Sunday, August 06, 2006

Wicked

WICKED (Gregory Maguire) - Four Stars

Really, what an ingenious concept: take a well-known and well-loved fantasy story and "photo-negative" it. The idyllic countryside becomes home to a frightening, almost Orwellian government. Expose the hidden dark (and dirty) sides of the good and virtuous. And, of course, tell the villain's story. As someone once postulated, god might not be any more virtuous than satan, he's just got better P.R.

But Wicked, thankfully, is far more than a gimmicky twist on an old story. The novel rises above that to become a truly engrossing story in its own right, and perhaps its most satisfying achievement is showing how evil doesn't always coming storming from the depths with fire and brimstone. Sometimes evil arises from the most mundane sources: misunderstandings, missed intentions, even the unsuccessful fulfillment of goals and dreams.

For those of you sitting in the "Osama" section, Wicked is both the biography of the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz and a prequel to said novel. Wicked traces the arc of Elphaba's (a.k.a, the Wicked Witch of the West's) life from her humble beginnings as a preacher's daughter in Munchkinland to her schooling in science (not sorcery) at the well-known academy in Shiz where she's the roommate of Glinda (the "Good" Witch); from her disgust at the prejudice and other nastier aspects of society in Oz to her birth as a counter-revolutionary in the Emerald City. And beyond, of course, detailing the history of the ruby slippers and how Dorothy (unintentionally) runs afoul of Elphaba, and more retelling of The Wizard of Oz from this new perspective. Maguire does a terrific job at developing Elphaba into a complicated and multi-layered character, deserving equal parts sympathy and scorn for her actions.

While a solid and enjoyable book, there are parts where Maguire makes a few bad missteps. His use of metaphors can be incredibly heavy-handed, particularly in some of the novel's existentialist musings. I really would've liked more development of Frex (Elphaba's father) in the first 50-75 pages, particularly since he's an important recurring character and his feelings about his daughter (and her feelings about him) are vital to novel's development and impact. And particularly bothersome was the hastiness of Elphaba's deterioration from paranoid insurgent to homicidal lunatic. The reasons for this are certainly well-established, but her mental collapse, her final encounter with Dorothy, and indeed the entire denouement seem uncomfortably rushed.

Fairly minor gripes, though. Wicked remains an original, enjoyable novel that has sufficient parts action, comedy and drama without being overly difficult to read. On an ironic note, having read the book I can't imagine how it could possibly be well-converted to a Broadway musical; but, having not seen the stage version, I can't pass judgment on that yet.

Boq returned the smile, warmly. "Glinda used her glitter beads, and you used your exotic looks and background, but weren't you just doing the same thing, trying to maximize what you had in order to get what you wanted? People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us." He sighed. "It's people who claim that they're good, or anyway better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of."

2 Comments:

Blogger ari said...

Happy Birthday! I'm glad you were able to review Wicked the book. Wicked the musical is fantastic- I just saw it this past Sunday.

Aug 23, 2006, 7:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great book. I have read several of Maguire's books - most of which bring a unique take on well-established tales. I am also fond of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Cinderella) and Son of a Witch, which is a sequel to this book. I have not yet read Lion Among Men, another sequel which was recently released. Mirror Mirror (Snow White) is another, but I didn't enjoy it quite as much because I am not quite sure I fully understood it. He has another book called Lost which is supposed to be a ghost story somehow tied to Jack the Ripper. Honestly, I did NOT get it and have yet to find someone who also read this book to determine if it was the book or just me. It seemed so bad to me that I almost stopped reading it, which I hardly ever do. Let me know if you read it.

Jan 6, 2009, 9:07:00 PM  

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