Happy Monday! There are four books in this series, but I ended up making 6 posts for this series. One for each book review, a series review, and a themes review of wicked. That means that I will have two weeks dedicated to The Wicked Years, and split the posts up three and three. First of the Three is this review!
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
Synopsis From The Book
When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?
Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where 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. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about good and evil.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I have read half way through Wicked and then I put it down and never picked it back up by accident. This is because I most certainly forgot to pick it up. I remember loving a lot of this book while reading it the first time I did. As it is now, I have seen the musical and read most of this. So I know exactly what is going to happen and why, but I am invested in the details. So! For Newts, I decided to come back to this story series and to try to actually finish it this time without dropping it. Can I do it?
We had better hope. I invested a lot of Newt space for these books.
Two: I think I remember why I DNFed by accident. There is writing and comments in the pages. They probably drove me nuts last time. Good luck me.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Hurray! I made it through and you know what? I am not so surprised I did. The comments in the book did not bother me as much (must be from all the ones I’ve read in the past) and I loved this book just as much as I thought I would. It was a great experience and I have a lot to say about it.
This book was published a full ten years before the sequel. It is for that reason that I am going to write this review separately from the others. When I have read all the books, I will write a series review but for now this will be pretty extensive into themes.
I’m going to break this down by the sections of this book
Before the book begins we get the Wicked Witch of the West listening to Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man, and the Scarecrow. They are speaking about the Wicked Witch of the West and how she is said to be evil, possessed by demons and the likes.
We start off with Elphaba being born. The night she is born a riot breaks out telling of disaster. Her father and mother are almost killed but are not. Elphaba is born and shortly after bites off a woman’s finger. She is born not crying, with teeth, and green skin. She is part something, but her mother does not admit who the true father is. Some believe the little girl possessed and evil, others do not know.
Elphaba does not like water, but she does like breaking things and playing with the parts. Her mother gets pregnant again with a different man this time. When she first speaks at two years old the word is “horror.” She disappears for a moment and when she is found, she is under the docks repeating the word “horror” as she stares into a glass mirror and is cradled by a sort of tiger (tiger and dragon hybrid, or a felltop tiger). The Queen Ozma is over thrown by the Wizard sometime after then, or even that night.
The story takes place nearly fifteen years later. We meet Galinda who is a girl going to a once all male university for the first time. She hopes to prove her brilliance. After her Ama (guardian) gets hurt, Galinda lies to keep her status as a girl with money and is put into the same dorm as Elphaba. Elphaba and Galinda do not get along what so ever, but they do their best to stay out of each other’s ways.
A boy named Boq meets them and falls for Galinda. They become sort of friends. Elphaba joins with a Goat named Doctor Dillamond who is researching the differences between Animals and animals and Humans in an attempt to put a stop to the new bans on Animals that are coming into place. Animals (with a capital A) are being treated as third class citizens and are being stripped of their rights in the new Wizard era.
Over the summer the group grows closer and at the end of the summer Doctor Dillamond is killed. Galinda’s Ama falls ill and Galinda is changed (Glinda from here on out). Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister, comes to the university with their Nanny, for they need a guardian. Nessarose is pink skinned and has no arms, supposedly due to the drugs her mother took to ensure her second child was not green like Elphaba. Glinda and Elphaba speak to the Head of the woman’s section of the university and discover she is the one behind Doctor Dillamond’s death. Nessarose, Elphaba, and Glinda are pulled into a plot to become agents for the Wizard regime and to keep people in their place. Elphaba rejects this, and takes Glinda with her to speak to the Wizard himself. They realize that there is nothing they can do to make the man listen to them, and Elphaba refuses to return to the school. She kisses Glinda goodbye.
City of Emeralds
Five years after the last section, Glinda is now a Saint and graduated from Shiz University with her focus in sorcery. Fiyero is traveling through Emerald City when he sees Elphaba. Fiyero is a boy who joined Shiz university shortly after Doctor Dillamond’s death. The two get to talking and end up beginning an affair. The affair last two months and is filled with passion where they realize they love each other. Elphaba, having disappeared, is a part of a group trying to kill the Wizard. Elphaba’s friends and family are worried about her but Fiyero never tells her secret. Elphaba goes to do her mission and ends up being taken care of by nuns of the church of Saint Glinda. Fiyero, who had been following her, is beaten to death by the Gale Force (force working for the Wizard).
In The Vinkus
Seven years later, Elphaba and her son Liir are traveling from the mauntery where Elphaba had staid in that time. Elphaba does not know for certain that Liir is her son, but she also knows he is. They travel to Fiyero’s home and it is here that they meet his family. They stay for a year, because Elphaba is not able to tell his wife the truth of his death and her hand in it. One of Fiyero’s son’s dies, after Liir almost dies. Elphaba takes to calling herself a Witch and has a magic broom, a magic book, a set of crows, a set of bees, a monkey, and a wolfdog. (All she got in this travel to see Fiyero’s family). Elphaba sees her Nanny again. who has come looking for her.
