"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 anyway!

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 speculation.

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 view.

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 a Witch".

Copyright 2005

Reviewed by Leslie Tramposch
Posted October 30, 2006


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 the nature of good and evil.

This special edition of the novel includes 16 pages of full- color photographs of the original Broadway production of the musical.

Having sold three-quarters of a million copies since its 1995 publication, now the novel is enjoying a second life as a big-budget Broadway musical directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello. This special edition of the novel includes 16 pages of full-color photographs of the original Broadway production of the musical.


(Oz: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West)
by Gregory Maguire

Regan Books
March 1, 2004
ISBN #0060745908
EAN #9780060745905
Trade Size (reprint)
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Son of a Witch

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