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3.6 out of 5 stars
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked Years)
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154 of 184 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2003
I must start this review by saying that it is certainly not a book you can take lightly. It takes some serious effort to stick with it, particularly once you get about half way through and the more light-hearted experiences of Elphaba, the wicked witch, at Shiz fade into her darker, secretive experiences at the Emerald City. After two failed attempts to tackle to book, fascinated by the subject matter both times, I finally got through it, inspired to read it because of the Broadway musical based on the book that I found myself mesmerized by (go see it, despite how different it is).
The book is a richly textured account of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, here given an actual name, Elphaba, as she moves from student at Shiz University, an outcast and roommate to G(a)linda, to secretive activist in the Emerald City, to maunt (nun), to Auntie Witch, later to become The Wicked Witch of the West.
Throughout, the detailed religion, culture, and government of Oz supplement the narrative beautifully, adding depth to what could have been simply an unfounded story of what could happen to some flatly portrayed green girl from Oz. This story really makes you care for the witch and understand that even the most evil of people could simply be the victims of chance.
I thought the book began and ended very strongly, but the narrative sagged a bit in the middle, particularly as Elphaba becomes a nun and travels rather boringly across the desert to the Winkie stronghold of Kiamo Ko. The story stays rather low-key for a while, but picks up when some more familiar characters, such as Nessarose, Elphaba's sister, Elphaba's father, Frexspar, and Glinda, reenter the novel. From this point out, the novel receives its well-deserved finale, in which it goes out with a bold glory rarely seen in novels.
Of course, no life is without its dull moments, and even these are not completely flat. The prose is witty and never becomes to boorish. What really mesmerized me was fitting together the story in this novel into the context of the original Oz book and movie of the same (revised) name.
I would reccomend this to someone who has quite a bit of undistracted time. It's important not to take very long breaks in reading this novel, as the details become more important toward the end, when the witch begins looking back upon her life. The novel should be a very interesting read for anyone familiar with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum or the movie from MGM. Its richly detailed characters and interesting plot choices make for a wonderful read that you're surely not soon to forget. Tough it out through the middle so you can finish this great book.
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77 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2000
If you go into this story with expectations of a retelling of the classic "Wizard of Oz", then you may be disappointed...but enter with an open mind and a desire to be fully entertained, you'll find yourself incredibly satisfied by the end of this "Wicked"-good book.
Gregory Maguire sets out on an ambitious journey into the story that we grew up with, but by giving it a clever twist and fleshing out the characters we never got to know in the original. Yes, we all know about Dorothy and her annoying little dog...the twister, the house... But, how much were we told about how Oz came to be, or Munchkinland, or the Wizard himself? We were expected to accept these places and things as they were, without any explanation, and as kids, we did. We accepted that Glinda was the good witch and that the Wicked Witch of the West was evil...but why? Well, when you read "Wicked", you get the story, warts and all! You find that perhaps the Wicked Witch of the West (born Elphaba) wasn't entirely acting out of pure evil at all, nor was Glinda acting on behalf of all that's good. You find that perhaps there was a lot more going on in that particular world than you ever imagined...but luckily for all of us, Maguire does an excellent job of imagining it for us! The politics, the treachery, the origin of The Wiz himself...all of this included in this highly readable, immensely likeable book!
Don't start it expecting to read another take on Dorothy or her adventure in the "wonderful Land of Oz". She doesn't even enter into the picture until the very end! What you will find is an incredibly imagined story, for adults, that you'll find yourself thinking about for a long time after you've finished reading it!
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40 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2000
In Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire has written a novel that deals with the life of Elphaba, an emerald-green skinned young woman who was born into the family of a preacher and his wife in Munchkinland. Elphaba's family are not Munchkinlanders, however, and Elphaba grows up knowing more than she ever wanted to know about persecution and alienation. As a result, she becomes somewhat introverted, rebellious and yes, a little wicked.
