I apologise for my prolonged absence, dear readers. I had to complete a lengthy assignment, followed by an internship in London. If you want to know, it went quite well. I also managed to tick an item off my bucket list – well, it means a lot more to me than just a check on some list. I went to see “Les Miserables” live, which was one of the most wonderful experiences. As you know, I love Hugo and I love musical theatre, and Les Miserables (closely followed by “Phantom”) is my favourite musical. Watching it live was quite different from watching the film in the cinema (which I’ve done three times, don’t judge!) or watching the 25th anniversary on DVD (also done numerous times). I won’t lie – I started losing it at the part with the Bishop!
The reason I’m telling you all of this is because this post is a review of a book which served as a basis for another wonderful musical, that I have yet to see live. “Wicked” tells a story of The Wicked Witch of the West, or the villain in Baum’s “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. I confess – I have never read that one; however, I was not unfamiliar with the Emerald City. Some of you may have heard of a Russian author called Alexander Volkoff who wrote a series of books taking place within the world surrounding The Yellow Brick Road. Nonetheless, I’ve heard that Baum’s novel is not quite the same, and I’ve never seen the musical, so I had absolutely no idea what to expect from “The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”.
I’ll say this, however – any preconceived notions I may have had about the story, including the mistaken belief that it was a children’s book, were shattered after the first couple of chapters. Part 1 tells us about the Witch’s, or Elphaba’s birth and family. It wasn’t easy being green in a preacher’s household, especially with a depressed mother. The people of the land, or the Munchkinlanders don’t harm her, however, because her father is respected in the community. We don’t find out much more about the family until the last part, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Part 2 introduces the University of Shiz, a prestigious higher education institution that has only just started accepting women, and is one of the remaining few places where Animals can still have jobs. Animals are representatives of Oz’s fauna that can speak and have a human mind. They used to be treated equally, but it’s no longer the case. Elphaba is now a student at Shiz, and she has a roommate – a seemingly air-headed beautiful Galinda. The two are initially annoyed and repulsed by each other, but the animosity soon grows into a beautiful friendship. Elphaba also reunites with her childhood buddy Boq and together, they work with an Animal, Dr Dillamond, who is a Professor at Shiz. Elphie and Boq aspire to make Animals equal again. Their research is put to an end, however, when Dr Dillamond is brutally murdered. The Head of Shiz, Madame Morrible, hushes it up, however, which triggers Elphaba’s path towards “Wickedness”. Together with Glinda, Boq, his arrogant friend Avaric and the dark-skinned Fiyero who is from another part of Oz, they try to solve the murder, but no such luck. Elphie and Glinda, who begins to call herself that in memory of Dr Dillamond who couldn’t pronounce her full name, then go see The Great and Terrible Wizard in the Emerald City in the hope that he can bring the murderer to justice and help Animals gain their equal rights back. They are met with disappointment however, and part ways in a heartbreaking farewell.
In part 3, our characters have been separated from each other for almost seven years. Glinda is a prim and proper high society wife, whereas Elphaba is part of a mysterious underground movement. She, however, has her own reasons for being a part of it, which, as you can guess, relate to Dr Dillamond and Animals. The not-so-brainless Fiyero finds her and they start what is arguably one of the most epic and heartbreaking love affairs in paranormal literature. We know, however, that Elphaba’s wickedness did not stem from being happy. Fiyero’s tragic end is one of the last straws that will eventually break the back of her good nature. That is, if she ever had any in the first place.
The last two parts talk about her life with Fiyero’s family. She goes to seek forgiveness from them, for the role she allegedly played in his death. As one can figure out, she never obtains it, thanks to the Great and Terrible Wizard’s brutality and cunning. Her misfortunes don’t end there, however. The death of her crippled sister, Nessarose, caused by Dorothy Gale’s house, are arguably what pushes Elphaba over the edge and allows evil to completely consume her.
I finished “Wicked” two days ago and I’m still reeling from the emotions.
I hated the novel.
I hated how much I loved it.
I hated how immersed I became in Elphaba’s character and I hate how much I cried at Fiyero’s demise.
I hated how skilfully Gregory Maguire makes parallels between our world and Oz.
I hated how much Elphaba reminded me of young people who are doing their best to make an impact on human rights.
I hated her beautiful complexity and I hated how Maguire made all the tragedies in her life turn her into a Wicked Witch.
But seriously, this book is – well – Great and Terrible. And so is Elphaba’s journey. From Munchkinland to Shiz to the Emerald City, from the convent to the land of the Vinkus, and back to Munchkinland – she has met her fair share of wicked things.
