WICKED by Gregory Maguire
Publisher/Year: William Morrow Paperbacks/2000
Source: My own shelf
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 426 pages
When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?
Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.
What I thought
THIS BOOK. This. Book.
Let me start off by saying that this book has garnered many POLAR OPPOSITE reviews. You either seem to absolutely love this or absolutely hate it.
That being said, I think it’s fairly obvious from my rating how I felt.
I think that, for some, they go into this book expecting the musical. Don’t. Those expectations will ruin this book for you.
I, for one, cannot stop thinking about this story, and that’s how I felt the entire time I was reading. There was just so much to THINK about here, and sometimes I just really crave that in a book.
I don’t even know where to begin.
First of all, this book is split up into sections. These sections are like snippets into Elphaba’s life & what was going on in the world at that particular time. There are jumps in time between the sections, but I didn’t mind that. To me, it didn’t feel like Maguire left anything out necessarily, but rather that he only focused on the important, formative points in her history.
As for the world of Oz, again, do not go into this expecting the whimsical movie world. Oz is much darker & grittier than what we have seen. And I loved it. This is Oz before Dorothy arrives (I’ll get into THAT shortly). There’s corruption, politics, sex, ruthless murder. This is NOT a child’s story, but I really liked that. It was reminiscent of reading Grimm’s fairy tales versus watching the Disney versions. And I liked that Gregory Maguire just kind of put readers in the world. There were no lengthy info dumps or endless descriptions of why Oz was the way it was. He unapologetically left readers to their own devices. I don’t always like this; sometimes I do want that explanation. But it worked here, and I thought it was brilliant. So many readers seem to want to know “why was this?” or “why was that?” We don’t get those answers always, and sometimes things just are the way they are. If that’s something you don’t like, stay away from this book. As for me, the “not knowing” and the “this is just how it is” really allowed my imagination to soar.
Along that note, with regards to the chronological jumps in between sections that I mentioned earlier, it seemed to me that some people were bothered by those. Characters who seem to play rather important roles in one section don’t always show up in the next section, and we don’t always find out what happens to them until some time later. I can see why that bothers people, but really, if you looked at random chapters in my life, the same thing would happen.
As far as Elphaba goes, as the main character, I honestly cannot remember the last time I loved a character as much as I loved her. My heart broke for her again & again, and yet she was always trying to overcome. I’ve always been one to root for the underdog, and I thought what Maguire tried to do with her & with this book was fascinating. Again, there were people who were upset that Dorothy only made a brief appearance in this book, but Dorothy was not the point. Elphaba was. And Dorothy’s role in her life was very minor in comparison to other aspects.
There really are “two sides to every story,” and I thought Elphaba was completely captivating & absolutely compelling. I will never look at the Wicked Witch of the West the same way again. From the very moment of her birth, she has people declaring that she’s evil, and this book takes a very interesting & philosophical look at the nature of evil & where it comes from & whether or not people can ever truly overcome others’ expectations.
All in all, this book was so many things for me: brilliant, compelling, heartwrenching, witty, enchanting, gritty, fascinating. I adored it, and I genuinely cannot wait to delve into the rest of this series. As I’ve said, if you want to give it a go, lose your musical/movie expectations and prepare yourself for the dark & enchanting world of Gregory Maguire’s Oz.