Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Reviewed by: Carrie Byrd
Review posted: 05/30/05
If you were born green, what would life be like? In a world where magic exists, where anything different is suspect and where even time is teetering the edge of revolution, maybe you’d think you wouldn’t stand out. You’d be wrong.
Elphaba was born into that world. She came into the world with a mouth full of sharp, perfect teeth and never lost her bite. Cautious, doubtful and cynical the world seems to her to be an untrustworthy place. And considering that she was born during a riot when people were trying to destroy her family, perhaps she was right.
Sounds dark and depressing, right? And I can’t deny that the book had some seriously dark moments, but it also had some funny ones. Some happy ones. There were some moments that were beautiful and horrible. Author Gregory Maguire knew that people were going to come in with certain expectations and he came prepared to defy them all.
Maguire manages a nice balance between the movie and the books as well, carefully avoiding isolating anyone who has picked the book up as a fan of Oz. But he did not hesitated to risk offending them, and did not hesitate to twist the characters we thought were good guys from simple ideals to deeper and more real individuals.
Most interesting to me is the way that Maguire deftly side stepped any direct contradictions to what we know of Oz. When Elphaba grows up and the time comes for her to take up the role of Wicked Witch of the West, the story falls easily together. Maguire never tries to rewrite the story, but instead simply tells it from a different point of view.
We are given the opportunity to see why the Wicked Witch was the way she was. And we are given the opportunity to explore the definition of wickedness. It also challenges how we define the truth. But more interestingly we get to see the danger of believing the prevailing point of view. Just because we hear the story from one point of view does not mean that is the only point of view or that it is the right point of view.
Maguire has definitely put together an incredible piece of work here, but it’s not flawless. Occasionally he gets a little caught up in his own cleverness and the story trips over itself. Once in a while he adds an unnecessary complication that makes it a bit too hard to follow. This was one of Maguire’s earliest adult novels and it has experienced slow growth. Published in 1995, it has grown in popularity in recent years. Contributing to this is the popularity of the Broadway musical based on the book.
All in all, Wicked is excellent and well worth reading. I look forward to reading more of Maguire’s work in the future.