Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
$11.20 at Bn.com ISBN: 0060987103
How, exactly, does one become Wicked? The kind that throws fireballs at lovable Scarecrow and then laughs as he screams? Perhaps if you heard the story from her side, it would all seem perfectly reasonable.
Fans of the movie with Judy Garland or, lately, the Broadway musical should know in advance that there's less sugar-coated singing and dancing in this macabre and gritty work of fiction. For example, we learn that people do indeed have sex in the merry old land of Oz. Adulterous sex, time and time again. There are assassins who slash one character's throat. And, as it turns out, her side of the story does seem quite reasonable and will make the 1939 film seem like Munchkin propaganda.
This is a wonderful book; but the first part can be a little bit confusing. Don't worry about it. It involves the witch's birth and childhood (Elphaba. She's not a witch yet, and her first name is Elphaba). She and her sister are both just infant girls so the first part of the story revolves mostly around their parents. Their father is a priest and the townspeople have started practicing some creepy, idolatrous religion; if you find it difficult to follow and it doesn't remind you of Oz, stick with it! Each chapter is mostly self-contained, so you needn't really keep track of lots of details. I found the trick to getting into it was to stop trying to focus on Wizard of Oz connections, and instead just enjoy the story. The revelations about her character will come in due course.
There are plenty of Wizard revelations, though! For example, the story of how the Witch of the West and Glinda knew each other before the showdown with Dorothy, and what other magic the ruby slippers had besides Kansas-transporters. I quickly found I liked Elphaba and actually related to her. For example, her years in college studying witchcraft actually brought back school memories for me. Weird, huh? Living in an apartment in the Emerald City, meeting the Wizard for the first time, and lots of adventures give a classic villain the feel of a real person you might invite to your barbecue. The life story of a fascinating lady which gives a familiar story a new spin, this will no doubt one day be considered a masterpiece of feminist literature.