The Life and the Times Of the Wicked Witch of the West
by: Gregory Maguire
Wicked immediately dives into moral ambiguity, God and free will, the nature of evil, with intense and quite obvious political references as extreme as Nazi Germany and our own Capitalist America. I found it to be not only enrapturing but funny and thought-provoking.
“Remember this: Nothing is written in the stars. Not these stars, nor any others. No one controls your destiny.”
To begin with, Wicked takes the Oz we are all so familiar with and contorts it into an entirely different shape. The characters and some of the events in passing in the tale “Wizard Of Oz” remain the same, but their motivations, their persons, the protagonists, and antagonists are quite different. The first short chapter of the novel begins with the witch overhearing Dorothy, the scarecrow, the lion, and the tin man gossiping about her, saying she was “possessed by demons” or “an abused child”, etc. Elphaba, the witches given name, is hurt by the things she overhears. We have quickly learned the same characters will be present, but not the same.
Elphaba was born with her notorious green skin and a set of merciless sharp teeth. The teeth eventually did fall out and were replaced by normal ones. To her mother and minister father, she was nothing short of an abomination. Throughout the story questions about the significance of her skin color are raised, as is the nature of her own self. Was she truly born evil, were her actions as a person evil? Did she evolve into an evil being because everyone treated her as such? Does evil itself truly exist, or was it merely created by man? This identity crisis is otherworldly, but also relatable.
“Where I’m from, we believe in all sorts of things that aren’t true… we call it history.”
The second portion of the book spends most of its time plotting out Oz’s social structure and government while Elphaba is away at college. Here we meet her roomie, who happens to be Glinda. Eventually, her younger invalid sister (that has no arms), Nessarose, and a few other key characters we’ve met along the way show their significance. The story begins to unfold it’s a purpose and builds suspense till the final pages. The organic development of characters makes all the choices they make in this fantasy world believable.
Most people are aware of how the story of the Wicked Witch of The West ends. Dorothy with a bucket of water in her hands takes the villain and her world out. Dorothy is prominent at the end here, but her journey to the bucket is quite different.
“You confuse not speaking with not listening.”
It brings me to one final question. Was the story of the witch a tragedy or triumph? Did she succeed in the end or was she a failure? Was the rest of her life a failure, but the end a success? Was the rest of her life a success and her end a failure? What about it? I haven’t yet decided, which tells me, the Gregory Maguire did his job well.
“No one controls your destiny. Even at the very worst – there is always choice.”
It’s been a long time since I read “Wicked” and I never got to the sequels, which as I’m recalling how much I did enjoy it should be rectified along with a revisit. If you have any inclination toward “The Wizard of Oz” I highly recommend this story, or even if you are just a fan of the fantasy genre.