I just finished Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Remember the Wizard of Oz? And the green Witch with the flying monkeys? Well, this book is supposed to tell her story.
I confess I didn’t really have high expectations when my book club chose it. It was a popular book and had even been made into a Broadway musical — two things that made me dismiss it as intellectually shallow.
I could not have been more wrong. What a page-turner! I couldn’t put it down.
Maguire creates a full and detailed world. In his hands, Oz has climate, ethnic groups, competing religions, and mythology. Politics create rifts and alliances.
As for the heroine herself, he begins early with her. He starts with her conception and early life, but she becomes a real person to the reader when she arrives at the university. She is a hotheaded activist and sincerely believes in doing what's right even at personal cost.
She is a powerful woman. The ties and interpersonal tensions that guide her choices are utterly familiar to modern readers. Her loves and insecurities are poignant and universal.
What exactly about her is wicked? What does wicked mean in her world - or ours?
With the title he has chosen, Maguire is not being subtle. He quotes Tolstoy, Defoe and L. Frank Baum (the originator of Oz) before the book starts. He wants to analyze wickedness in this book.
The story itself, though, doesn’t seem to address wickedness conceptually. What it does address is the person of the Wicked Witch. If she is taken to embody wickedness, then the filling out of her character and personality in this story makes wickedness extremely ordinary and normal.
She herself seems to live leaning over the edge of despair, feeling herself at the mercy of forces outside her control. With this position, Maguire would imply that evil itself is merely a misunderstanding. And this makes me understand that I definitely underestimated this book.
I’m going to go find all the other books this guy wrote.