Challenge: A Book with Magic
With such a great premise and rave popularity from the Broadway play, I thought I was in for a treat. I’m not usually a fan of prequels but Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West intrigued me. The re-telling of the wicked witch of the west? It was like my childhood and my adulthood finally won the game of catch-up and this was going to change my life forever. What a change it was. Here are my thoughts.
SPOILER-FREE: What can I say? I like you enough.
Synopsis: An astonishingly rich re-creation of the land of Oz, this book retells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, who wasn’t so wicked after all. Taking readers past the yellow brick road and into a phantasmagoric world rich with imagination and allegory, Gregory Maguire just might change the reputation of one of the most sinister characters in literature.
Anyone who has a childhood knows about the Wizard of Oz. Even if you didn’t have a television, you’ve heard your childhood friends talk about it enough that you know the plot. Dorothy and her dog Toto live in Kansas with her aunt and uncle. One day, when her aunt and uncle are out (right?), the house gets caught in a cyclone and lands in the land of Oz, killing the Wicked Witch of the East instantly.
I’m not going to get into the plot. We have Google for that. Think of it as the cheerier, more understandable version of Alice in Wonderland and you have a basic idea. Anyway, the story is told in Dorothy’s point of view. So in her mind, Glinda is the good witch and the Wicked Witch of the West is well…wicked. She is also bent on revenge for the death of her sister, the Wicked Witch of the East.
Now that I’m a grown-up (or can pass for it), I can see her revenge made a lot of sense. Meh. I was eight when I saw the movie. She was just green and ugly and had to go.
So all across the world, kids despise the Wicked Witch. As they should. As the book/movie dictates. Then Gregory Maguire decides to screw with our childhoods so that we can never watch the Wizard of Oz the same way again. How does he do this? How does he erase the distinct lines of good and evil from the land of Oz?
By making the Wicked Witch an actual being.
In our childhood and prior to this novel, the Wicked Witch personifies villainy. She may be considered a woman but she’s green and unless you’re Kermit, that’s not saying much about your morals. She had weird winged monkey freaks as her henchmen. To top it all off: she hated on beautiful innocent, child-like Dorothy AND her dog. You don’t get to be a human after that.
Highpoint: But in Wicked, Maguire gives the villain a name and her very own childhood. He gives her a family, friendship, love, loss and betrayal. He unearths her sense of right, duty and goodness. He unearths her beauty in the eyes of her lover. He gives her a voice and an admirable persona amidst the vividly described land of Oz. Now, I am always here for Elphaba, ‘wicked witch’ of the West.
Lowpoint: I believe the socio-political vs. religion vs. sexuality sub-plots were sometimes extremely confusing and overdone. I understood that background and context counts for a hell of a lot, so it wasn’t entirely unwelcome, but droves of it had me putting the book down sometimes to keep my brain from frying. Politics in the real world are baffling enough.
Besides that, there were some things which just weren’t explained or left for the reader to find a suitable ending or conclusion. While that is often appealing, the story of the land of Oz reads more or less like a fable i.e. we got intellectual Goats and Elephants going to university. Maguire, you can’t leave us behind like that!
NB: If Wizard of Oz is your favourite childhood movie, you might run the risk of giving Glinda a lot of side-eyes after reading this novel. I’m not telling you that you’ll hate her. She wasn’t meant to be a deplorable character. But I’m telling you the side-eyes will be strong.
NB 2: I think Glinda trolled Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. She gave her those heels and didn’t tell her she could have used them to go home until after Dorothy solves her problems. I bet this has been discovered already. Okay. Carry on with your life.
Click HERE to learn more about my 2015 reading challenge.