When we all root for Dorothy as she triumphs over the Wicked Witch of the West in Frank Baum's Oz tales, we seem to forget that we are only hearing Dorothy's side of the story. There is more to Elphaba than wickedness and Maguire proves it as he chronicles Elphaba's odyssey through the land of Oz.
What makes Wicked such a special book is the fact that Maguire has written a story that challenges our preconceived notions of what, exactly, is good and what, exactly, is evil, with the character of Elphaba at the heart of the matter. Although Dorothy does make an appearance near the end of the book, it really isn't necessary to know anything about her or the Baum stories to understand and appreciate Wicked.
In Wicked, we follow the life of Elphaba as we learn what shaped her personality, what it really means to be a witch and how things are not always as we think them to be or even as we want them to be. The characters in Wicked are fully-fleshed out and believable. Besides Elphaba, there is her university roommate, Glinda; Boq, the lovelorn Munchkin; Fiyero, a tribal prince from the primitive West of Oz; and Nessarose, Elphaba's beautiful and witchy sister.
The fantasy elements in Wicked are actually quite light; this is no book for children and it even runs the risk of becoming overburdened by the weighty issues it seeks to tackle. Maguire could have let this book slip into nothing more than a sappy view of the technologies and magic that pervade the land of Oz. Instead, he wisely chose to focus on the people, instead and he has created characters that are vibrant, strong and full of life.
Maguire's Oz is no Utopia and Elphaba is more than just a green-skinned witch. She is a woman who has become wise through the mechanations of guilt and sorrow and one who is, surprisingly, actually happy to meet the young girl from Kansas who eventually shows up at her door.
Wicked is more than satire; it is an imaginative, fast-paced, fantastically real and supremely entertaining novel of vision and revision. Once you read it, Oz will never be the same again.
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37 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Political upheaval, blatant discrimination, religious intolerance -- sounds like something out of recent history, no? But this is Oz, before there was a tornado, before Dorothy arrived on the scene.
Maguire paints a dark landscape into which Elphaba, the little green girl, was born. His use of detail is exquisite, but somewhat inconsistent. Still he crafts a cunning tale of Elphaba's attempts to "do the right thing," her many struggles that ended in failure and misunderstanding. We learn of the origins of the ruby red slippers, how the "witch" ended up in the west in that towering dark fortress, her relationship with her sister, Nessarose, the "wicked witch of the East," her association with Galinda (who transmuted into Glinda, the "good witch of the North"), her experiments in "life sciences" that resulted in the flying monkeys, the *real* reason the "Wizard" came to Oz. Yes, this book answers a lot of questions, and poses a few more: what, truly, is evil? What makes "good" better? Must every sin be punished, and by whom?
A delicious read, definitely NOT a children's fairy tale.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2000
I've always been a fan of traditional stories retold from the point of view of a character other than the protagonist. And "The Wizard of Oz" has long been one of my favorite stories. This book forever changed the way I see it.
Using elegant, eloquent prose, Geoffrey Maguire weaves the tale of Elphaba, the little green girl who will one day grow up to be the much-maligned Wicked Witch of the West. After reading this, the Witch became my favorite character of "The Wizard of Oz." See if she doesn't win your heart as well.
Born to a religious father and an upper-class mother, Elphaba becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character. Her life is traced from birth to death, and along the way we see her development, from horrific baby, to idealistic student and activist, to reclusive wisewoman. She isn't perfect. She loves, and hates, and plots. Her long association with Glinda is a treat to discover, through Elphaba's eyes.
The animal rights (or Animal rights) and political issues of the book were of particular interest to me. This book draws more in inspiration from Frank Baum's classic fantasy series than from the movie.
A finely crafted read, a change of perspective, a tragedy, a love story, and a moral tale all wrapped up in some of the best writing I've ever experienced.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2000
I devoured this book in two days. Elphaba is one of the most intriguing characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. What I don't understand is why quite a few people who have reviewed the book here have problems with the sex. There is one scene in the book which could be considered a bit shocking, other than that , it is very tastefully done. This is an adult novel, and adults have sex. If that bothers or disgusts you, don't buy this book. If it doesn't, then buy it and enjoy, because it's amazing.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2006
I am fond of stories that take established fairy tales, or in this case a children's classic, and turn them on their head. WICKED by Gregory Maguire is a bit of a prelude to L. Frank Baum's THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, but it is more of a reinventing, reimagining of the entire Oz world.