It must be said that fighting for equal rights can almost never be an evil pursuit. What Elphaba was initially doing for Animals is admirable. However, once she was consumed by revenge, the noble pursuit ceased to be so. One of the biggest themes in “Wicked” is the issue of evil. There is a fascinating discussion between Elphaba, Avaric and his family at the end of the book about what constitutes evil. Some called it a mere absence of good, while others referred to it as an attribute. Elphaba, however, has very different ideas. She says that the real thing about evil is what stays in the shadows of one’s personality, that the nature of evil is to be secret. If one follows that logic, however, it cannot be said that she is Wicked, for her pursuit of revenge/justice is something she wanted to be known. She wanted to die, with the world knowing that she was a murderer of the person who killed Dr Dillamond. What she has kept secret even from herself, however, is Liir. Liir was a young boy who travelled with her to Fiyero’s home. She tells her Nanny that she did not remember anything during the two years at the convent following Fiyero’s demise, and that Liir might well be her and Fiyero’s son. The fact that Maguire never reveals it explicitly, coupled with what Elphaba said about evil, tells us that she herself considers Liir’s existence. to not be a good thing. If she was sure that he was Fiyero’s son, it can almost certainly be said that she would have loved him. The secret of his background is one of the evils in Elphaba’s head.
The other thing, from which Elphaba’s belief in relation to evil stems, is an event that had happened to her at Shiz. Madame Morrible attemps to recruit her and Glinda for the government’s secret service and bewitches them so that if they say no, they can neither remember or talk to each other about it. Elphaba eventually remembers the situation and tries to get to the bottom of it. It can be suggested that her never finding the answers is another stepping stone to her transformation to a villain.
The most significant factors in Elphaba’s development can be suggested to be:
1) Animals’ mistreatment and murder of Dr Dillamond. While the former was widely known across Oz, the murder was proclaimed an accident, and the mystery haunts Elphie for the rest of the novel
2) Fiyero’s death (I still get tears in my eyes just thinking about it). One doesn’t realise that he is dead until later in the chapter – it is only said initially that he sees his own blood. Elphaba doesn’t find out until the end why he was murdered, and, while that mystery is not the main thing on her mind, it can be argued to have played a role in her downfall.
3) Inability to receive forgiveness from Fiyero’s wife. She is imprisoned and murdered before Elphaba can tell her of the role she has played in his death, and it is not something she can ever get past.
4) Nessarose’s demise. Despite what Elphaba may have said, family has always been important to her. Her sister’s death was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
5) Lack of Elphaba’s belief in a soul. While I do not wish to get involved in any metaphysics debate, the idea of a soul is significant in the novel. What Elphaba does not like about the concept is its close ties with religion. The Unnamed God is worshipped by most of Oz, including Elphaba’s own family. She is, however, an atheist and believes that a person who doesn’t believe in anything, can’t believe in a soul. That’s another mystery she could never understand, and one that she never wished to.
There are many things one may argue about in relation to “Wicked”. What I discussed above doesn’t cover a quarter of the themes and issues in the book. I don’t think, however, that I’ll be reading the rest of the series – mainly because Elphaba won’t be in any of them! I urge all of you to go pick up “The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”, so that you all could get to know Elphie and consider – is she really as wicked as they say. 9/10 is my rating for the novel.
You know that in this section, I normally write about a character that I liked the most. Usually I judge them by likeability and/or complexity. Here, however, I have come to a halt. I think I’ll say this, though – in terms of likeability, I would have to go with Fiyero. Yes, I am not ashamed to say that, after listening to his songs from the musical, I have developed a slight crush (which totally has nothing to do with Aaron Tveit). “As Long as You’re Mine” gives me chills every time.
Perhaps my choice stems from the fact that I have not cried at a character’s death like that for a while. I don’t know if he dies in the musical, or if he’s even dead at all, but it was devastating to read about.
Favourite character development
Here, however, I have no hesitation in writing about Elphaba. While Glinda’s transformation at Shiz is something one can easily relate to, Elphie’s character journey is the driving force behind the plot of the book, and Maguire writes it really well.
“I never use the words humanist or humanitarian, as it seems to me that to be human is to be capable of the most heinous crimes in nature”.
“Oh, I forgot the size of the human imagination. How very large it is, after all.”
“As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it? It liberates you from convention.”
The Original Broadway Cast has gotten it right the first time – I can’t really add to that!
You would like “Wicked” if you liked:
“Harry Potter” by JK Rowling – Shiz and Hogwarts aren’t too dissimilar
Anything Oz-related – musical, Baum’s novel, Volkoff’s books, etc.
“Deathless” by Catherynne Valente