on November 26, 1999
If you can find a better bang for the buck than Wicked, please let me know. I picked up Wicked, knowing nothing except that its subject matter was the Wicked Witch of the West, to be drawn immediately into Maguire's splendidly imagined world of sentient animals, multiple societies, and unique physical laws. Wicked is an enthralling, great read, hugely entertaining. On top of all this, Maguire has Bradbury's gift for creating atmosphere. The pages are heavy with dark, mysterious magic; its moral laws are ultimately incomprehensible.
Apparently doomed at conception, Elphaba is a truly terrifying infant. Razor-toothed and preternaturally intelligent, she is shunned from birth as a freak and a curse. She is nonetheless the tale's most complex, human, and compelling character, possessed of high moral sense and great courage. But neither of these qualities enables a single one of her brave, ethical actions to succeed. What are we to conclude from this?
How is it that Dorothy, the sturdy little nobody from nowhere who committed manslaughter as she landed in Oz, skips down the Yellow Brick Road impervious to danger while Elphaba strives and plots to reap only negative results?
Why is one protected while the other is doomed? Read Wicked and you will learn how the witch's monkeys became winged, where the rubies for those slippers came from, and, indeed, why the witch's skin was green. But you will wrestle, long afterward, with Maguire's moral pessimism and the snarl of grace and doom that underlies this novel. I know I will.
on November 16, 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.
on March 20, 2006
Sorry for the inelegant title. I sat here for a little while... trying to come up with something clever, but nothing captured the scope of my feelings about this book quite as well as that.
I found Wicked to be one of the weakest novels I have ever read and would strongly discourage you from picking it up. I'm not actually in the business of reviewing literature, but I have been astounded by the critical acclaim for this book, despite its incredible lack of depth and character.
Wicked starts from a safe premise: take a well-loved story and write a story within it. Tom Stoppard has made a career out of this, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead being a prime example. However, Maguire fumbles this by diverging from the source material at almost every contact point. His vision of Oz is pallid and mostly uninteresting. The development of Oz's religions, local customs, and such are limited in scope and generally not fresh. Unlike the world of Harry Potter, where the little touches make you curious for more, I felt very much that Maguire was crassly trying to flesh out the world of Oz simply to create storytelling space for future stories.
The characters are defiantly flat and frequently step out of their own characterizations to do things that are pointless and, often, absolutely baffling. Elfaba, a character who refused to carry out an assassination in the presence of a group of children, randomly, and spitefully, attempts to kick a well-meaning child in the back. Sarima, a widow whose husband disappeared under mysterious circumstances, is not at all interested in discovering the truth about her husband... even with the truth knocks on her door and BEGS her to listen. I found so many examples of behavior incongruous with common sense that I started second guessing my own. Would I, a green girl fatally allergic to water who has, for hundreds of pages, taken extremely detailed precautions to avoid every single drop of water, go ICE SKATING for no reason? Upon further examination, the only thing wrong with me was that I lacked the common sense to put this book down.
Wicked's plot is stilted and stumbles over itself as if it was written in one take without an editor. Maguire introduces plot threads and then does not resolve them, leaving the reader frustrated all every turn, waiting for payoffs that never come. Years at a time pass casually... key plot points are dropped in parentheticals hundreds of pages after you've forgotten their thrust. The plot meanders aimlessly for dozens of pages at a time, detailing the hide-and-seek exploits of minor characters, the sexual fantasies of a young girl, and the thoughtfully-named sisters Two through Seven.
Consistent mediocrity is the prose's hallmark. Maguire attempts to hide his lack of substance behind alternating complex and florid language. The prose is decidedly amateur and takes every opportunity to throw you off of a nice pace with its awkwardly-worded sentences, simplistic imagery, and general vulgarity. Maguire bumbles modern and antiquated phrases and concepts together in a way that makes the entire body seem anachronistic. The overall effect is slapdash and serves to jostle the reader out of the story.
