Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reading in Retrospect: "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire

Rachel's post on "Wicked: The Musical" reminded me, as the Google homepage already had earlier, that today was the 71st anniversary of the release of the movie The Wizard of Oz. What better day to put up my Nostalgia Post about Gregory Maguire's book, Wicked? I can still squeeze it in, as it won't be tomorrow for 26 more minutes (in my time zone, anyway).

This book first caught my eye while I was browsing at Target, my home away from home. It was the end of a year of belt-tightening and I was on a small shopping spree. When I saw the book, I assumed it would be a back-story of the Wicked Witch of the West, neatly dovetailing with the book by L. Frank Baum (which I hadn't yet read at the time, but like any good American I was fairly familiar with the movie).

As I'm sure you all know by now, I was right about the back story bit, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about the dovetailing. This book took Baum’s story and turned it on its head. It was as if Baum’s book had been written from an entirely different perspective and he got it all wrong.

Of course the main difference is with the witch herself. Other than being green and having a somewhat prickly personality as a result of her skin color, the “Witch”, Elfaba, is really not wicked at all. She is different, and perhaps shunned, but she is actually kind-hearted and bent on social equality, not evil. She goes to college (or possibly more of a prep school) and has a circle of close friends, one of whom, unexpectedly, is the “good witch” Glinda mentioned in the original book and movie. Most surprising (to me) of all, Elfaba has a passionate love affair. Who would have thought?

Glinda is another character that appears quite differently in this book. She is written in Wicked as a silly vain snob, although she is not as flat as all that, undergoing growth and changes and actually befriending Elfaba. In the end it is indeterminate as to whether she is (either knowingly or not) an agent of evil, but the possibility is there. And speaking of Evil, The Wizard is It. He is enacting great change and revolution in the land of Oz, and not for the better. The entire population (except perhaps for Elfaba) is terrified of him and his henchmen, the Gale Force (ha ha) who sound more like Gestapo.

I love fairy tales and am drawn to retellings (although not the modern, politically correct ones for today's children. Someone has subtracted all of the frights and thrills, reforming evil rather than vanquishing it, and allowing everyone to live happily ever after whether they deserve it or not). I don't mind a bit when an old favorite is retold in a darker and more sinister manner. I must admit, though, that I could have lived without the creepy weirdness of the multi-species sex club with enforced audience participation.

Since reading Wicked, I have read two more books by Maguire. One of them was on the mediocre side (Mirror Mirror), but the other I loved and will probably post about at some point.


Rachel said...

I just posted about the musical Wicked, on my blog! I really liked this book. I thought it was great. Elphaba is such a wonderful character. I also read 'Son of a Witch' but I didn't really like it. It was dull.

Rachel said...

Oh wait, I just realised you commented on my post lol ... Tiger sex right? haha

Becky (Page Turners) said...

I was really freaked out by this book. It was really full on, a lot balcker than I expected before I read it. I felt depressed the whole time I was reading it.

Heres my review if you get a chance

I have purchased the two sequesls to this book but I want to re-read Wicked before I read the next two

Lyd-ee-ah said...

I read this back when it came out and LOVED it!! I may have to find my copy and read it again. :) Mirror Mirror was a let down for me but Son of a Witch was great.

Kathy said...

Rachel--yup, that was me commenting about the tiger sex. ;) Kind of glad to hear they didn't put that part in the musical--I don't think I want to even imagine how they would have managed that on stage.

Becky--it was definitely dark, wasn't it! Nothing like the original. Are you sure you want to re-read it? :) Maybe knowing what to expect this time will keep it from being so depressing.

Lydia--I totally agree about Mirror Mirror being a letdown. It wasn't awful, but it certainly wasn't my favorite.

I have been completely uninterested in picking up the sequels to Wicked--for book 2, I think because I didn't find the character of Elfaba's son compelling enough to care to read an entire book about him, and for book 3 I guess because I didn't care about book 2.

Kristi said...

I'm curious to see which other Maguire book you read and enjoyed. I read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister several years ago and really liked it.

I picked up wicked two years ago and put it down pretty quickly. I don't remember the details but there was some weird sex thing. I'm not sure if it is the same as what you referred to in your post. Does it get worse or would it be worth picking it up again and giving it another try?

Kathy said...

Ahhh, yes, Kristi, stay tuned and you shall soon see what was my favorite Maguire book. ;)

The weird sex thing I referred to was not very close to the beginning of the book--maybe more in the middle--so if you stopped reading pretty quickly, you probably didn't make it to that part. At first I couldn't think what else it might have been, but then I remembered the Clock of the Time Dragon. I had to refresh my memory by looking back in the book, but there was weird puppet sex. I would say the sex club show is worse, but I would also say the whole book isn't like that . . . I'm not sure whether to tell you to give it another try or not! But let me know if you do . . .