Last week I just finished reading "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" by Gregory Maguire. I've been curious about this book for a long time, mostly because fairy tales and different takes on classic fairy tales interest me. And, even though the Wizard of Oz probably isn't classified as a fairy tale per se, it fits close enough to captivate my attention. Also, I heard good things about the musical "Wicked" so I wanted to see what the book was about.
What to say about this book...interesting. Yes, interesting is the best word I can use to describe it. I can't say it was exciting. In fact, I'd probably say it was pretty dull for the most part. The most exciting part of the story is at the beginning when Melena is giving birth to her baby, Elphaba, who will one day be the Wicked Witch of the West. The beginning was intriguing because of the mysterious nature of the Witch's birth.
The Munchkinlanders are being led astray from their unionist religion and their moral standards by a large clockwork magical device called "The Clock of the Time Dragon." Frex, Melena's husband and the preacher of the town, goes to try to lead the Muchkins away from the device. Through a perverse puppet show, Frex is made to seem like a corrupt religious leader and the people of the town turn against him. He manages to escape by the kindness of a widow, but that leads the villagers towards his home where his wife is trying to deliver her child. His wife is taken away from the home into the nearby cemetery, and actually gives birth inside of the Clock of the Time Dragon that was being hidden there. As though by a curse, her baby is born green with sharp teeth like those of a shark. Melena eventually finds solace in an affair with a Quadling (another race of people in Oz), and later gives birth to another girl who has no arms with normal skin, named Nessarose, and a boy named Shell.
Most of the book takes place in Shiz University, where Elphaba meets Glinda and they form a friendship. However, I thought from the cover of the book and from some of the scenes I saw from that musical that they were supposed to be best friends. Perhaps they were, but if so, the book didn't convey it very well. Glinda seems mostly ashamed to be around her through most of the book and doesn't seem to take up the mantle of the things that are important to Elphaba. They are friends, but don't seem close. Elphaba spends a great deal of time advocating rights for talking animals (known as Animals with a capital A). The Wizard of Oz is taking rights away from the Animals, little by little, and eventually has them shipped off to farms to live like normal animals for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, Glinda is learning sorcery and hanging out with the social elite of the school.
In this book the "Wicked Witch of the East (Nessarose)" and the "Wicked Witch of the West" are not evil at all. They never became evil and the harsh way that Elphaba treats Dorothy at the end seems uncharacteristic of her. The Wizard in this book mirrors the worst dictators in history and is the only real villain. I think at the very end of the book, he's also supposed to be a bit of a sympathetic character because you get to see glimpses of his harsh past, but he's been so cruel and ruthless throughout the whole book there's no way to paint him in a rose tinted light enough to even redeem him slightly.
I've read the Wizard of Oz as a child, but I haven't read many of Frank Baum's other works on Oz. I think for a fair review of how to compare and contrast this book to them I would need to do a bit more research. Still, I do know some things were changed to make this book a reality. So, I'll just say, in conclusion, this was a very odd book and, while I'm glad that I satiated my curiosity about it, I'm ready to move on to "The Dresden Files." If you enjoyed The Wizard of Oz, or other books that depict Oz, then you would probably enjoy this as a different take on the story. Still, you might be a bit disappointed by the necessary changes that had to be made to the storyline to create it. Overall, I did enjoy the book, but it is very odd and a little slow.