Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I read this book 11/2011. I really loved this book! I initially checked it out because it is the source material for the Broadway musical of the same name. I would like to one day see the musical, if I like say win the lottery and have the money to go, so I wanted to read the book first in case it is like most film adaptations of books where people always say "it was good but the book is better."

This is definitely not your children's version of Oz right from the beginning pages of the novel. There is a lot of sexual material in the book right from the start, often too much and I found that off-putting, and a fair amount of political matters as well. However, the story is a clever twist, especially if you are most familiar with the land of Oz via the classic movie The Wizard of Oz (1939) starring Judy Garland, or the children's' novels of L. Frank Baum. This is Oz for grownups.

The book centers around the life of Elphaba, who will eventually come to be known as "The Wicked Witch of the West," from her birth to her death. We get a peak at a few years of her childhood out in the country with her preacher father and loose mother who came from a titled family. Then we spend a year or so with her at college, which surprised me, and we learn how she came into contact with Galinda (eventually goes with the nickname Glinda we all know) who will become her friend and find Elphaba becoming a strong advocate for Animal rights (the difference between a mere animal and an Animal is explained in the book). This is also how she comes to be in the Emerald city, which is the next section of the book, in a secret group determined to take down the ruthless dictator of the city. Here the "wonderful wizard of Oz" is not so wonderful but a corrupt politician in every sense of the phrase. Eventually she takes a lover (some very adult content) and tries to be a young and strong-willed political activist. Things don't work out too well, so we flash forward to a few years later where she is in a kind of convent and leaving for the far west with a boy to rectify some of the tragedy surrounding the events of her and her lover whom she met in college and who was a prince. That is how she ends up in the castle, creates flying monkeys who talk (she is working on it), and eventually ends up meeting Dorothy and her ultimate demise via water, by accident.

The great quality of the book I think is that it makes Oz quite similar to real life. Elphaba is a young woman who is a bit different (green skin, allergic to water) and engaged in a spirited youthful drive to rid the world of cruelty to Animals and fight for Animal rights, beginning in her college years, which I think a good many of us can relate to: youthful enthusiasm and the desire to change the world. She then goes through a few bumps and bruises along the way while trying to live a good life, but things just don't quite work out for her.

Oz is more of a mix of power hungry politicians and the social elite instead of a land where good and evil are clearly defined. Elphaba was not a wicked person nor was she born a "witch," that was a chosen and respected profession in the book, to become a sorceress. In actuality she was following the path of science and the study of how Animals acquired the higher intelligence that they had which separated them from the mere barn animals that were sources of food. And her death was not the great and justified quest to rid the world of evil as it was in the film. It was a mere accident in the tower, which I will leave for you to discover when you read this interesting contemporary novel.

Needless to say I think this book was excellent and causes you to look at Oz as another world, one that is a fantasy where magic is common but, not with the simple and clearly defined epic quest of one chosen good person struggling against a token tyrant, at least not in the way the movies always make them in an Arthurian sort of way. As in real life, what is "wicked" is sometimes a matter of perspective and intentions. I am now reading the second book in the series Son of a Witch, and it is revealing even more about the story of Elphaba and the crazy land of Oz, hooking the readers with bits and pieces about the mysterious character of Mother Yackle and her role in the events of both books. There seems to be a much larger conspiracy afoot...

I would recommend this book to fans of the Oz story who want a more true-to-life idea of the land and those who like fiction in general, but definitely not to a youth audience, this is not a children's version of Oz.

And so it goes...
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