Wicked does have one bright point however: the single worst plot twist I have ever seen. I think even the story editor at General Hospital would wince if you pitched him this one. Elphaba, asked if she is the mother of a dubious tagalong kid, replies to the effect of `well, it doesn't feel like I've ever had a kid... but there was that one time I was in a coma for a year. I guess I could have had him then." The coma she is talking about happened about a hundred pages before - but was not mentioned. I'm sorry... how do you NOT MENTION YOUR PROTAGONIST'S YEARLONG COMA IN A BOOK SUBTITLED "The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West"? Then, as if to demonstrate a complete contempt for the reader, about a hundred pages later, Maguire drops into a parenthetical that the boy is in fact the son of Elphaba's lover... but does not confirm her as the mother.
As for social commentary - which is a key theme of the book, according to the jacket - I found it sorely lacking. If Maguire's aim was to explain the motives and perceptions of evil, we can only conclude that he believes that evil is fueled by society's idiotic, illogical behavior. Having driven the highways of Los Angeles, I can certainly understand this sentiment, but Maguire misses just about every chance to explore the true nature evil. Nietzsche's famous phrase "gaze long into the abyss, and the abyss gazes into you" gets closer to explaining evil in eleven words than Maguire does in 400 pages.
You know how when you read most books, as you get closer to the end, you read faster? Some books, you can't even put them down. With this book, I had the opposite experience. The closer I got to the ending, as I realized there was nothing the author could do to salvage this train wreck, and there was no way for me to reclaim these precious hours of my life, I had to stop often - and could only read a page or two at a time. When I finished, I actually literally physically threw the book across the room.
I have never been this frustrated with a reading experience in my life. After a hundred pages, I decided to read on to see if the book improved. At two hundred, I plodded along out of sheer morbid curiosity. At three hundred, it was too late to turn back. At four hundred, I feel as if my brain has been violated. It may be too late for me - but it isn't too late for you! Skip this book and read something good.
on September 13, 2005
(Note: I agree completely with Bruce Aguilar's review below.)
I was excited to read this book; I expected a great read.
Wicked relies on a gimmick. Though the result could be worthwhile, and I expected it would be in this case, it's not. There's just the gimmick.
Wicked is too long by at least a hundred pages - though the story could easily have been told and done, and the reader is feeling done with it, we're still left slogging along.
Just as the story is building to what turns out to be the (aborted) climax, halfway through, the author suddenly, jarringly, shoves the protagonist into a convent (though she's a complete non-believer), and then has her do absolutely nothing for the next several years (well, she cleans some floors or something).
Though we're still left a couple hundred more pages to wade through, the book is over right there. You keep hoping, expecting, it to somehow start up again, but neither the book nor the characters will every have any interest in anything again. It's over.
The story has, at that point, somehow become a political thriller (Wicked zigzags all about without ever finding an identity). Perhaps the deadness of spirit in a once-impassioned radical, after she's lost faith and/or hope, would have been a worthwhile exploration.
Instead, the story just ends. For some reason, the author keeps writing more pages. For no reason, really.
(The Nature of Evil theme is so incredibly weak and puerile in its rendering as to be nothing more than a tedious distraction from the plot. The characters basically step outside the story for a bit, discuss it, and then go back to whatever they were doing.)
If this were a book of paintings, it would go from lush oil at the beginning to somewhat interesting (dark) watercolors in the middle. After that, there'd be a few nicely shaded drawings, some sketches and finally just stick figures. And that's what you're left with.
It never answers its own questions, never bothers to resolve all the threads that just trail off (and much of what keeps you reading, long after the book has clearly died, is some hope of seeing those resolved - they won't be).
Cruciallly, Elphaba never becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. The author just crams her into that role as abruptly and jarringly as he crammed her into the convent, and suddenly has her say words that have nothing to do with the character we've seen for the past zillion pages.
