Author: Gregory Maguire
Publishing Information: December 5, 2000 by HarperCollins
Genre: Adult, Fantasy, Fairy tales
Series information: Book 1 in The Wicked Years
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Recommended For: Fans of darker fairy tale retellings with a mix of political intrigue
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 be 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.
Project Fairy Tale continues on the blog with a review of Gregory Maguire’s novel, Wicked.
I’m not going to lie to you, this is a hard book to read. In fact, when I tried to read it years ago I was still in high school and I could not understand it. I honestly had no clue what was going on. Then I saw the musical (twice) and realized that something so magnificent had to of stemmed from something equally amazing, so I picked the book up again. This time, I was in college and loads smarter than my high school self (HA!) and was able to better understand the layers of this story.
This is not the Oz that readers know and love from the novels by L. Frank Baum. To begin with, The Wicked Witch of the West isn’t so wicked. Instead we see her as a child named Elphaba, her green tinge is explained in a really interesting twist and we watch her attempt to stand up for the rights of citizens of Oz, both human and Animal. As readers we are able to take a glimpse into the lives of Elphaba and Galinda and see how they grew together, and apart. For readers expecting to read a fairytale retelling with the same childish merit as Oz, this book is not for you. In Wicked, things are not so black and white, the characters are layered and most importantly, flawed. This book is not filled with happy endings, in actuality, many of the endings are rather harsh and unnerving. There are conclusions, but mostly there are threads left unraveled writhing in the wind. There is friendship, but mostly there is loneliness. There is love, but mostly there is heartbreak.
This is not an easy novel to read, it is political, and at times gruesome and downright confusing. However it is also imaginative, dark, and deeply perceptive, as if the book looks right into the deep recesses of your soul. Let it be known that to appreciate Wicked, it takes close, intense reading, and it isn’t a novel that you can pick up and finish in a day. It is a story that you need to process over time to fully appreciate, but if you take the time you will see what a brilliant storyteller Gregory Maguire is and at the conclusion, you will never look at Baum’s Oz the same again.