The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
by Gregory Maguire
“ ‘I shall pray for your soul,’ promised Nessarose.
‘I shall wait for your shoes,’ Elphie answered. “
Most everyone has heard of the Tony Award-winning musical, Wicked. It is a world-renowned production that has been performed in both domestic and international theaters for over 16 years, to increased delight of audiences of all ages. However, what I am surprised to find, is that most of the patrons of the arts have no idea that their favorite musical is based upon a book – and not just loosely. The successful musical is the creation of a heavily adapted script born from the novel by Gregory Maguire. The author’s alternative telling of the much-beloved tale surrounding two witches in Oz and a curious brown-haired girl who comes for a visit, is captivating in both forms of art.
Each of Gregory Maguire’s books are unique. He is a master of taking a story that readers feel comfortable saying that they know inside and out, and then spinning it in a provocative manner, leaving the reader both bewildered and beautifully stunned. He has spun gold from confessions of ugly stepsisters and rewritten the perspectives of evil queens with sympathy and caring. Many authors have taken their turn at twisting a fairy tale or two, but none do it with the depth or finesse of Maguire.
Good and evil cannot always be taken at face value, and Wicked, the novel, proves that point. The story is centered around Elphaba, a girl with emerald skin and an untidy outlook on the world around her. The narrative begins with her unconventional conception and birth, and continues it’s chronicles of a hard childhood wrought with jealousy and insecurity. Elphaba is not what her parents had intended in a child and she reacts as such to their constant undercurrent of disappointment, becoming surly and almost savage in her growing years.
“ People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us. . .
It’s people who claim that they’re good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”
As a teenager growing up in “the good part of Oz,” Galinda had expectations for how her life would turn out. She’s pretty, she’s popular, and she has a knack for getting what she wants. To her horror she finds herself having to become roommates with a common green girl, but is surprised when a friendship slowly begins to blossom. Elphaba is a thinker and an activist, and she soon begins to bend the flighty Galinda to her ways. The girls become enraptured by the teachings and fierce cause of a specific professor, but when he is found murdered, both girls spin a bit out of control in their own individual ways. Galinda adopts a new name, Glinda, and throws herself into the studies of sorcery and magic. Elphaba secretly continues the professor’s research, attempting to gain new knowledge in the genetic similarities between animals and humans – which subsequently was the cause for which the professor was murdered.
As it so happens with teenage girls, a couple of boys are thrown into the mix. Boq is an addition to the small group from Elphaba’s hometown, and he hopes that his connections with the green girl will help him get closer to her attractive blonde counterpart. Fiyero is a boy who will have a lasting connection in the veins of Elphaba’s life (throughout the entire The Wicked Years Series, of which there are four novels), and play an important part in the intricately intertwined branches of her future.
Graduation nears and job prospects come to the friends and Elphaba’s younger sister. Nessarose. They are asked by the college’s mistress to travel to different corners of Oz as “ambassadors of peace.” But while something just doesn’t seem right to Elphaba and she begins to fight against the intimation of nefarious magic that seems to be twisting it’s way through her life, Glinda does just the opposite. After further disagreement, it is obvious that the once unlikely friends are closer than they ever thought possible, but also that they cannot agree on the very basic aspects of good and bad. They decide to choose their own paths and depart from one another’s lives.
“ And girls need cold anger.
They need the cold simmer, the ceaseless grudge, the talent to avoid forgiveness, the side stepping of compromise.
They need to know when they say something that they will never back down, ever, ever. ”
The story continues to follow Elphaba, who is five years older and fully immersed in an underground group trying to garner rights for animals and overthrow the corrupted Wizard of Oz. After a reconnection with a man from her past, the two become embroiled in a heated love affair, the fruits of which will not be fully revealed until many years later. But when the love of her life is kidnapped and murdered, Elphaba throws herself into sanctuary and is despondent, relying on the kindness of strangers to keep her going.
In a strange turn of events, Elphaba comes to live with her lover’s abandoned family, bringing with her a young boy. As time passes and the emerald-skinned woman grows in her powers and research, she battles with the internal struggles of being good while also having evil tendencies. She cannot navigate the waters of loving and being kind, and she has no idea how to show her true feelings. The scars of her unhappy childhood have stayed with her and she is unable to trust or believe in the good in people. Perhaps this is because almost everyone in her life has always had such a hard time believing that there is good in her – a green-skinned atrocity.
“ People always did like to talk, didn’t they?
That’s why I call myself a witch now: the Wicked Witch of the West, if you want the full glory of it.
As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it?
It liberates you from convention. ”
When Dorothy eventually makes her appearance, readers will find her nearly insufferable. She is but a pawn in the larger game of chess and as such, plays her part to a productive end. The Wizard pulls all of the strings, after all.
Wicked, the novel, is a richly woven tapestry of mystery, political drama and intrigue, complicated love, and the battle within one’s self between good and evil. It is truly Maguire’s masterpiece, and each book is as enjoyable as the one before it, pushing readers deeper and deeper into the strange recesses of Elphaba’s world and it’s spurs. The land of Oz is not as it seems, and the twists and turns throughout the land of Munchkins, witches of East and West, and talking animals is paved in yellow brick – only to be broken apart by a wayward tornado from Kansas.
I give Wicked 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone who has a love of Oz and it’s mysteries but I also forewarn fans of the movie and L. Frank Baum books to keep an open mind. This book takes some attention, so readers should be sure to have time and energy to devote to reading it. The story is wrought with new words, new characters, and new places to visit, and as such is a bit heavy at times. I do not recommend this book for readers under the age of 18, as there are several sexually deviant situations and highly suggestive scenes.
” And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time.
And did she ever come out?
Not yet. “