Monday, October 11, 2010

Wicked; The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maquire

Let me just state right off that I have NOT read the original Wizard of Oz books.

I'm thinking I had better. They have to be better than this.

I picked this up thinking, "Oh! This must be the precursor to the musical 'Wicked' that I've heard so much about!" The idea that the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North were roomies in college was certainly enticing.

The "school days" portion of the Witch's life was amusing, in a dark, satirical way. But in the end, the book just depressed me.

Let's call it a tragedy (that this book was even written). With f-bombs. And an illicit affair. And hints of bestiality. And all sorts of gutter humor. I am not letting my young teenager read this.

Long story short:

Elphaba is born to a promiscuous, alcoholic mother, and a dogmatic, itinerant preacher. Her parents are disgusted by her green skin, scared to death of her razor sharp baby teeth ("It's the bottle for you, kid"), and both Mom and Dad wonder if her malady is her/his fault. Two more children are born to the family, and Dad has to wonder if any of them are really his. The second child, a daughter, is named Nessarose, and the last is a boy, can't remember what his name is and it doesn't really matter much anyway.

Elphaba goes to school in a city north of the Emerald City. The Wizard is a dictator, slowly restricting the rights of Animals, who speak, and trying to make them serve as animals, who don't speak. Elphaba works under the tutelage of a Goat professor trying to prove Animals are closer to humans than most people think. He's murdered, and the chaperone of Glinda is also murdered for knowing too much about it.

Elphaba drops out of school and joins a resistance movement. Glinda and Nessarose finish school and become the "Sorceress of the North" and the "Wicked Witch of the East" respectively. Elphaba has no contact with anyone from school and rumors fly as to what happened to her.

Eventually someone from Elphaba's school days sees her in the Emerald City. She tries to shake him, but can't. She warns him to go away. He doesn't. She's single but living dangerously, he's married and bored out of his mind. The affair ensues.

Elphaba's attempts at terrorism fail, her lover is implicated and murdered. She retreats to a nunnery, or mauntery as this book calls it, and goes on an auto-pilot driven funk. She is not aware when she gives birth to a boy. She goes along thinking the child is just some lost orphan that the other maunts have given her to take care of. Finally, feeling remorseful for the death of her lover and feeling the need to tell the wife about her guilt, she leaves for the boonies.

After finding the castle of the wife, she tries to confess but somehow the wife refuses to listen. The wife would rather keep her memories as they are. Some political unrest in Oz has Elphaba flying around on her broom from one place to another. She can't get forgiveness from her lover's wife. She can't decide really what to do with her life. And then the whole Dorothy thing happens and she fixates on the ruby slippers that she was always jealous of because her Dad made them for her sister and not for Elphaba.

And I'm sure you know what happens when Dorothy and Elphaba meet up. Yea.

I'm not against retellings of famous stories, but I do expect a writer to adhere to the same quality as the original.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to comment on the original Wizard of Oz. I read the book four and a half years ago while I was looking for work. I quite enjoyed the first book, which started a series of about a dozen more novels and spin offs written by the original author and some others who wanted to continue the story. You see the similarities and the differences between the book and the MGM movie. It's whimsical and delightful. It's clean for children. I enjoyed the first book enough to continue on to the second book.

    However, there is a snag in the second book, The Marvelous Land of Oz. A boy named Tip has the usual adventure that can be found in Oz. It isn't until the end of the book he finds out he's actually Princess Ozma, the rightful heir and ruler of Oz. The princess was kidnapped by Mombi and changed into a boy. When it comes time to change Tip back into a girl, Tip doesn't want to do it because he likes "being a boy." The adults tell Tip he has to change because "it's the truth he's a girl." Tip reluctantly agrees and gets changed from a boy to a girl.

    The sex change really bothered me. It may have gone over fans' heads back in 1904, but I cannot in good conscious allow children today, influenced and exposed as they are to political and social movements of today, to condone ideas of inherent gender. It may be one thing for a person to believe he or she is the opposite gender, but it's another when adults say and impose the child to become the opposite gender when that child believes it is not. The latter happens in the book, and I cannot and do not give my approval to such a work that carelessly throws around such a serious dilemma. This is one instance the decision of the adults is not better than the wishes of the child. I finished The Marvelous Land of Oz, but I decided not to read the rest of the series.

    I haven't read Wicked, but I believe it won't matter if I do or don't. To me, Wicked is part of the apocryphal list of volumes pertaining to the Oz series, and I already have given my opinion to the series as a whole. If one must read something about Oz, I recommend staying with the first book. I go even further to say that we should just stick with the movie. MGM's version has made more of an impact culturally than what the books have ever done.


Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


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