Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Wicked by Gregory Maguire (1995)

Pages: 406

ISBN: 9780060391447

Description: When Dorothy triumphed over the so-called Wicked Witch of the West in Frank Baum's tales, we heard only Dorothy's side of the story. The Wicked Witch we think we know is the predictable, green-faced villainess straight out of MGM's imagination. But there's more to the story than that. Where did the Wicked Witch come from? How exactly was she wicked? Why shouldn't she want her sister's charmed shoes? And, most important, what is the true nature of evil?

Years before Dorothy and her dog crash-land, another little girl makes her presence known in Oz. This girl, Elphaba, is born with emerald green skin-no easy burden in a land as mean and poor as Oz, where superstition and magic are not strong enough to explain or to overcome the natural disasters of flood and famine. But Elphaba is smart, and by the time she enters the university in Shiz, she becomes a member of a charmed circle of Oz's most promising young citizens: her roommate Glinda, a dippy socialite with a knack for sorcery; Boq, the lovelorn Munchkin; Fiyero, a tribal prince from the primitive West of Oz; and Nessarose, Elphaba's beautiful, religiously witchy sister, who lacks nothing save two arms and the spirit of compassion.

Elphaba's Oz is no utopia. The Wizard's secret police are everywhere. Animals-those creatures with voices, souls, and minds-are threatened with exile. Young Elphaba, green and wild and misunderstood, is determined to protect the Animals-even if it means combating the mysterious Wizard, even if it means risking her single chance at romance. Ever wiser in guilt and sorrow, she can find herself grateful when the world declares her a witch. And she can even make herself glad for that young girl from Kansas.

Review: We all know the story of the Land of Oz... or do we? This is an alternate version of the classic tale by Frank L. Baum. We follow the life of Elphaba, later known as the Wicked Witch of the West. From her birth all the way to the classic melting death scene, we follow Elphaba on the journey of her life and try to determine if she really was "wicked".

This is most definitely not the "Oz" I remember. Maguire sets the story on its side with this new version of events. I was interested to see where he was going to go with the Witch's side of the story. The one word that comes to mind when I try to describe the story is disturbed. It was dark and not at all what I had envisioned. We encounter the dismal land of Oz on the brink of dictatorship and left with those following an obscure religion. Then we are introduced to Elphaba who is born to a loose mother who isn't sure who the father is for two of her three children. Elphaba was left to her own devices and also paraded as a sign that her "father" was cursed for not saving the souls of his town. The only bright moment of her life is her brief affair with Fiyero who shows her she is indeed capable of love. All the way to the end I couldn't help but feel for Elphaba and her bad life. I am morbidly curious as to how the series will progress so I will check out the second book, Son of a Witch. All in all, an interesting fantasy novel not for the light of heart.

Score: 3 out of 5

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