REVIEW: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (The Wicked Years #1) by Gregory Maguire

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars, Genre: Fantasy, Pages: 406, Reading Level: Intermediate

Book Description:

In Baum’s land of Oz, 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. Green-skinned Elphaba, future Wicked Witch of the West, is smart, prickly and misunderstood; she challenges our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.

One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her- is it ever the right choice? p231

That actually sums up Wicked very well, but Wikipedia also has a pretty good summary:

The novel is a political, social, and ethical commentary on the nature of good and evil and takes place in The Land of Oz, in the years leading to Dorothy’s arrival. The story centers on Elphaba, the misunderstood green-skinned girl who grows up to become the notorious Wicked Witch of the West.

It has happened before and indeed happened again with Wicked. I read this book a long time ago and remember enjoying it; I just forgot how much. However, in all honesty it is not an easy book to read. I can’t quite place my finger on what it is that makes it a difficult read for some but I do know several people who could not get into it.

And I should add one little disclaimer- I am a sucker for The Wizard of Oz. I collect the Marvel graphic novels and enjoy reimaginings; I read the prequel to and am looking forward to Dorothy Must Die.

While I think you will get more from the story if you have read The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, it is not necessary in order to enjoy Wicked. As long as you know the basic story or have seen the movie, I am pretty confident you will appreciate most of the references to its inspiration. With that said, the book is much better than the movie and is no longer under copyright, so you can get the entire eBook series for free on Amazon or in all formats from manybooks.net. You can also purchase the entire eBook series for 99 cents on Barnes & Noble.

Wicked is told from The Wicked Witch of the West’s point of view beginning with her birth and turns everything we thought we knew about her upside down. Was she really the heroine of The Wizard of Oz whose demise was a tragic accident? Was she an advocate for those who suffered the consequences of discrimination? Was her reclusiveness nothing more than a manifestation of her insecurities?

Wicked is an intelligent and well written book. It will give you a whole different perception of the classic story and its characters:

Galinda was slow coming to terms with actual learning. She had considered her admission into Shiz University as a sort of testimony to her brilliance, and believed that she would adorn the halls of learning with her beauty and occasional clever sayings. She supposed, glumly, that she had meant to be a sort of living marble bust: This is Youthful Intelligence; admire Her. Isn’t She lovely? p75

I left truly disliking Glinda and sympathizing with Elphaba. Now add a healthy dose of realism:

“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.” p357

Had these folks deteriorated in virtue since their youth, or had she been too naive then to see them for what they were? p361

Since Wicked explores Elphaba’s nature and whether or not she is truly wicked, the story is replete with discussions on religion and the nature of evil:

“But did the Unnamed God create evil intentionally, or was it just a mistake in creation?” p371

If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move- if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems- could you even stand? Or do you need religion as, say, the hippos in the Grasslands need the poisonous little parasites within them, to help them digest fiber and pulp? The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn’t an especially persuasive argument of living without it. Is religion itself- that tired and ironic phrase- the necessary evil? p387

Finally, the fact that I already knew how Elphaba’s story ends made it all the more tragic. And when you finally get to the end, you may still wonder if it is a tragic ending after all. The movie AI: Artificial Intelligence comes to mind…

Please don’t let me scare you off with all the heavy topics although they do provide more than ample opportunity for some interesting conversations. There’s plenty of drama, love, sex, murder and mystery. All in all, Wicked is a great story and I highly recommend it.

Reviewed by Christina
January 28, 2014

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