“Wicked” by Gregory Maguire

Date finished: 8th May 2012

The premise of the book is that it’s the life story of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz to explain how the events of her life shaped her to become the infamous villain of the classic children’s story.

Now I should explain before I start, I’ve never read The Wizard of Oz or even seen the film. I remember my mum sitting me down to watch the film what I was young – I can’t remember what age I was but it was definitely before the age of seven – but as a child I was so scared of witches that I ended up sat behind her armchair and being too upset to watch any more, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to watch it ever since. The problem with that is, although I have an idea of what the gist of the story is, I’ve never known how it is resolved. But actually, for reading this book, that didn’t matter at all.

I really enjoyed reading Elphaba’s story, from her birth through to her final meeting with Dorothy, but from what I can tell, the actual overlap of the main story is only in the final chapters, and even then is only alluded to and not part of the main narrative of this alternative story. I was quite surprised that this was aimed at an adult audience, with some sexual content and mature themes, bearing in mind that the original is very firmly a children’s book. The breadth of the story encompassing how the various experiences of her life shape the person she becomes made this a very satisfying book to read, but I have to say, I’m surprised that it hasn’t tempted me to read or watch The Wizard of Oz.

The thing that occurred to me after I finished was that I wondered if this story gives a different perspective to some of the characters from the original book, and shows them as much more complex than I imagine they would be in a children’s story. I felt that this would be most evident with Elphaba and Glinda (the Good Witch of the North/South?) who gradually become friends at college and their relationship alters dramatically as they grow and their own politics and morals shape the people they eventually become.

If I had one criticism (and let’s face it, I usually do) it was how awkward the names of both some of the characters and places felt to read. I realise that it’s a fantasy and the author is creating (or recreating) a fantastical world, but it did sometimes take me out of the story as I had to figure out how to pronounce a name, even if it was only in my head!

Overall though, I thought it was a good story, and a very imaginative alternative telling of a well loved classic.

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