Gregory Maguire’s Wicked

This review was originally posted, for the most part, at Goodreads.

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

“When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked?

Gregory Maguire has created a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again.” – Goodreads blurb.

 Wicked is essentially the story of Elphaba, better known as “The Wicked Witch of the West”.  It follows her from birth to death.  It shows us her origins, and then attempts to show us her side of one of the world’s most famous stories.  Wicked has earned a great notoriety of its own.  In addition to being a successful novel, it’s a very successful Broadway musical.  Of course, like everything else, it’s also being looked at to be turned into a movie.

It’s not very often that my wife and I are both interested in reading the same book. This was one of the few times I can think of. Neither of us had heard of it before, and we spotted it on a shelf in a local thrift store.  We both saw it at the same time, and reached for it.  Reading the back cover, the premise excited us, as it has so many others.

For me, however, it failed to deliver. It came out of the gate strong. Sometimes brilliant, but sometimes preachy, I found myself mostly enjoying Elphaba’s birth and early years. But as her entrance to college started a downward spiral of less brilliance and greater preaching, I found myself enjoying the book less and less. By the end, the author seemed to be trying too hard to say too much and I lost almost all interest in Elphaba’s origins.

Added to the preaching was the fact that many things happened that seemed to be left unresolved or unexplained. Now, I don’t mean that in a “I’ll leave this for the sequel” kind of way. In attempting to ground the land of Oz to reality, you really need to go into greater details regarding the hows and whys of the Wicked Witch’s strange appearance. You should probably not explain the fantastic details of your main characters oddball traits to your reader with, effectively, the equivalent of, “I dunno… maybe her mother screwed some pixies or something?” This problem is compounded by the fact that this is supposed to be an origin story, and recurs throughout the novel.

I can see why some have greatly enjoyed the novel. Maguire’s “adult” look at the world of Oz is an interesting take. The idea that this world that we all know of as beautiful and majestic, inhabited with wonderful creatures, is actually filled with as many horrors and horrible beings as our own is quite interesting. And most of the messages Maguire tries to get across (equal/human rights, moral ambiguity, the evils of tyranny and the abuse of power, etc.) are things that many enjoy reading about.

Once it was done, though, I was glad to be through with it. I have to say that “It’s Okay.”  Thus: