“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?”
Brilliant plot, isn’t it? When I first saw this book I couldn’t help but to be intrigued and I wanted to read it right off the shelf. Wicked is the back story of Elphaba, the green-skinned girl who will grow up to become the Wicked Witch of the West in F.L. Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. All throughout the book we are presented with questions and debates on the subject of the true nature of good and evil. Where does evil come from? Are we born with it? Or if not, how does one succumb to it?
After reading it, I was both satisfied and dissatisfied. Gregory Maguire’s Oz is a wonderfully imagined world; and the book has a good sense of humor. I found myself laughing every now and then, especially at Elphaba’s sarcasm. But there were characters which I didn’t see the significance to the story as a whole. Maybe I just didn’t understand their importance, yet. Not sure. The NY Times bestseller Son of a Witch is actually the sequel and I’ve read somewhere that some of the characters in Wicked played important roles here. I just think that if one did not know that these characters would be needed in the sequel, he/she wouldn’t see the point of their introduction in the first book. Also, a huge part of my dissatisfaction comes from Elphaba’s character itself. It’s not that Maguire lacked character development; I was just expecting a totally different outcome in terms of Elphaba’s nature.
In Wicked, although way odd as compared to other children – she had green skin, for one – Elphaba wasn’t born “wicked”. Except for her skin and her fear of water (which the author didn’t explain thoroughly as to why. Or maybe he did and I just didn’t get it), she grew up to be normal. She was a good daughter and a loving sister. She loved reading and was very smart. She was mostly misunderstood but she had her group of friends, which included Galinda (later Glinda, the Good Witch of the North who gave Dorothy the famous shoes and sent her to Emerald City), which became one of her closest friends. She fought for Animals’ rights and joined them in their effort to be treated as first-class citizens. As she grew old she bacame an underground agent of some sort for an organization which was working against the Wizard of Oz’s rule. For reasons I would no longer enumerate here, her actions against the Wizard were justifiable, at least when you look at them from her point of view. She didn’t believe in God nor the concept of a soul, but deep within her she craved for one. For years she lived with maunts and attended the sick and the old. She traveled long and hard to meet Sarima, her lover’s wife, and told her that it wasn’t her fault her husband died, it was hers (Elphaba), and she would want to ask forgiveness. She was innately good. So how did she become the “Wicked Witch”?
Overall it would seem that it has just been a huge misunderstanding. When Dorothy came, Elphaba thought the child would kill her in obedience to what the Wizard told her to do. So of course, she did everything to stop Dorothy and defended herself against her. In the end we realize that Elphaba was a victim of circumstances and characters which were strongly suggested to have shaped her fate from the day she was born. The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t evil after all. It was a label given to her by the ones who were antagonistic towards her – a label she adapted to “get the benefit of it”.
It would’ve been more fun if her character turned out to be really vicious and evil. LOL. But that’s just me. It’s still highly recommended. And I would still love to read other Gregory Maguire books like Son of A Witch and Confessions of An Ugly Stepsister.
Wicked was also made into a broadway play, by the way, which became a smash hit.