Her Nanny brings news of Nessarose who is now the Eminence of the East or Witch of the East. Nessa can stand on her own now thanks to her magic shoes. Elphaba’s father writes to her, and they talk about how they want Elphaba to take over because Nessa is too religious. Nessa and Elphaba meet, and Elphaba realizes that Nessa sees Animals as lesser, and is too caught up in her religious dogma to notice other issues in Munchkinland. Naming herself the Witch of the West, Elphaba leaves her sister and returns to the Vinkus (Fiyero’s home land) to find that his family has been taken by the Wizard soldiers.
The Murder And Its Afterlife
Liir is fourteen now (Another seven years later) and Nessa is called the Wicked Witch of the East (or Eminent Thropp “depending on your political stripe.”) Dorothy’s house lands, and the end political games begin. Glinda magics Nessa’s shoes to Dorothy and Elphaba wants them back. If the Wizard gets them, its effectively a signal for the Wizard to take back Munchkinland. Elphaba goes about trying to get them back and talks to others (realizing that in some ways Dorothy was like her). Elphaba ends up fixing the lose ends of her life and Dorothy comes to “kill her.” Elphaba meets her, many of her pets die, and Elphaba accidentally lights herself on fire.
Dorothy throws water on her to save her, and ends up washing her away instead. The Wizard leaves, the world is returned to a state of sort of peace, and Dorothy disappears for good? (No one fully knows for certain. It becomes a Myth)
What I Liked:
At first I was going to write all the themes and go into deep study of them all, but then I decided that it was going to take up far too much space. Thus I will give you a list and then write them out in another post.
Themes: Radicalized Religion, Racism, Wind and Death, The Nature of Being Evil, The Nature of Being Good, What is the Soul, Destiny, Memory and Stories,
For the analysis go here.
Elphaba; She is the child of two words and very, very powerful. For our principal character, we really don’t get much of her until she is already more Wicked than Good. We get her perspective when she has given up on much everything in her life and wants to die. The others won’t let her. Elphaba wanted nothing more to be good but created a bunch of problems and made many mistakes and they resulted in many deaths. She was never as evil as she truly thought herself, but rather a victim. Her whole life she was said to be evil, but in all her actions I only ever fully saw goodness. She tried to help others. She tried to right wrongs. She stood up for what she believed in, and never fully went out of her way to hurt others. She accepted pain for she was outsider, but she used her power to try to help and it was only when she saw she could do more that she suffered. She wanted love, that in some ways she could never have. She had to leave Galinda, her Nanny, and Nessa. Fiyero was killed. Her father loved her sister more and her mother died because of her brother. She wanted love and never fully could get it, and it did end up being what destroyed her, because she was so focused on running from love that she could never have it. Can I blame her? No, but in some ways she is more tragic than deserving. I will never fully believe that she was wicked. But then, what is Wickedness?
Galinda/Glinda; She is a great example of the blindness. When we get Glinda in the second part she is focused on trying to be perfect and an example of what the others will look up to. She is too focused on trying to be noticed, and perfect, and to fit in, that she notices the world around her but doesn’t fully care for it. She is not dull, she is very bright and understands a lot, but she acts in a way that allows her to fit in and discards this wit. Glinda loses her blindness, which is what turns her from Galinda to Glinda, when her Ama is hurt. She is hurt due to Glinda’s lie and Glinda learns some horrible truths of the world, but, as noted by Elphaba, she returns to her blindness in the end (I’d say after Elphaba left her in part two). She chooses the blindess this time, because it is easier to be be naive than to know or to care to know.
Fiyero; As we can see with Nessa (see below), Fiyero is a character that represents the goodness that can destroy others. It is his goodness, and wanting to help Elphaba that ends up with the death of himself, Elphaba being hurt, and his family abandoned. So much horror happens from his goodness. In this can we truly call him good?
Nessarose; She is a brilliant example of goodness that is not truly good. She is a good person and identifies as good and she has good actions, but in the end her good actions do ostracize and does destroy a lot of the peace. She thinks herself good, as opposed to her sister’s evil and she creates a lot of evil in the world. Nessa is not crazy, but she is devout. She believes in what she does not know and in many ways her life was just a waiting point before she could reach the better world after life. Nessa was bad in the word of it, creating magic to hurt people, ruining lives, and making people hate. However she did do good, as such as the revolution. She was just to focused on something else that she wasn’t seeing the world around her, a sort of blindness to the world that she was so dedicated to saving without actually being able to see it. Many of the characters are blind in ways, but Nessa is a great example of this blindness as well as what it means to be the good that people are weary of.