It's like she was suddenly turned into a puppet, just so Dorothy can accidentally kill her, as if the author forgot she was supposed to be the Wicked Witch of the West and suddenly cut-and-pasted in a brief bit about that so he could have this gimmick to sell it. (That's the climactic confrontation we've been anticipating for 400 pages?)
It's your standard workshop-fiction type of book - lots of attention the phrasing, self-important symbolism, Meaningful (capital M) conflicts, one or two words that might send you to the dictionary - but there's no real fire here, and the author not only doesn't have much of a story to tell, but fails to explore his characters and theme.
If this weren't an alternative view of a familiar character, nobody would read it. There'd be no point. And though that marketing hook will pull many a reader in (as it did me), ultimately there isn't any.
on July 2, 2008
I shall paraphrase the most striking part of this novel:
"You should become a witch," said the Elephant.
"All right!" said Elphaba. "Sounds cool!"
I sat and read it over again, and then I back-handed the book. I will always remember this as the laziest transition ever written.
In my experience, there are some authors who can effortlessly work together thought provoking issues with fiction, keeping it entertaining at the same time they shock. Then there are some who are no good at entwining storytelling with depth and stick to writing for entertainment's sake. I think that Maguire falls into the second category, but just doesn't know it. He just tries too hard and he falls flat on his face. The end result is a book that suffers heavily from trying to figure out which side of its dual personality it wants to be when it grows up.
Maguire can write well. I found the first part fascinating; I looked forward to reading about Elphaba's childhood. Oh wait! Skip that! Instead we pass to college-bound Elphaba! Which leads me to another problem with this book: since Maguire can't figure out whether he's writing to explain a "deep riveting philosophical theme" (pfft!) or an entertaining story with a plotline, every bit of information he presents seems no more or less exciting or important than anything else. If this was written for entertainment, I would be looking for a plotline here (there is none). If it is written for a deep philosophical meaning, it is merely a setup.
In fact, this entire book is a setup. It sets up, and it sets up, and it sets up, and it comes to no conclusion at all. Is there a plot, or some adventure? Well, wait a bit, says the book. Is there some promising deep thought waiting in the wings, asks the reader? Wait a bit, says the book. It's almost like a practical joke with the perpetrator laughing his way to the bank.
Also, it's worthwhile to note that Maguire has an unhealthy fixation on sex and (ugh) urination (really, why?). He has a remarkable skill for writing sex scenes. I suppose that's nice, but when he was describing a traveling party going up into a pass between two mountains and compares those mountains to a woman's "inviting open legs" I realized the man was past obsessed. Ah, X-rated geology. That's one thing I'll probably never forget, if only for the fact it was the moment I experienced a striking realization: that I hated this book and I wanted to burn it. Frankly, if you can see sexuality in the landscape you are watching too much porn.
Nevertheless, this book is fascinating in a way I can't quite explain; I honestly wanted to find out why the Witch was the way she was. I thought the idea was clever. Instead we get hackneyed characters (all of whom are unlikeable), and a dreary Oz more akin to a third-world dictatorship than a fantasy fairytale land. All the magic is removed. Nobody really "loves;" the only character I even halfway liked was Boq (poor fellow, what a name, what a life). It's a sick and dreary and nasty story that left me feeling depressed and foul, like I had just taken a leap into an open sewer. It has nothing new to present, no plot to speak of, and the Witch's and Nessarose's lives don't justify their "larger than life" personas. They're just too bland, too mild, almost stupid. Why did the Witch gain her reputation? Honestly, the book doesn't present any good reason why. I was wondering to the very last page.
Maguire really wants this book to be an exploration of the notion of evil. It's really just an exploration of how not to write. Whole sections of this book should have been knocked out. Many characters should have been excised. Characters were mostly two-dimensional and boring. The sex was all pervasive, foul, cold, and selfish. Avoid. this. book. Don't even start it. Just don't. Yes, it'll suck you in. Yes, it will promise you a fascinating ride. But it's no good, it has no point, and it's downright filthy in a myriad of ways. Get it at the library if you must.
