Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wicked - Gregory Maguire

1995; 519 pages. Full Title : Wicked - The Life & Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Genre : Revisionist fiction. Overall Rating : B.

  .In The Wizard of Oz, the nasty old Wicked Witch of the West is done in by Dorothy and water. Maguire postulates that L. Frank Baum's story is a slanted account; Wicked tells the story from Elphaba, the WWofW's point of view.

What's To Like...
    Maguire creates a wonderful fantasy world of Oz. There are munchkins, dwarves and elves; and rumors even of dragons. There are various competing religions - unionists (with their Unnamed God), pleasure faithists (with their Clock of the Time Dragon) and Lurlinists (waiting for the Fairy Queen Lurline to return) being the most interesting. There are some great political, spiritual, and philosophical ponderings in the book, the main one being how the world determines what is wicked and what isn't.
    Kewl stuff, but as a story, Wicked leaves something to be desired. Most notable are the annoying gaps in the tale. First we are introduced to Elphaba as a toddler. Then "poof", it's years later and she's heading off to college. "Poof" again, and it's years later, and Elphaba's now a revolutionary. "Poof" once more and she's leaving a nunnery after seven years to become a recluse in a castle in Vinkus. The final "poof" jumps us years ahead again to the fateful encounter with Dorothy.
.Also, the issues Maguire presents (such as Animal/animal rights) are provocative, but never answered. Ditto for the plot details. We never really know why Elphaba came out green; who killed Porfessor Dillamond (he's a Goat, not a goat); whether Fiyiero is really dead; and what happened to Sarima and her sisters.
    Moreover, while we're introduced to some well-developed and fascinating secondary characters (such as Elphaba's mom Melena, Boq, Glinda, and the flaming twosome of Crope and Tibbett), it's best not to get too attached to them, because most of them don't make the jump across the gaps.
.Finally the sex scenes and cuss words felt ill-fitting and unnecessary. I don't mind such things when they enhance the story (they certainly fit well in anything written by Bukowski), but here they detract. TMI.

.An excerpt...
"You're not wicked," said Boq.
"How do you know. It's been so long," said the Witch, but she smiled at him.
Boq returned the smile, warmly. "Glinda used her glitter beads, and you used your exotic looks and background, but weren't you just doing the same thing, trying to maximize what you had in order to get what you wanted? People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us." He sighed. "It's people who claim that they're good , or anyway better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of."
(pg. 457)
We're off to see that no-good Wizard...
    Wicked had the potential to be either a superb fantasy story or a superb philosophical treatise. But by trying to be both, it failed to be great at either. It dragged at times, especially the first half. Yet it's still a good book, and there's no denying it's well-written. Perhaps some of the unanswered questions and plot details are addressed in the sequels. Ditto for the engaging, but short-lived characters. So we'll give it a "B", plus kudos to whoever managed to turn this into a highly-successful musical.

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