Review of 'Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West'

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire

wicked.jpg Elpheba is born to a couple of “Munchinlanders”, the husband a religious zealot and her mother a bored housewife having an affair with a glassblower. Born with green skin Elpheba is initially marginalized by her family and the local people which goes onto shape her entire life. This persecution based on her appearance allows her to sympathise later with the systematic mistreatment of sentient animals - Animals (as opposed to “animals”, being those that are non-sentient). She goes to university where she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the self-obsessed materialistic Galinda. Elpheba helps an Animal professor researching the connection between animals, Animals and humans but when the professors is murdered she is shocked to the core. After leaving university she goes into hiding in a cloister as she tries to figure out who she really is and what she is meant to be where she is eventually found by Fiyero, a university friend who is now married with children, with whom she has an affair that was doomed from the beginning. Later she spends time secluded in a convent before finally finding a home in the west in a castle where she learns to at last embrace her destiny which we know from the “Wizard of Oz”…

I am perhaps one of the many that have seen the “Wicked” musical before having read the book. While certain elements from the musical are certainly present here this is a very different story. Here Elpheba - The “Wicked Witch of the West” is far more enigmatic with much more depth. This is not the Oz of the “Wizard of Oz” with sex, swearing, political intrigue, and down-right gritty nature of the land of Oz. Though perhaps more realistic I am not sure it is a better representation. It does, however, show the potential motivations of what is, in the movie (or, indeed, the original books by L. Frank Baum), a one-dimensional evil character which I think is why the book did so well when it was published.

As to what it is like as a book, I found it seemed to lose it's way in the long-drawn out, meandering, middle third of the book before accelerating in the final third as it joins up with the events of the “Wizard of Oz” (for fans of the movie, don't look too closely as it is not a perfect match). It took me a long time to read as I did not feel all that engaged with the story or characters though, obviously, sympathetic to Elpheba's fate. “Wicked” is well written with the world of Oz fleshed out in quite a lot of detail (see the maps at the beginning for example). As with a lot of fantasy I did find I got a bit lost with the details of Oz - Town names, the names of the people, the political situation, etc.

I guess in summary, I really did not engage with the story as much as I did with the musical perhaps it is because Elpheba is not as simple as she is portrayed there. Occasionally amusing, this book is not a fun-filled romp but it is an admirable attempt to shed light on the nature of evil with the idea that perhaps people are not always what they seem. In this, it is successful.

Rating: “Average, but who wants to be average?”

Review Date: 2016-11-08

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: 2007

ISBN: 9780061350962