The story's "idea" is so excellent that I often hope an ambitious writer will re-write this premise and knock the socks off of this particular pretentious piece of garbage.
I dare you, whomever you are. Go for it.
on August 8, 2007
I've read many of the reviews of Wicked and I just don't get it.
So many, even when they revile the plot, the content, the story itself, deem Mr. Maguire a "literary genius" with words. I see none of that. In a great story, especially one of fantasy, we should feel swept away by the tale, captivated by the writer's language and enveloped by every sentence. Instead of creating this safe haven for us to enjoy by making his words RELATIBLE, he seems to go out of his way to show us what fancy verbiage he can pull off, regardless of whether it improves the story for it's reader or not. It doesn't.
I'm not impressed by Mr. Maguire's vocabulary. In fact, it is one of the most annoying parts of an amazingly annoying book.
These are my complaints, along with the verbiage issue:
1) Mr. Maguire makes the book excessively complicated by adding in made-up factors which are essential to the plot, but which he never explains to us,
regardless of how verbose he is.
For example, by the time I was 2/3 of the way through, I realized that I still didn't understand the "time dragon" or any of the religions or basic politics that are so crucial to his story. He never bothers to explain these things, but carries on long, boring conversations between his characters that revolve around them. It's like sitting down to a meal with 20 people speaking a foreign language. After a while it just exhausting and mind numbing.
2) Mr. Maguire jumps around - usually just when things are getting good.
We spend goodness-knows how many pages dealing with Elphaba and her family before she even utters her first word and then, just when the plot FINALLY goes somewhere...*poof*....she 17 and off to college. This happens continually. I kept thinking that it was going to become some sort of cliff-hanger where he goes back and we get to REALLY hear the good stuff. Nope. He moves on and that's it. Where's the payoff for the reader? We put up with all of that blah, blah, blah and then he just SKIPS ahead when it gets good?
HE DOES THIS EVERY SINGLE TIME. Beware. You have been warned.
3) He skips the interesting characters and spends pages and pages on the ones that you could care less about.
In another one of his jumps, we never know what happens to Elphaba's TRUE father because it just ends with all of the characters in limbo, then, in a passing phrase, we find out that he was murdered - something to do with that 'ole time dragon again. Then he's on to something else. Hundreds and hundreds of words and pages have gone plodding by, and one of the more interesting things gets nothing more than a passing reference.
4) He spends pages and pages on THINGS that you don't care about, describing them into minutia with his wordy, verbose language.
I think that if I had had to read one more word about Elphaba's journey to the castle, I was going to tear my hair out. The description went on and on and was so boring and wordy. Blech. Skip that stuff! Geeze - tell us the GOOD stuff. Tell us exactly how they killed Fiero. Oh, I forgot, he skipped that part.
5) Elphaba is nasty, annoying and never grows emotionally.
Get some therapy, Elphi. Her POV was just annoying, hardly sympathetic. Obviously, after she learned to speak , she simply became a teenager and never grew past that.
6) The sex scenes and the violence are dull. Just because there is sex between humans and other species doesn't make it good reading or erotic. It's been done before and CERTAINLY done much better.
and the very worst thing:
THERE IS NO PAYOFF. NONE! I hung in there, and hung in there hoping that he would wrap things up and explain things at some point and give SOME sort of emotional satisfaction for having dealt with pages and pages and hours and hours of his slog, and he just rushes through the Dorothy part and it's over. I'm furious.
Overall, I hated it. I'm astounded that so many liked it. I regret picking it up. Unlike others, I wish that I could give it "no stars" - the writer's ability create an imaginary world should be a given and he gets no credit for that from me.
