Wicked – book review

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Wicked is Gregory Maguire’s back story of the life of the wicked witch of the west from OZ. Watching the movie in TV growing up, I was always scared of the green skinned wicked witch. She represented pure evil to me. I never stopped to think that she had a mother and a father. I never even gave much thought to the fact that her sister is killed at the beginning of the movie and that a valuable family heirloom was lost when Dorothy stole the ruby slippers. She had reason to be upset.

Gregory Maguire must have considered all those elements of the story that most of us just pass over. So he created an entire history for the wicked witch. He even gave her a name. I never realized that we never know the witch’s name in the movie. I have never read the book by Frank Baum but apparently he did not give her a name either. She just went by her title.

Maguire creates parents for her. She is a preacher’s child. I thought that was funny, having known a few preachers children in the past. They did always seem to be the evil ones. Of course they decide that her green skin is a curse upon the family.

The West Witch is the first born and the East Witch is her younger sister who also has a birth defect. The story of how they both overcome their physical limitations is a great character study in the beginning of the book. The briefest mention of her parent’s polyamary lifestyle was also interesting to me. Her actual biological father hood is held secret until near end of the story.

I found the story of her being college roommates with Glinda the good witch to be quite an interesting twist. The fact that they might have been good and close friends until she gave away the slippers had never occurred to me. I had just assumed them to be life long enemies.

The Wicked Witch’s life story seems to be one of failures and near misses. She seems to get very close to achieving her goals and then is thwarted in some way. Even her famous death scene in the movie is more of an accident than an assignation.

I loved how Maguire worked important elements of the original story into his story as well. For example you get to read how her sister was the one who enchanted the axe that turned the tree cuter into the tin woodsman. Possibly it was one of her dear college friends that built the scarecrow. And the lion was one she had helped rescue as a cub.

The wicked Witch is portrayed as an animal lover and a strong supporter of animal rights. The flying monkeys were her biological creation based on her study of life sciences in school. I almost cried when the Tin Woodsman killed her dog that she had sent to welcome Dorothy to the castle.

The troubled life of the Wicked Witch resonates with many people I am sure. Reading the story made me think of my own failings and near misses. There are a lot of religious question posed by the characters in the book as well. These resonate with me also.

I got the feeling that Maguire’s own religious beliefs changed as he was writing the book. Or maybe he was afraid to pose the questions early it in the work for fear of alienating the readers. There is a strong metaphysical tone that underlies all of the religious discussions. My favorite part was the creation theory that involved a Dragon dreaming OZ into existence. I assume Maguire was posing his own personal questions about the nature of life through the voices of the characters.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book. One drawback was the vocabulary. Maguire used a lot of words I am not familiar with and I had to infer the meaning from the context or be distracted from the story to look them up. Then there was his tendency to make up words. So sometimes I was faced with not knowing if it was a word I did not know if it was one he simply made up. I felt like I missed some of the intricate details of the story because I tended to just skip those parts after a while.

I think my favorite part of the story was the time when the Wicked Witch was involved in a rebel movement to help restore the rights to Animals. The thought of the Wicked Witch having a passionate love affair had never entered my mind before reading Wicked. But I was confused by the story of her child. I am not sure why Maguire chose to be so vague about the child. I felt more confused than mystified by the description.

Now, I have to read the original Baum version of OZ. I am sure that when I reread Wicked it will seem like a completely different book. I also thought it was funny that the next book I picked up to read began with a story of someone comparing his boss to the Wicked Witch of the West. I so wanted to yell at this fictional character to tell him that there may be much more to this person’s personality that you see.