Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West was not really the story I was expecting when I first picked up the book this summer. It tells the life story of Elphaba, best known as the Wicked Witch of the West from Frank L. Baum’s Oz series, but it deals only briefly with the events in the movie and from an entirely different perspective. For some reason, I assumed it was going to be rather funny and fantastical, but in fact it is quite dark.
The story begins as Elphaba’s mother is pregnant, a noblewoman married to an unpopular preacher in an isolated area. Her daughter is born green, with sharp teeth and an enormous aversion to water. Her father thinks she is born green as a punishment of the Unnamed God, whereas her mother and Nanny suspect she might be the result of a intoxicated tryst with a green man. Given her strange appearance and apparent vicious nature, Elphaba has difficulty bonding with the people in her life, and this sense of isolation and independence is likely Elphaba’s most distinguishing characteristic.
The remainder of the novel follows Elphaba as she grows into adulthood, the events of her life set against larger political landscape. The politics of Oz are explained in great detail, and they have been complicated for a long time. There is a political movement to exclude talking Animals from everyday life, there is government sponsored genocide and conspiracies, and there is family drama that reflects the larger issues behind this. Throughout it all, Elphaba tries to do the right thing, with gestures big and small, although the results are unpredictable and disaster often occurs. This is made evident in how Elphaba reacts to the arrival of Dorothy in Oz – the perspective of Wicked on this familiar story show that the Wicked Witch and Dorothy share much more in common that one might think.
I found some parts of this book really kind of boring and drawn out, but generally enjoyed how much intelligent interaction there is amongst the female characters. Although they all have their own agendas, their relationships are complicated and interesting and taken seriously by Maguire. It is an interesting book, but it isn’t actually very much fun to read. I know that Maguire has written a series of books stemming from this one, but I am uncertain if I am going to pick them up as well.