SEE THE SHOW: The broadway show is wonderful and amazing. It is everything that this book is not. However, don't go thinking that they have much in common, because they don't. The plot in the show makes sense, is interesting (far more interesting than the plot in the book), creates characters with whom you really become involved AND gives you a GREAT payoff in the end, explaining things in a MUCH better way and giving you a WONDERFUL and different point of view of the whole story of Oz. The show is one of the best that I have ever seen, and I have seen quite a few. Don't miss Julie Murney as Elphaba, if you get a chance.
THE SHOW: 2 THUMBS UP, 4 STARS, DON'T MISS IT!
THE BOOK: 2 thumbs down, 0 stars, skip it.
I saw the advertisements for the play Wicked and was intrigued by the poster and the premise. So I took the opportunity to take a peek into our favorite Witch.
Elphaba is born to a minister and an adulterous mother. Being green and intelligent excludes her from having a very normal life. She goes to Shiz University where she meets up with Galinda/Glinda and begins to fight against the dictatorial Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately, she is unable to perform her task and goes underground after her lover is executed. Events proceed until the movie "The Wizard of Oz" (WoO) takes over in the last fifth of the book.
Gregory Maguire is capable of writing in a manner that keeps you hanging on and wondering what is just behind the next page, even when he is in one of his political or religious rants. There were many times where I wanted to put this down, but something that Maguire would say would keep egging me on.
The sections I most enjoyed were the first and second with parts of the fourth and fifth. The first section was an interesting way to begin, but as the story progresses, not much that takes place during this time that seems meaningful. The second section about Elphaba at Shiz University was especially good--probably what I and others had hoped to see from this book. The pacing is good, the characters are pretty solid (Galinda is well-written as a society girl, Elphaba as a social outcast and yet a dissenter, Boq as a typical college boy and so on), the events are quite exciting--typical college life, Animal rights being revoked, a murder, and so forth. Although most of the events are never really resolved in this section, Maguire writes this section well enough that a person, such as myself, really wants to know what happens next. At the end of Section 4, Elphaba reunites with her father and her sister, Nessarose, and reminded me why I was reading this book--to learn about the history behind the Wicked Witch of the West. Section 5 continued this evolution.
Further, Maguire has built this Oz very carefully, filling in intriguing details and describing scenes and incidents very well. His elaborate map is only one instance of this; he also painstakingly describes Shiz, Emerald City, the trip to Vinkus, and other surroundings so that you are there where the action (however small it may be) is.
As I continued to flip pages (and there are a lot, mind you), I kept thinking and thinking and thinking...what, in one short sentence, is wrong with this book? Was is the characters, the plot, Maguire's writing, the events? When I got halfway through the book, I realized what the problem was: this is not Oz from the classic 1939 movie. This is Earth in some other reality. Countries experience extreme drought. Oz has destitute people. The political climate could have been America during an election. The racial segregation and civil rights movements are plum out of the 60's. The dictator Wizard could have been Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or practically any other leader from history. College life is just like Earth--sororities, fraternities, boys sneaking to girls, libraries, lectures, drinking. Homer went to Oz and wrote the "Oziad" instead of the "Illiad". People are just like those on Earth, just from differently named cities/towns. Even the religions are practically the same! Unionism is probably Christianity, replete with the zealots. Worship of the Kumbric witch may represent Wiccan. Heck, even this Oz has a Christmas--disguised, not so cleverly, as Lurlinemas. Both are equally as commercialized. These uncanny similarities might not be so much of a problem, but I think most people wanted to read about Oz, not Earth disguised as Oz. I mean, that's kind of what I had in mind when walking into this. If I wanted to read about despotism, about vying religions, about college life, a commentary against commercialism in holidays, I would have chosen a different novel than this.
Further, this book is touted as analyzing what is wicked and what is not. Really? I didn't notice. I mean, the characters did occasionally bring up the subject--between pages upon endless pages about religions that are never fully explored, political viewpoints, Animal rights, and lots and lots of twisted sex between half-hearted characters. Where is the great debate about what is good and bad? Where do we see that the line is blurred? It appears for about two pages at the end, cloaked as it was behind all the fluff.
