Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Busting out my born-and-raised Bostonian accent, let me just say, this is Wicked awesome!
Without taking itself too seriously, Gregory Maguire's Wicked takes Frank L. Baum's original work quite seriously, using reverential satire, witty wordplay and just plain silliness to tell a fan's version of the Wicked Witch of the West's backstory. Like a roaster lightly and lovingly giving the roastee a tender "going over", coddling his target out of a deep love and respect, Maguire delicately prods Baum's material, for instance, giving unintended meaning to or investing heavy with innuendo scenes and situations that the originator probably unintentionally left open to interpretation.
The book hinges upon the descent of the central character into a kind of madness. Maguire's Witch becomes a sort of Raskolnikov character, over thinking herself into believing her own mania, such as Dostoyevsky's anti-hero in Crime and Punishment. She is propelled by emotion, which she attempts to suppress, and an ideological movement, which she wholly embraces to the point of being enveloped by it. By the end, both have her wrapped within their choking grasp. Maguire's handling of this descent is relatively subtle. He takes his time to lay down some of the important breaking points in the Witch's life that eventually transform her from a little girl into a monster, a very real monster if not for the reasons she is perceived to be one.
I've read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz only once and have seen The Wizard of Oz movie countless times, so my ideas of how the story goes is skewed towards the Hollywood version. That's good and bad. Good, because this is one of those times when the movie improved upon the source material. Specifically, the movie cuts out a lot of unnecessary fluff that bogs the book down. Bad, because the movie distorts some parts of the book. That's not really a problem, unless you're trying to remember what's what and who's who in this Land of Oz Frank L. Baum created. Maguire relies heavily on the reader already knowing this stuff. If you don't, you'll be a bit lost in a wealth of new characters and creatures coming from Baum's pre-existing fantasy world. Maguire's layering on of politics will probably drag down the story and bore you. Plus you won't be in on some of the jokes! So yes, I'm suggesting you read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz before attempting Wicked.
It's taken a while for me to get around to reading it myself. I was under the impression that its appeal was directed towards women, since they were the only ones reading it. Certainly it has a feminine slant. Most of the principle characters are female. The other inhibitor was that Wicked had been turned into an extremely popular Broadway hit, heralded by a seemingly undiscerning, Disney-loving mass. The number of reviews right here on Goodreads by folks who first saw the show, then read this book and gave it a scathing review, seemed to back that theory up. However, that they lambasted it as "too vulgar", "not like the show at all", "too long" and that the musical "summed up the first half of the book in an 8 minute long song!" made me realize this was probably a really good book worth reading. If it makes non-readers hold their nose and back away, that's the book for me!
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