Last year I decided to re-read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and found that I was disappointed. When I saw so many more current novels based on Baum’s story, I wanted to see what was out there and if anything clicked for me as a reader. The natural starting point was Wicked. Almost everyone has either read this or seen the Broadway show. I honestly went into it without expecting too much. Boy, was I wrong.
I loved Wicked. To be more precise, I loved Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire set out to tell her story since Dorothy received most of the spotlight in TWWOO. We begin by learning of Elphaba’s birth and her early years. As Kermit says, “It isn’t easy being green.” She is an outcast both in the community and in her family. Elphaba isn’t the most lovable creature but there is something about her that is special and it comes through the pages.
We follow her to boarding school in the larger city of Shiz where her assigned roommate is Galinda, a pretty, spoiled, blonde girl. They strike up a tenuous and unlikely friendship. Others (a motley crew) are part of their circle which is brought closer through different tragedies. Nessarose, Elphaba’s sister, is now attending the school along with her Nanny. Nessa was born without arms and has other physical ailments so she is treated more gently and thoughtfully than Elphaba ever was.
As an adult, Elphaba continues to be an outcast. Sometimes by choice. Her relationships are complicated by the fact that she is a very black or white person and she cannot look the other way when she feels that something needs to be changed. And, even as grown ups, we do continue to try to find love. Elphaba hasn’t had that from her family so that energy goes elsewhere.
Plus, she can’t get over those stupid, shiny shoes that her father sent Nessa in school.
This is a story about politics, power, friendship, family, love and maybe a little evil. It is a thinking persons fantasy novel. The wizard, cowardly lion, scarecrow, tin man and munchkins are all here in one form or another.
One question continued to go through my head while reading – what is evil? Is it the abuse of power by taking away basic rights from other living creatures? Is it magicking an ax to cut off someone’s arm so that you can get something that you want? What about using sorcery to try to force others to do your bidding? If so, it’s not Elphaba who is evil. These acts are attributable to others.
Or, maybe there really is no evil. There are just people who don’t have evil souls but end up going down a path that leads to destruction.
Elphaba speaks to the outcast in me, the one who is different from so many others and has a hard time trusting and making friends. For about 90% of the book I was 100% on her side. But, then she made a few really bad decisions and lost me a little. I wish that the author had allowed her to continue with her true self through the very end. It might not have tied a bow on the story quite so easily but we spent 350 pages with the real Elphaba. I wanted to see her through and didn’t get that opportunity.
Other than a somewhat disappointing ending, this was one of my favorite reads this year. 4.5/5 stars.