Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wicked - Gregory Maguire

1995; 519 pages. Full Title : Wicked - The Life & Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Genre : Revisionist fiction. Overall Rating : B.
In The Wizard of Oz, the nasty old Wicked Witch of the West is done in by Dorothy and water. Maguire postulates that L. Frank Baum's story is a slanted account; Wicked tells the story from Elphaba, the WWofW's point of view.
What's To Like...
Maguire creates a wonderful fantasy world of Oz. There are munchkins, dwarves and elves; and rumors even of dragons. There are various competing religions - unionists (with their Unnamed God), pleasure faithists (with their Clock of the Time Dragon) and Lurlinists (waiting for the Fairy Queen Lurline to return) being the most interesting. There are some great political, spiritual, and philosophical ponderings in the book, the main one being how the world determines what is wicked and what isn't.
Kewl stuff, but as a story, Wicked leaves something to be desired. Most notable are the annoying gaps in the tale. First we are introduced to Elphaba as a toddler. Then "poof, it's years later and she's heading off to college. "Poof" again, and it's years later, and Elphaba's now a revolutionary. "Poof" once more and she's leaving a nunnery after seven years to become a recluse in a castle in Vinkus. The final "poof" jumps us years ahead again to the fateful encounter with Dorothy.
Also, the issues Maguire presents (such as Animal/animal rights) are provocative, but never answered. Ditto for the plot details. We never really know why Elphaba came out green; who killed Porfessor Dillamond (he's a Goat, not a goat); whether Fiyiero is really dead; and what happened to Sarima and her sisters.
Moreover, while we're introduced to some well-developed and fascinating secondary characters (such as Elphaba's mom Melena, Boq, Glinda, and the flaming twosome of Crope and Tibbett), it's best not to get too attached to them, because most of them don't make the jump across the gaps.
Finally the sex scenes and cuss words felt ill-fitting and unnecessary. I don't mind such things when they enhance the story (they certainly fit well in anything written by Bukowski), but here they detract. TMI.
An excerpt...
"You're not wicked," said Boq.
"How do you know. It's been so long," said the Witch, but she smiled at him.
Boq returned the smile, warmly. "Glinda used her glitter beads, and you used your exotic looks and background, but weren't you just doing the same thing, trying to maximize what you had in order to get what you wanted? People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us." He sighed. "It's people who claim that they're good , or anyway better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of." (pg. 457)
We're off to see that no-good Wizard...
Wicked had the potential to be either a superb fantasy story or a superb philosophical treatise. But by trying to be both, it failed to be great at either. It dragged at times, especially the first half. Yet it's still a good book, and there's no denying it's well-written. Perhaps some of the unanswered questions and plot details are addressed in the sequels. Ditto for the engaging, but short-lived characters. So we'll give it a "B", plus kudos to whoever managed to turn this into a highly-successful musical.


Amanda said...

I have been leery about this book for a long time and I don't think I want to read it. I'm glad to hear a review pointing out the parts that didn't work so well, because it sounds like one I wouldn't like so much. Thanks.

hamilcar barca said...

it wasn't the page-turner i thought it would be. it's not that it's bad; it's more like it sorely needed an editor. there's at least two Oz sequels to this; so maybe the books get less disjointed as they go along.

Unknown said...

As a BIG fan of the old Oz books, I've been meaning to read this book forever. This is the first negative review of it that I've heard, interesting points.

hamilcar barca said...

Nikki reviewed the most-recent sequel (A Lion Among Men) here at 5-Squared a while back. she wasn't impressed with it, although she implies that she liked Wicked.

Jason, it's funny. i always thought there was just the one Wizard of Oz book. i had no idea there were sequels. a lot of the characters in Wicked are from the 2nd and 3rd books in the series. i don't recall ever reading even TWoO, so I'm thinking about going to the library and getting into Baum's Oz books.

L said...

I completely agree with your review. I had a lot of questions in the end, especially about the green issue, the weird sex stuff (remember the...what was it a Tiger, or a Lion scene with the guy?) and the munchkin cussing. It jerked me out of the story, and for me that's saying something.

It was a whimsical, fun premise, but in the end I was a little disappointed.

Unknown said...

Oh yes, and the sequels are priceless - of my favorite characters, in fact, none of them are from the first book (Ozma, Mombi, the Patchwork Girl...)

Rebecca Reid said...

I read this probably a decade ago and I remember liking it, but what I liked was the political aspects because I was in the middle of a political science course when i read it.

I absolutely love the musical.

I thought I maybe wanted to reread the book, but now I'm thinking I don't want to...

Trixie said...

I read a good bit of this book, probably 2/3rds and had trouble finishing. Now that I read your review I can better pinpoint that the disjointedness really got to me. Most of your concerns irritated me as well, Hamilcar.
As for the musical, I loved it, and I've seen it twice.
The original L. Frank Baum books are wonderful and are available free online since they are in the public domain. Here is the website I found with the list of authors with works in the public domain:

Julie said...

Another book I have been quite curious about but haven't read yet. I'm glad to read your review and I'm thinking that it still doesn't entice me to read it for now, so I'll let it stay on the shelf.
I might like to see the musical if I had the chance though.

hamilcar barca said...

Lula - it was a tiger, and that's a perfect example of a pointless sex scene. what did it add to the story? it didn't impact anything thereafter. and it certainly didn't affect Elphaba's life; she wasn;'t even present.

Jason - Ozma gets mentioned quite a bit in Wicked. Ditto for some "tik-tok" men, who apparently are introduced in OZ-3.

Rebecca - the political, moral, and religious aspects are what kept me from giving this a lower rating. there are a lot of meaty issues raised. i think one's enjoyment of Wicked depends to a certain degree on how important a storyline is. unfortunately, when i'm reading a fantasy-world book, i'm kinda partial to a strong plot.

Trixie, Julie, and Rebecca - both my son and my wife say the musical was fantastic! much different from the book, of course. however, i have been banned from attending musicals. which is best for all parties.

TaylorSwift said...

As many of Musicals lovers I LOVE the Wicked! It is my favourite ever... Last year I’ve been in NY & I tried to get my ticket …guess what everything was sold out that show how great the show is. Anyhow I end up getting it from a site through Next week I’m going to visit my sister and I just got some pretty good tix from the same place

So I'll be analyzing as well as enjoying the show.