Writing; From the way the book is sectioned into to the writing style itself, this book is an interesting one in regards to the writing. Firstly we have five sections separated by years at a time. The first of Elphaba’s birth, then Shiz University, then when she is an insurgent, then becoming a Witch, and then with Dorothy. I found this particularly intriguing, for it touched on her life and the acts of what was going on around in her life without it ever fully being told in her perspective until the end. The book was always Elphaba in other’s eyes, which show us that she is neither good nor evil, but a being, despite how evil and soulless she thinks herself. I liked this choice. I also liked the use of vernacular, as well as writing style in general. This book is dense, and filled with symbolism all over it. Much of the strife that is occurring in the world is told through asides and stories. I adore this.
Connection to original story; This comes in at the very beginning and at the very end, and in some ways it really is an interesting call to the actual events of what happened in that story. Now I can’t speak for certain, as I have never read the books, but I have seen the movie. I know that now, I must read the books (why are there so many?).
Density of history, politics, culture, and religion; We get so much on all the cultures and their politics. We see how the cultures interact as well as their histories and myths. My favorite part is how the myths and how the religion of the world come into odds with each other and also support each other. Each aspect is real, complicated, good and evil. I found this well developed and beautiful.
Relation to the Play:
How many times have I seen this play? Too many, and enough to say with confidence that the play and the book are very different beasts. The play takes the essence of Wicked and takes upon most of its fundamental themes and gives us a nice precise story. However we don’t get some character’s (Liir and Fiyero’s family). We do not get much of Elphaba’s time outside of Shiz, for the first act is dedicated to Shiz and the second is dedicated to the after and mostly the end of the fourth part. We see how her mother and the Wizard were connected, where as in the book that is at the end. We do not get Elphaba’s time as a child. We get events and character connections that were not there (Nessa and Boq for instance).
So lets begin with all the things this play changes.
Characters. Some are erased, some relationships are changed. Boq becomes the Tin Man. Fiyero is changed (to the scarecrow) in the end to protect him. Boq and Nessa have a connection. Their father is in charge of Munchkinland (instead of their mother). Liir is erased. Fiyero’s family is erased. Elphaba’s monkey is changed to the Wizard’s monkey. The monkey servants are also the Wizard’s not Elphaba’s creation.
Events. We start with Shiz, and most of Shiz is the same (for the most part, but things are thrown in). Elphaba leaving is due to a mob, but it’s act two that has the most changes. It is a hybrid of parts four and five, and Fiyero is tortured for information instead of beaten as he is in part 3. The parts are all thrown together for the second act, in a way that makes sense but is not the same as the book.
Those are the two most pivotal parts so lets look at what stays: Themes. The general and most important themes remain (racism/otherness, nature of evil, and nature of good).
What I like about the play (other than the music) was that it is wholly its own outside of the book, but does take from the book where it needs. It is based on, but does not rely on and in that way it has fully held up to the book. Because it is not the same, we should think of them as two tellings of similar stories in two different ways instead of one as an adaption of the other.
I like them both, for different reasons, story telling and otherwise. And to me they are distinct.
Time Taken To Read
“Was she to be taken seriously, or was she merely a blow-away dandelion seed, caught on the wrong side of the wind? If she could see the girl’s face, the Witch felt she might know.” – pg 3
“She did not listen; or she listened but to something else, to something inside her. It was the sound without melody – like dream music, remembered for its effect, but not for its harmonic distresses and recoveries.” – pg 8
“That’s the real power of art, I think. Not to chide but to provoke challenge. Otherwise why bother?” – pg 86
“Its the age of daring… It’s the only time we have. We must live in the present. We are young and alive.” – pg 102
“Ask me no questions and I’ll spell you no lies.” – pg 185
“There was much to hate in this world, and too much to love.” – pg 228
“To the grim poor there need be no pour quoi tale about where evil arises; it just arises; it always is. One never learns how the witch became wicked, or whether that was the right choice for her — is it ever the right choice? Does the devil struggle to be good again, or if so is he not a devil? It is at the very least a question of definitions.” – pg 231
‘ And of the Witch? In the life of a Witch, there is no after, in the ever after of a Witch, there is no happily; in the story of a Witch, there is no afterword. Of the part that is beyond the life story, beyond the story of the life, there is — alas, or perhaps thank mercy — no telling. She was dead, dead and gone, and all that was left of her was the carapace of her reputation for malice.
“And there the wicked old Witch stayed, for a good long time.”
“Did she ever come out?”
“Not yet.” ‘ – pg 406