Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Wicked - The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
I just don’t know what to say about this book. As I mentioned in passing, it’s one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. Frankly, I can’t decide if I liked it or not. I was looking forward to reading it when it was the selection of a book club that I’m in. Like most American kids “The Wizard of Oz” is a movie classic, seen dozens, if not hundreds of times by all of us. I can remember having flying monkey nightmares around age 6 or 7. Then came my fascination with all things “Munchkin”, in particular the Lollipop Kids and the Lullaby League. I still pause from time to time when I see it on the guide……..feeling that wonder of childhood only replayed by certain, strong movie images. I never read the books.
Maybe, had I known more about THIS book, my reaction would not have been so conflicted. Several friends are HUGE fans of the Broadway musical…………but my research after completing the book tells me that the play and the book have little in common. Other than the characters and general plot, the play is lighthearted compared to the novel. Maybe some reader who has experienced both can comment on that fact.
Gregory Maguire is indeed a talented writer. Any random page selected finds little nuggets of wordsmith gold. “Elphaba undid the cord and opened the wooden box. From a pile of ash shavings she withdrew a shoe, and then another. Were they silver? Or blue? Or now red? Lacquered with a candy shell brilliance of polish? It was hard to tell and it didn’t matter; the effect was dazzling. Even Madame Morrible gasped at their splendor. The surface of the shoes seemed to pulse with hundreds of reflections and refractions. In the firelight, it was like looking at boiling corpuscles of blood under a magnifying glass.” Such is Maguire’s description of the first viewing of the Ruby Red Slippers.
Going into this I thought the book would be a glance “behind the curtain” so to speak (pun intended) at the back story of the characters in The Wizard of Oz. Just what made that wicked witch so wicked? But since it was the back story of a children’s classic I was shocked, at nearly the beginning, that McGuire’s answers were so dark. We’re not far into the narrative when we discover the two wicked witches are the daughters of a promiscuous mother and an itinerant preacher. Their parentage is questionable. Elphaba, born first, was not only green at birth but with nasty little sharp teeth. We then find out her younger sister (wicked witch of the east) was born with a severe birth defect, she becomes a religious zealot, and quite the tyrant in Munchkinland before Dorothy’s house fell on her.
This makes the flying monkeys seem like a walk in the park.
And it gets much, much darker.
Yes, I was caught unaware and almost stopped reading the book several times. I forced myself to plow through to the end, hoping the payoff at the end would make the time spent worthwhile. Sorry to say, no payoff. Ending fell flat. Dorothy killed the witch, mostly by accident. I saw that in the movie. I didn’t need to experience children’s book characters in the Oz Red Light District to find out that ending. I think I just made up my mind. I hated this book.
Millions have read it, and other s written by Gregory Maguire. They find it thrilling and beautiful.
I felt like I needed a shower.
at 12:29 PM