Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review of Wicked

Have you ever wondered what made the Wicked Witch of the West so wicked? I hadn't either. But when I heard that Gregory Maguire's book explored this very question, I was intrigued. Although I had never contemplated the witch's story, once I knew that a story existed, I wanted to know what it was.

Wicked is the story of how a green girl in the land of Oz grows up to be the Wicked Witch of the West. The story begins with the birth of Elphaba (the witch) to Melena, an heir to a powerful family from Munchkinland (FYI - not all Munchkinlanders are small). Melena's husband, Frex, is a zealous minister often away preaching in faraway towns, and Melena is not 100% sure who Elphaba's father actually is. Elphaba is born with green skin, a full set of razor sharp teeth, and a strong aversion to water. Although not inititally affectionate, she grows up to be willful and smart.

The Oz in Wicked is not the Oz we are familiar with. The Wizard is a cruel dictator, issuing laws and edicts from on high that limit the rights of humans and Animals (animals who speak, think, and integrate with society), making life in Oz more and more difficult for those who do not support his rule. There are guards who roam the streets, jailing people who dare to speak against the Wizard, creating a miliary State in and around the Emerald City, where Elphaba is sent to attend boarding school. Elphaba starts school at a time when the Wizard is starting to clamp down on human and Animal rights, and she is outraged. Her roommate, Galinda (one day to be known as Glinda), is a snooty girl from the north who initially couldn't care less about anything other than her social status, but as the girls get to know each other they become friends over a shared desire to make Oz a better place. And it all goes down hill from there.

Wicked spans about 40 years, and in that time we learn why Elphaba turns into the Wicked Witch of the West...kind of. Although I really enjoyed reading this story - it was creative, fun, and different - I felt that Maguire was not able to aptly explain why Elphaba actually became so wicked. Yes, she was frustrated, short of temper, and racked with guilt over the death of a lover, but by the end of the book I did not see the wickedness from the witch in the movie in the character of Elphaba. Perhaps this was Maguire's intention -- when you actually know and understand someone, they are not as evil or scary as they might seem at the surface. Perhaps the Wicked Witch of the West that we are all familiar with wasn't actually that wicked at all - just misunderstood.