It chronicles the life of the Wicked Witch of the West (named "Elphaba" by Maguire), the green-skinned villainess of THE WIZARD OF OZ, from her birth and early childhood, to her days at university where she met Glinda (then called "Galinda"), until her encounter with the girl Dorothy. What turned the Witch against the "Wonderful Wizard" whom everyone else seems to adore? Why does she prefer flying monkeys and other beasts to the company of people? Why is she green? Maguire offers insights rather than answers into all of these questions, and more.

Another impressive aspect of WICKED is that it actually does manage to stay quite true to Baum's original children's novel (the Witch has her wolves, her bees, and of course, her winged monkeys, she sends them after Dorothy and her companions and watches them be destroyed) and the different people of Oz (Quadlings, Munchkinlanders, etc.) are cleverly and inventively worked into the story as realistic nationalities with their own problems and conflicts. The world of Oz has never seemed so lush and immersing and real.

With Elphaba, Maguire has written one of the few truly excellent female heroines in modern fiction. After spending a semester in college reading short stories for English class that all featured weak, whiny, dependant women, Elphaba was a welcome relief. The Witch, under Maguire's talented writing, finally becomes fully fleshed out, three-dimensional, with good points and negative traits, and endearing quirks, and a charisma and passion that make her a joy to read about.

I have recommended this novel to several friends, who have all enjoyed it. I truly can not recommend WICKED enough. It has heart, it has brains, and it has courage. It is magnificent.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2008
I am baffled by the responses of those who disliked this book. The reviews for the book all say it is not for children, but adult themed. Yes, there is sex in the book.. but it is niether bizarre, perverted, or indeed even explicit. The reviewers who complained this book was too adult (one reviewer stated she was afraid to read it in public for fear of gasping?! Methinks she needs to get out a little for she is way to underexposed to life if anything in this book makes her gasp) sound like petulant children complaining that something isn't "fair". The reviewer who complained about Maguires language choice should learn his own language. The book's vocabulary is neither difficult nor pretentious.

Overall, this is one of the best takes on Oz to come out in years. Oz wasn't this adult-themed when Baum wrote them, but then again Baum's stories weren't as whitewashed as MGM's film either. Maguire's exploration of Elphaba's character and motivations is enthralling. Watching as he flips the general view of Dorothy's initial story in Oz on its head is a treat. The whole time you find yourself wondering how the insipid Galinda can be rectified with the movie's Glinda, how is it that Elphaba goes from one who detests murder to the crazed witch trying to kill an 8-year old girl, and what motives could the wizard have for his militaristic expansionism? Maguire draws parallels from our own ethically muddled history, and seeks to bring back some of the reality that MGM drained from Baum's tale.

This is not to say that the story is without fault. It is not. Some of the character motivations are weak (or at least weakly explained). For example, the Wizard's motivations are never truly addressed. The glossing they do receive just leaves one wondering. Overall, a great book. Pay no attention to the small minds behind that curtain of bad reviews.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2000
Although she is a loner, Elphaba draws you into her world. I loved the happy, skippy movie as a kid, but I'm delighted that there is a cynical side of Oz for the adult I have become. I knew I was going to love this book when I read that the yellow brick road was a misguided, state-sponsored public works project that destroyed wetlands and quadling habitat.
I was wary about reading a fantasy novel, but quickly appreciated Maguire's use of this nonsense land to examine prejudice, religious zealotry, class distinctions, terrorism and even the interpersonal dynamics of college roommates.
I wondered how Maguire would tie in some of the early characters and plot lines, and was pleased and impressed that nothing was wasted.
There are some questions I would like to see resolved. Since there was no body, did Elphaba's lover really die? Who is Yackle? Is Lurlina real? What happens to Oz after the wizard leaves? What happens to Elphaba when she emerges from the waterfall?
Hurry that sequel, please!
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50 of 67 people found the following review helpful
I've owned this book for almost 3yrs and now just got around to reading it - and I'm sorry I waited so long. I actually put off finishing the last 50 pages because I did not want it to end. I enjoyed it that much.
As others have mentioned (and the subtitle implies), it's the backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West (beginning prior to her birth) and her point of view of what was covered in the 'Wizard of Oz'.
Admittedly, I know the 'Wizard of Oz' from only the movie and have never read that book. But the way that Maguire weaves little bits of references we know from the movie into his storyline is extremely clever and well done.
Though the book covers much detail and touches on religion, politics, class structure, etc - what really is blatant is how there IS more than one side to a story. I'm not sure many people would consider the Wicked Witch of the East a protaganist - but she is, at least in this story...and at least in my opinion.
I found the entire book interesting and moving along at a good pace. I have recommended the book to many people as I had been going along with my reading.
Though I know they have made a musical play from this book - I believe a movie would have been a better way to go (NOT a musical movie either), but in the vein of how 'Lord of the Rings' was done for film.
I have this at the top of all the books I've read in the last few years.
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