This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time and thanks to my recent staycation, I was able to purchase, finish, and greatly enjoy this novel. This is the story of Elphaba Thropp – known to the worldwide masses as the Wicked Witch of the West – as written by Gregory Maguire. Why the name Elphaba (pronounced El-fa-ba)? Well that’s easy. It’s a tribute to the author of the original Wizard of Oz novel, L. Frank Baum. L (El), F (fa), B (ba). Since most people will eventually wonder why Maguire chose that name for the Wicked Witch of the West, there you have it.
I was impressed with the depth that this story brings to the Land of Oz and the many races that exist within it. Understand, though, that this is not your Grandmother’s Oz by a long shot. The novel is surprisingly sexual in places and tells certain parts of the story differently than the MGM classic movie. Maguire gives history to the Wicked Witch of the West and by the end of the book has the reader wondering whether or not Elphaba truly is “wicked.”
As much as the story incorporates odd sexual references it includes religious discussions even more. There are communities in Oz that worship an Unnamed God and there are those who believe in a Fairy Queen named Lurline (who has a Christmas-like holiday celebrated each winter in her honor called Lurlinemas). There are others who believe in a simple relationship between good and evil forces and some who believe that the whole of Oz’s past, present, and future are the dreams of a sleeping dragon. And then there are the uncommitted citizens like Elphaba – who believe in neither good nor evil, but do their best to understand each.
Elphaba is joined in this story by Glinda – or as you may call her the Good Witch of the North – and Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister – also known as the Wicked Witch of the East. You remember Nessarose from the movie, right? The one whose feet curl up underneath Dorothy Gale’s house after is squashes her? After reading this story let me tell you – those feet have quite a story behind them! I wonder what L. Frank Baum would have thought about Maguire’s depiction of the Wicked Witch of the East as a religious fanatic who was so devoted to her faith in a land full of half and non-believers that she was thought of to be a witch.
Oh – and Nessarose has no arms in this book.
Bizarre, right? Bizarre might be the best way to describe much of what goes on in Wicked, but the novel is at one time both astonishing and entertaining. Maguire makes the reader wait to the very last pages of this 406 page story for the big payoffs and for answers to some questions posed in the latter parts of the novel. What is interesting is his use of a scene which should be part of the final pages for the prologue to the entire story. After I finished up on page 406 I immediately turned back to the very beginning of the book to re-read the prologue. Though there were no profound revelations in the prologue after having read the entire story, it was certainly interesting to re-read these pages. Keep that in mind if you pick this book up.
Maguire’s retelling of portions of the original Oz story are fun and enjoyable to read, though more adult-themed. His story of the Wicked Witch’s life is fascinating and one that fans of science fiction, fantasy, and good storytelling will enjoy. Who knew that the Wicked Witch was a leader in the equal rights movement between humans and Animals (capitalized for a reason – read the book)? Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West receives my highest recommendation.