Gregory Maguire
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Buy *Wicked* online

Gregory Maguire
406 pages
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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When I was a child in the early '70s, one of the Big Three networks aired the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz" with some regularity, about once a year or so. I watched it every time it was on, captivated again and again by the struggle between Dorothy's innocent "good" (ironic, given Judy Garland's eventual reputation) and the absolute "evil" of the green-skinned Wicked Witch of the West.

In early junior high school, I discovered L. Frank Baum's whole blessed series of Oz books and raced through them all. I decided that the original creation was far superior to the movie - which I now own on video, so it's still beloved to me - in delving deeper into the society of Oz and depicting in loving detail the quirkier aspects of that enchanted land. It occurs to me that Oz is a venerable ancestor of Piers Anthony's Xanth, but that strays from the point at hand.

A few years ago, I picked up a brand-new hardcover by Gregory Maguire called Wicked, purely on the basis of its subtitle: "The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West." I started reading and honestly could not stop, enchanted by Oz once again, and this time from a vastly different point of view and of sympathy.

Wicked's flavor is the gothic freakishness of Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor blended with liberal amounts of dark humor and socio-political satire a la Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins, seasoned with honesty, sympathy and earnestness. It is the heretofore untold story of the Wicked Witch of the West. In it we learn about

  • her name (Elphaba)
  • her childhood (really weird parents and unfortunate skin)
  • her sister (Nessarose, an armless conservative zealot who will become Wicked Witch of the East and who will die when Dorothy's Kansas house lands on her)
  • her schoolgirl days (where she and Glinda the "Good" will become reluctant pals)
  • her politics (she becomes a freedom fighter, working with an underground resistance movement to bring social rights to the thinking Animals, among other things)
  • her life's great sorrow, the loss of her one true love.
The infamous Dorothy is seen briefly in the prologue, but doesn't appear in the story proper until the fifth and final part of the book. Dorothy is depicted as a large-boned farm girl, a dull-witted but well-intentioned sort; Toto is "merely annoying." If you rewatch the movie, you'll grudgingly admit that this seemingly cruel characterization is actually pretty on-the-mark as far as the motion picture Dorothy goes.

Kirkus Reviews said "Save a place on the shelf between Alice and The Hobbit -- that spot is well-deserved." Wicked does earn a spot on the shelves of classic fantasy, but so does it earn a niche alongside the best modern literary fiction. Maguire has created a truly great -- and flawed -- heroine in a novel that is a psychological analysis on one of the most "evil" characters of the twentieth century.

I made this book my in-store staff recommendation twice when I was a bookseller, in hardcover and paperback, and my evident love for Wicked caused nearly half our store staff to read it for themselves. Two things we all agreed on: Wicked is one hell of a good book, and we will never look at Oz in the same way.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Sharon Schulz-Elsing, 2005

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