And was there fluff! Pages upon endless pages are spent talking about religions that have names and little else, politics that never do anything, and yards of unnecessary sexual situations. Many questions arise during this course but are never answered. What exactly do Unionism, Lurlinism, pleasure faith and others entail? Where did they come from? What function does the Time Dragon serve and why is it so respected? Who is the Kumbric Witch and why is she respected? What else does the Wizard do that is so bad? Where did the terrorist come from and what happened to them afterwards? Why do Fiyero and Elphaba fall in love? What is the purpose of the puppet scene? What happened that was so terrible at the Philosophy Club? How did it impact everyone? Are all the sexual scenes really necessary to describe what is going on (especially since they are thrown in helter-skelter and just drag the plot)?
Further, the characters are no where near what I have come to know them as and show little signs of being the people from the movie. How does Glinda become the sweet, good Witch of the North from a society diphead? How does the Wizard appear cruel and immoral and yet is so kind and stupid around Dorothy? And I thought he said that the people of Oz instituted him as Wizard, not that he came blazing with all guns on his balloon loaded and took over Oz. The Tin Man is said to have suffered from domestic violence--something that is revealed in the last 15 pages of the book. And Elphaba herself comes across as pathetic, powerless, and unable to care for herself. How does she become the manipulating, fear Wicked Witch of the West?
As if this weren't bad enough, characters on the whole appear and disappear as if cars on a highway. In the beginning, we have Melena, Elphaba's mother. But after section 1, she dies, never to be heard from again. Galinda/Glinda appears to narrate much of section 2 with Boq, a good character that abruptly drops of the face of Oz. Then, section 3 segues into the viewpoint of super-duper minor character mentioned twice in the previous section, Fiyero, who suddenly and without good reason has an affair with Elphaba. And then I realized that Elphaba's point of view doesn't even appear until Sections 4 &5 and even then only sparsely (between Nor and Oatsie)! I'm like, huh? Isn't she the Wicked Witch of the West that the story is supposed to be about? Why do we not get to see in her head until over halfway through the book? Was Maguire afraid of writing from her point of view? If this book is about the Wicked Witch of the West, why are more points of view about people other than the Wicked Witch of the West?
Relationships between above characters suddenly end up in something that was never expected or alluded to. Where did Fiyero and Elphaba's affair come from? She barely knew him in college, meets up with him because he follows her (why, I have no idea. Did he have a crush on her in college? I, for one, would have liked to know), talk a few times, and then have sex that is rather graphic and detailed.
Other plot points are brought up (Madame Morrible's offer, Dr. Dillamond's death, the resistance movement, the scene at the Philosophy Club, etc.) but suddenly disappear, never to be heard from again. With the way the parts are sectioned, I get the impression that Maguire actually wrote several short stories and blended it into one anthology. I just wish he would have worked some more on the short stories--they are pretty bad. The sections hop around in time, skipping over some really interesting events alluded to and concentrating on events that are really non-events.
Lastly, once Dorothy arrives, absolutely none of the events you see in the movie occur. Elphaba doesn't confront Dorothy in Munchkinland, she doesn't bewitch her on the Yellow Brick Road, no "pansies" cause Dorothy and friends to fall asleep, no message above the Emerald City, nada. It's like Maguire decided to construct his own version of the "Wizard of Oz".
Wow. The f-word is used--didn't know they had that one in Oz!--along with da**, he**, etc.
The sexual situations in this book are most definitely adult. Kids definitely should not be reading this. Some of the sexual situations: Melena commits adultery. Elphaba sleeps with the married Fiyero. There encounters are described rather vividly. The Philosophy Club includes a scene between a Tiger and a man that is very disconcerting. Sarima's sisters are always vying for a man's (sexual) attention. And these are only a few.
