Next Friday, Disney are going to be releasing the second time they’ve stepped into the world of Oz in cinema through their prequel film, Oz: the Great and Powerful. Now, personally, I’m sort of looking forward to the film. Oz may not be my favourite of the ‘girl gets taken away to a magical land’ stories; that honour belongs to Wonderland,but I am deeply fond of the adventures brought to us in the wonderful world of Oz. But knowing about the upcoming movie made me think about Oz, and about the variations adaptations there are of it. So, your friendly neighbourhood Z – maybe I should stop referring to myself in the third person [But you won’t. -Ed.] – decided that this fortnight, she’ll have a look at the first of the books set in Oz written by Gregory Maguire – Wicked.
Wicked is designed to follow the life of the infamous Wicked Witch of the West from her birth right up until her death at the hands of Dorothy. The book rounds the character out. Gives her hopes and dreams, loves and heartbreaks, and other such motivations that are sadly lacking in both the original novel and the more (in)famous 1939 MGM movie. Not that the Wicked Witch needs the character to be the terrifying creature of children’s nightmares that she already is, but for an adult, or even the more astute child, it can be very simple to wonder ‘well, why is she so evil in the first place?’
It was this question that inspired Maguire to write his novel. The Wicked Witch, now named Elphaba, did not start off evil. She started, as many do, simply as a person. She had a father; she had a mother, as so many do, and okay, okay, I’ll stop quoting the musical at you. The musical is really good; go and check it out if you get the chance. But we’re talking about the book. Okay, so where to start? Now that’s the question that’s had me staring off into space a few times this week – I’m sure the Editor thought that I was trapped in some existential crisis of sorts. Which… actually may a be good way to describe it now that I think on it.
See Wicked the novel is essentially about what it means for a person to be good or evil and, in this writer’s opinion. I don’t think we ever see Elphaba slip into the truly ‘evil’ category long enough to help her be the Wicked Witch of the West we all know from the movie. That’s not to say she’s all innocent and nicey nice all the time. No, she does do some downright descpicable acts during the course of the novel’s events, but we have the bonus of knowing the reasoning being them, the why for why these acts are commited. If context is everything, context for motiviation really goes a long way.
Maybe to explain this better I should recount my own journey with the book but that would require being less mysterious than I am so sorry Wanderers, but no biscuit for you. It’s not just enough for me to say the novel is good – it’s fairly obvious it’s good; it’s sold many many copies, and started off its own ‘Wicked Years’ four book series which follow the characters from the first novel throughout their adventures… but we’re not looking at the sequel novels today. I’d need to re-read them first.
Elphaba is a compelling character, and in this type of novel, that’s what it comes down to really. We want to read about her life, see how it changes through the good and the bad, and take part in the experiences that make her into the infamous Wicked Witch of the West. Does she truly make it there? Well, personally, I think she falls a little short, but that’s a personal opinion – you could get a totally different experience reading it.
‘Totally different experience’ is the way to sum up this Oz in general, actually. That is, if you wanted my opinion which… must be a little bit true otherwise you wouldn’t have read to this final paragraph. Anyway, what I mean is, that this isn’t just Oz. Maguire’s Oz is a grown up, political mess of a country Oz, and Elphaba is a political activist whether she likes it or not. She may not be wicked by nature, but as such is the way with popular press even in Oz, she’s certainly Wicked by name.
Z McAspurren (mourns the wicked)