the reader, my views on this complex novel, I will go into greater detail in this review than usual.
The novel Wicked takes us deep into the mythical and mystical world of Oz, the one we all remember from childhood. Only, in Mr. Maguire’s version we primarily follow the life of Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West. The story starts out from the point of view of Elphaba’s parents, chronicling her mother’s pregnancy and birthing of the little green daughter. As the wife of a devout preacher, having a daughter with sharp teeth and green skin was obviously a daunting and embarrassing event. Young Elphaba, sequestered from the world, spends her first year with only the love of Nanny to stave off her naturally aggressive disposition.
As time goes on, she is slowly introduced to other children, but her disposition remains aloof and introverted. Her father’s ministerial work takes her entire family into the heart of an impoverished part of Oz where she spends her formative childhood years. From here we flash-forward to her first year in Shiz academy where Elphaba meets a young Galinda—later to be known as Glinda—a spoiled, ditzy socialite with an over inflated sensed of self-worth. Due to an accident, Galinda is left without an Amas—a caretaker for young, upper crust girls—and is forced to room with the only other unsupervised girl, Elphaba. The two strike up a tentative friendship based on mutual dislike and misunderstanding of one another. (If that sounds a little confusing, I was—sorry).
The story continues for a while, following their lives and adventures throughout their years in Shiz. It follows a young Munchkinlander named Boq, who falls in love with Galinda, and attempts to woo her for months; it follows Elphaba as she discovers the plight of the Animals—sentient creatures—whose rights are slowly being taken away by the great and powerful Wizard; it follows—years later—Nessarose, Elphaba’s kid sister, as she struggles to overcome her own deformity and maintain the staunch religious beliefs she’s adopted from her father.
Elphaba’s campaign of Animal rights leads her into a dark road where she abandons her friends and sister and goes into seclusion for several years, joining up with a terrorist group that shares her cause. It’s during this time that she runs into a little acquainted friend from Shiz, Fiyero, and the two carry on a secret affair as though they had been in love with one another since their school days. When Fiyero disappears—presumed dead—Elphaba gives up her cause of equality and hides out in a nunnery for several more years until she eventually recovers her senses and seeks out Fiyero’s wife, hoping to redeem her sin of adultery. The nuns make her bring along a young boy named Lirr who may or may not be Elphaba and Fiyero’s son (somehow she claims not to know herself whether she had given birth to this child).
It is here that the story begins to become confusing. Along the trip to Fiyero’s family estate, Elphaba acquires a snow monkey, some crows, a group of bees and a pack of dogs, all of which seem to instinctively follow her command. She also meets an Elephant Queen who predicts a possible future for Elphaba, and gives her the idea to reinvent herself as a witch, despite her having no true magical power at the time. When she reaches Fiyero’s castle and meets his family, Elphaba is unable—for what reason I do not know—to tell the his wife about the affair and instead spends years living in her castle as her guest. During that stay, Fiyero’s entire family is kidnapped by the Wizard’s soldiers when Elphaba is off visiting her sister and father in Munchkinland.
Alone in the castle with only her (maybe) son, her dogs, her crows, her bees, her monkeys—they procreated—and her old Nanny who came to visit her, Elphaba begins to behave completely out of character. She starts sewing wings onto her monkeys’ back, learning spells from an old book Fiyero’s wife had shown her, and showing the son of her dead lover no compassion or care whatsoever.
When she learns of her younger sister’s death via house, she goes back to pay her respects, seems unmoved by the loss, or by the Munchkins’ blatant defiling of Nessarose’s property and doesn’t even seem particularly upset with Glinda for helping the owner of the house—Dorothy Gale—find the Wizard. What finally does anger Elphaba was Glinda giving Dorothy Nessarose’s shoes, shoes that were given to her by her father and enchanted by Glinda to allow the wearer to overcome her disability. This sends Elphaba into a rage and her behavior further changes from this point on. Somehow she views the shoes as a symbol which the Wizard might use to tighten his hold over Oz and refuses to allow him to have them—must have been a special pair of Converse.
Having to follow the lore of the original “Wizard of Oz,” Elphaba begins to stalk and attack the travelers on a constant basis, although her motivations grow more confusing by the page. At one point she thinks the Scarecrow is Fiyero in disguise and sends crows to peck out his eyes and face. She also kills her beloved—and quite senile—Nanny, kills an already dying former Head Mistress of Shiz—whom Elphaba believed worked for the Wizard—and believes Dorothy to be some grand assassin of the Wizard’s despite thinking herself that the girl was so innocent as to be completely guileless. And then of course there was the famous melting of the Witch, which if you bought the book to find an explanation for, you will be sorely disappointed, as you will be with the ending.
Overall, I thought the book was an interesting attempt to show another side of a famous story, and I agree with the author’s choice of not making Elphaba completely innocent. She was prone to anger, sarcasm, and cruelty, and in the end, I suspect that her actions were supposed to indicate an onset of madness, but I don’t think it was set up clearly enough to account for the sudden shift in behavior. There were so many angles left hanging in the air, one of which being the Elephant Queen’s prophecy for Elphaba’s future and poor, abandoned Lirr. This novel would have actually been more interesting if it were not connected to the “Wizard of Oz,” because that connection falsely led me to believe that something more than what was said in the movie would be revealed but sadly, aside from a very, very—sometimes too very—detailed background on the Wicked Witch’s past, we get no more into her motivations or her behavior than we did from the movie. One thing this book did do for me was make want to read the original “Wizard of Oz,” just to see how much of the religious and political history was completely created by Mr. McGuire and how much was co-opted from the original novel.
I make no recommendations for this one—If you want a guarantee on an enjoyable Wicked experience, watch the play and leave the book alone. While some may like the overall complicated, highly detailed and slowly paced yellow brick road leading to an emerald black hole, I feel that most if not all will have a more pleasant time with the simpler, yet highly evocative play version of the story. Aside from that comment, I let my review speak for itself and leave you to judge if it is something worth your time. Either way, enjoy.