Violence is comparatively "mild". Elphaba bites off the hand of a midwife after she is born. People are out to kill Frex and his wife after a show from the Time Dragon. Elphaba joins a resistance movement. Several people--an Animal, a young boy, Fiyero, and an old, sick woman--are killed.
So many people have reviewed this book both positively and negatively. So what can I say about "Wicked" that will be new or at least a different angle?
Probably not much. I found the book a letdown. What I had hoped to find was more insight into the Wicked Witch, but really didn't get what I wanted. Instead, I got a heap of depression (better'd get my Valium!), more politics than a November election, characters that slip in and out of the story and do things that are never really explained, plot points that are really intriguing but are never explained or discussed again, and some of the best sleep I have ever had. At the end, I ask myself, "Is this the Wicked Witch of the West?" Because the movie portrays her completely differently.
If you are wondering whether or not to buy this book and want my opinion, here it is: Don't buy. Don't borrow. Just take out a pen and paper (or a computer) and write your own story about the Wicked Witch of the West. I'm sure you can come up with something just as good or better than Maguire.
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on August 25, 2005
After hearing so many sparkling comments and reading stellar reviews, I was eager to begin Gregory Maguire's novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. As I began the story about little Elphaba and her promiscuous mother, her zealous father and the world they lived in, I waited patiently to get to the meat of the story, and the history of a timeless character. Unfortunately, I waited, and waited, and then finally reached the back cover and realised I was still waiting!
Even early on, I had trouble connecting with a single character. I found myself not really caring what happened to any of them, but I pressed on. As I did, it became clear that the reason I felt so disconnected was that the characters were equally disconnected. There was no feeling, no devotion, no love, no admiration, no hatred, no disgust. I knew that people were friends because I was told. I knew that Elphaba felt kindly towards Galinda because it was in black and white in front of me. Relationships came forth like Juno from the brow of Zeus; no development of any kind, simply born whole and unquestioned.
And Love. Love, the fifth element (if I may be so bold), has no boundaries and follows no set rules. But it has to be nurtured as it's as delicate as it is strong. All true loves are disected and picked apart in an attempt to see how they work. Not so with Elphaba and Fiyero. They simply love. We don't get the chance to know about that first flutter in Elphaba's breast, or the stirring in Fiyero's heart. We have no opportunity to question his infidelity with Elphie, but not with his sisters-in-law. What about this woman makes her so special to him? We'll never know.
Nor will we ever understand how Nessarose, the much loved younger sister, is displayed as a tyrant in her world. One moment she is giving out awards at some public event (a very untyrantlike thing to do I add), and the next moment she is a splat on the pavement with a house on her head. Her shoes, her blessed shoes, red and glinting in the sun, a symbol of...what? We're not sure. Certainly the wizard could tell us, but he doesn't.
On and on the story goes, dropping characters in willy nilly without so much as a blurb about their importance. We never meet Shell, the youngest and most complete sibling. Nor do we get a firm sense of Liir and the other (more legitimate) children that Fiyero fathered. And while the subject is touched on, no real reason for HOW the Wicked Witch of the West became just that is ever given.
What we are given is a healthy dose of politics. Politics that go no where, and compare to nothing.
Over all this novel reads like a poorly written assignment handed in by a college freshman who has no experience to draw on or emotions to invest.
"Class, today you will select a person from literary history and give them a new life! Make it 300+ pages, to be handed in by semesters end. Hop to it."
At the end of the day, I felt no richer for having read this book and appalled that it had gained so much praise. But then I felt perhaps some of the blame had been my own. The title is: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It implies a straightforward, telling of the happenings and events in this one characters world. It was simply my mistake to assume I'd discover a vibrant flesh and blood character brought to life in these pages.
I've learned my lesson. You can tell a book by it's cover, or in this case, it's title.
on January 2, 2005
*S P O I L E R S* BELOW...
