Everyone knows the story of the Wizard of Oz. While not everyone has read the classic, people generally have a good idea of how the story begins and ends. Dorothy, together with her dog Toto and the farmhouse, gets caught in a cyclone and lands in a strange, new world, inadvertently killing the Wicked Witch of the East as well (morbidly so). She inherits a pair of silver slippers and goes on a journey to the City of Emeralds to seek help from the mighty Oz. Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion among other characters. In exchange for Oz’ help, Dorothy has to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. Needless to say, she succeeds.
But how sad is it that the life of the Wicked Witch of the West ends so abruptly? Thanks to Gregory Maguire, however, this infamous and perhaps gravely misunderstood green-skinned villain gets to tell her side of the story, albeit perhaps reluctantly. Funnily enough, the chapter starts off with the Wicked Witch of the West spying on Dorothy and her merry band where she hears some of the most outrageous rumors about herself!
“She was castrated at birth.”
“She was born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.”
She was addicted to medicine for her skin condition.”
She’s a woman who prefers the company of other women.”
From the onset, it is evident that this is no ordinary Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. By the way, that last bit about women and women comes from the Scarecrow.
In the book, Maguire weaves an intriguing world that is both strange and familiar at the same time. People generally know about the Wizard of Oz, the silver slippers and the Munchkins. But Maguire also infuses Wicked with Talking Animal rights, Shiz University and underground guerrilla. Laden with politics, the author shows the roots of a young Elphaba and how she eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West.
Young Elphaba has never really felt at home anywhere because of her green skin. As a result, she grows up standoffish and guarded. However, her dry wit wins you over instantly, somehow even ending up friends with Galinda (Glinda) and a few notable others.
A word of caution or perhaps encouragement: Wicked is not a chick lit version of the Wicked Witch of the West. It is a little bit serious, a little bit sarcastic and a whole lot fantastic and creative. A gem of a fiction novel, it will suck you in its pages as what good books always do. It borders on dark and tragic and you’ll find yourself rooting for Elphaba more than for any other character you’ll ever come across in Maguire’s universe.
Wicked is not black and white. It is multi-dimensional and explores different depths of characters. It shows you the best and the worst of people and how one can be so misunderstood.