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

When you dissect it, what is the Wizard of Oz? You can pick it apart from the movie if you wish. Most of us experienced the film rather than L. Frank Baum’s fiction, anyway. So…

Is it a retelling of a traditional Grecian quest? Is it a cautionary tale about the dangers of strangers or—even more ominous—the occult? Is it a treatise on good and evil, where good must ultimately prevail? Religious allegory?

Gregory Maguire has put together all of the above into Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a novel as much political essay as it is an exemplary adult fantasy—and I do mean adult, unless you’re not interested in interracial witch humping—in which case, forget I mentioned it. A complete opposition of the original perspective is the literary device here, where the Wizard is a Hitleresque figure and Elphaba (the much maligned witch) is a rebel and assassin against his totalitarian government. Animals speak (some) and are persecuted for such, clockwork mechanics grind life into murderous robots, and soldiers march on defenseless lands. Good and evil is explored extensively in the book, with no consensus drawn, however, children are given a thorough bashing as being innately evil. Rightly so, too, anyone remember public school?

When you’re reading it, think in the negative. Glenda, a good witch? Hell no! Straight up cooze. TheWicked Witch of the East, so abruptly dispatched in the film, is a pathetic religious figure that allows fanaticism to turn her sour. That pivotal moment begins the climax of the book, where the sparkly ruby slippers are seen as totemic of secessionist tendencies by the Munchkins (who are only moderately short).

I have very little criticism of the book; it drags a bit in the middle. That’s it. In the end, the witch isn’t any more wicked than the other characters in the novel. But Maguire has put together something so rich with lore; it has my memory scrambled as to the original. Or am I thinking about The Wiz? No joke, there are similarities there, too.

I know I’m late getting on this train, but I highly recommend it. Just don’t expect me to see the musical!

Next Book:Whiskey Sour: A Jack Daniels Mystery by J.A. Konrath