Gregory Maguire took a very interesting concept for a novel, and turned it into a truly boring and rambling story that can best be described if you listen to the song, "Is That All There Is?" by Peggy Lee. After I read the last page, I think I became a book-burning sympathizer.
Elphaba starts out as a very complex intuitive character, who progresses to the point of being part of a huge network of rebels who are trying to assassinate the Wizard (due to his Nazi-like running of Oz). For reasons not truly explained well, she abandons everything she believes in and morphs from a well-rounded interesting character you could empathize with, into a flat character with no motivations and no interests. This transformation lasts through the end of the novel where the eventually becomes a lunatic who causes her own death. (question for those who enjoyed the book: She starts off with this network of "terrorists", yet when she gets back in the game and aligns herself against the wizard again, where has this network gone?)
Major characters you assumed would have important roles in the book were discarded randomly (i.e. Boq), and others were brought to the forefront without any sort of development (i.e. Fiyero). And speaking of random silly characters with no point, can someone please tell me why she spent 1 year with Fiyero's family in a rambling useless 100 pages worth of agony? And can someone else tell me why she spent 6 years screwing around the castle doing nothing after Fiyero's family were kidnapped? One might think they meant nothing to her (As not a single attempt to free them was described), but then you come to her meeting with the Wizard where she pleads through tears to get them back.
One would think that her possession of the magic book would make her somehow stronger or more magical, but you would be incorrect in assuming so. IN fact, Elphaba doesn't really do anything Witch-like except ride a broom that apparently anyone can operate. Does that make everyone else a witch too?
Lastly, with all the tyranny in the land, her life and her death meant nothing and changed nothing, which is the thing that pissed me off the most about this book. It served no purpose, and if the writer was attempting to discuss the origin or nature of "wickedness", he did a piss-poor job.
For every issue and non-answered question I listed above, there's 100 more. Do not buy this book. IF you must read it, then go to the library or borrow it from a poor chump who has bought it already (i.e. like me).
"Wicked" is the story of Oz as might have been narrated by Karl Marx, by which I mean it is boring and filled with dull proletarian propaganda. Why did Gregory Maguire take a charming fairy tale and turn it into a history of genocide and the struggle of the masses against their oppressive rulers? His "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" was an appealing historical novel--no magic, but an interesting variation of the Cinderella story.
I was expecting the same from this novel, especially after I saw the musical version of "Wicked" which was both charming and funny. The musical had a great ending that tied various references to L. Frank Baum's Oz into a unified story. It's hard to believe that the musical was taken from this turgid, dull biography of the Wicked Witch of the West.
The witch, Elphaba (her name is fashioned from L. F. Baum's initials) is born rather promisingly in the Clock of the Time Dragon, and immediately bites a finger off of one of her midwives. Does this mean that she is evil from birth? She is green with pointy baby teeth, but she isn't evil. Elphaba is kind to her handicapped sister, makes good friends in college, and subscribes to all of the right causes (Animal rights, for instance). She takes up the proletarian fight, falls in love, bears a son (probably), and joins a nunnery. She goes on a long, difficult journey to apologize to her lover's wife.
Then her sister is squashed by a falling house and Elphaba becomes paranoid and obsessed with her dead sister's shoes. Readers of L. Frank Baum's story can guess how "Wicked" the novel ends (the musical is much more upbeat).
It is true that Elphaba was mean to her (probable) son, desecrated a corpse, alienated her friends, and performed radical, experimental surgery on monkeys. However, she seemed more miserable, and toward this story's end, crazy rather than truly wicked. If she were featured on that cable T.V. show about evil, I think she'd end up as maybe a six on a scale of one to twenty-two.
I'd recommend "The Prince of Darkness" by Jeffrey Burton Russell for readers who are struggling with the enduring problem of radical evil. For those of us who are interested in the story of Oz from the Witch's perspective, go see "Wicked," the musical.