"Return to Oz, a new point of view"
If you were able to miss the economic and political
symbolism in The Wizard of Oz you won't be able to do so
with Wicked. It is quite pointed. This story will not be
mistaken for a children's fantasy.
This is a prequel to the well known story of Dorothy's
adventure in Oz. It's purpose is to give the reader insite
into the character of the
Wicked Witch of the West and is somewhat, but not
completely sympathetic. Well, she wouldn't have wanted that
Here we learn of her name, Elphaba, which is the phonetic
combination of the initials of the original author of the
Oz tales, L. Frank Baum. After a flashback, the real tale
begins with the birth of Elphaba to a fanatical Unionist
minister and his wife who, having disdained her privileged
background, finds herself having bit off more than she
could chew. Elphaba is a child only a mother could love.
Unfortunately hers appears to be lacking in that emotion.
Birthing a girl would have been disappointment enough, but
the appearance of the odd skinned, sharp toothed infant
rather pushes her over the edge of sanity.
Naturally being different brings in all kinds of issues
about prejudice. It no doubt shapes young Elphaba, who
later becomes a freedom fighter, working against the Wizard
to restore the rights of Animals. Animals, unlike animals,
are articulate, social, and thinking creatures. Elphaba
and Glinda enter Shiz University at the time when the
Wizard has begun placing social restrictions on Animals.
When a favorite Animal professor is murdered on the brink
of discovering a common genetic background between his kind
and the humans, Elphaba takes it personally. This scenario
is a rather neat way to explain the existence Cowardly
Lion, as well as giving Elphaba a sympathetic cause and a
reason to despise the Wizard. The Tin Man is explained per
the original text, however the Scarecrow remains a mystery,
an icon come to life perhaps.
At last we learn about Elphaba's sister, who later becomes
the Wicked Witch of the East. Nessarose, is born
handicapped in a different way than her sister. Her skin is
a normal shade, but she is born without arms. Their father
passes it off as a punishment for his wife's lax morals,
but we learn later that she had taken a potion during the
pregnancy, obtained from a woman named Yakle. Yakle,
incidentally, turns up a various key points in the story
leaving the reader to speculate whether or not she might be
the puppet master or just a red herring. At any rate we
know nothing ever good comes of taking drugs during
pregnancy. Nessarose takes up her father's zeal for
religion and eventually becomes the dictator of Munkinland
in Elphaba's absence. She of course dies when Dorothy's
house falls on her.
Glinda, the self proclaimed "Good Witch", is a rather
lukewarm friend to Elphaba. Well, actually she is lukewarm
overall in my opinion. She is the stereotypical woman with
real potential that is doused by society's expectations and
conventionalism. Every now and then she shows how shrewd
she really is, though she's never obvious about it. At
first she looks down her nose at the unfashionable green
girl and is appalled to have to room with her. Later she
begins to realize how shallow her popular friends are, and
finds "Elphie" more interesting in spite of herself. Her
most significant act, of course, is giving Nessarose's
magicked slippers to Dorothy and sending her off to become
a pawn of the Wizard.
Perhaps the biggest event which shapes Elphaba's life is
the death of her lover Fiyero, a prince of the Vinkus
(Western Lands), as a result of her involvement in the
underground efforts to assassinate the Wizard. Fiyero, a
former schoolmate, had been married by arrangement as a
child. Their affair was the high point in Elphaba's life, a
time when she knew she was loved. But the love was a stolen
one. After several years of mourning, the failure of her
cause and guilt over her lover's death drive her to the
West, to gain forgiveness from Fiyero's wife. She is
accompanied by a boy, Liir. Forgiveness is not to be had,
and her presence compromises the family. Soon she becomes
the nominal head of the western lands.
Nessarose's death brings the "Witch of the West" back home
to confront her Father as well as her old friends. Here she
learns the old adage "You can never come home again." Old
causes and grievances no longer have meaning for anyone but
Elphaba. Life and living has taken over their attention.
The silver shoes, which represented her father's greater
love for her sister, become Elphaba's final obsession and
ultimately bring about her demise. Forgiveness is not in
the cards for Dorothy either apparently.
The Wizard of course is not the loveable, bumbling, carny
humbug of the MGM movie but a power hungry, calculating
oppressor of the worst sort. Ironically with the death of
his biggest opponents, the tyrants of East and West, the
people of Oz turn upon him at last. With Dorothy's return
to the Emerald City, escape to the world from which he came
becomes his only option. Dorothy's brief intercession in
the Land of Oz becomes the stuff of fairy tales. No one
really knows what became of her, but as always there is
As I've stated in the opening paragraph, if you subscribe
to the Oz populism theories designated to the original text
you will find this new story a fitting mate. If you simply
enjoyed the good vs. evil aspect of Dorothy's adventures in
Oz; Elphaba's story will make you ask: What makes a person
evil? Is it present at birth, perhaps due to "the sins of
the fathers" or is it caused by unfortunate or
uncontrollable circumstances in one's life? Is it a choice?
Or is it, after all, simply dependent on one's point of
The reviewer does not apologize for what might appear to
be "spoilers". If the review seems long and detailed, it
won't after reading the book. Wicked is chock full of neat
little twists, ironies, and puzzles that will keep you
thinking long after you've put the book to bed.
What happens next? The story continues with Liir in "Son of
Copyright © 2005
Reviewed by Leslie Tramposch
Posted October 30, 2006