Samantha’s CBRIII Review #30 – Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire

It took a lot of work to get through Wicked. I’ve kind of been badmouthing it for the weeks it took me to read it, and I sometimes stop and wonder whether or not I’m being too hard on it, but mostly, I don’t think I am. How such an interesting idea and premise, with a fair amount of interesting execution could be so colorless is somewhat beyond me.

Wicked is the story of Elphaba, who grows up to be the evil green lady we all know as the Wicked Witch of the West. It follows her from her somewhat prophetic birth, through her formative years at university and later, mysterious, adult life to her eventual demise at the hands of the little lost girl from Kansas. Along the way, we get a taste of the true climate of the land of Oz: one of political turmoil, xenophobia, and religious tension. Elphaba and her counterparts (Galinda and Nessarose) are, naturally, caught up in all of the intrigue. But are they real players, only pawns, or mere victims? It’s hard to say.

In Maguire’s mind, Oz is actually an extremely adult place, and that’s disappointing, because it’s such a great idea. The world he creates has the potential to be truly fascinating, but instead it’s just boring. I can’t even pinpoint why, exactly, but the way I’ve described it to several people is that it’s as though Mr. Maguire didn’t have any fun writing the novel, and so the reader doesn’t have any fun reading it. There’s no love in it. The language is good, the writing is descriptive, but it’s just missing any kind of spark, for the most part.

What spark there is comes in the form of Elphaba herself. I nearly put the book down half a dozen times, and the reason I didn’t is because she’s a great character. She’s intellectual and prickly, but deep down very caring. I suppose I should give some credit to Maguire for the fact that, until about three-fourths of the way through the novel, I forgot that Elphaba was ultimately doomed, and then when I finally remembered, I wanted to finish the book even less. I suppose that Maguire tries to help his reader along with those feelings by completely ruining the character in the last chapters of the book. Elphaba descends into paranoia and possible madness in the end. Worse than her eventual death is the complete discrediting of her character in the end. The reader is left to wonder whether or not her view of the situation in Oz was, in fact, correct at all, and whether or not it was all a paranoid delusion.

Perhaps that’s the brilliance of the novel? Ultimately … I just don’t care. I know it’s very popular, even spawning a (completely different, apparently) musical, and Maguire has repeated the formula with other works, but I will not be reading them. I found something about his style and treatment extremely off-putting, despite some great ideas and good character work. To his each own, eh? I wonder what L. Frank Baum would think …



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4 responses to “Samantha’s CBRIII Review #30 – Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, by Gregory Maguire

  1. Great review. I read this ages ago and didn’t like it either. Elphaba was a great character, but she just went nowhere, and her relationship with Glinda was even less. I haven’t seen the musical Wicked yet – I can only suspect and hope that it is really different from the book. I think he had a pretty good idea and then just didn’t know where to go with it. And now he’s a fairy tale fracturing factory, and not in a good way.

  2. Thanks! “Fairy tale fracturing factory” … I LOVE IT.

  3. The musical was great. I actually picked up the book for $1 at a book sale after having seen the musical, but I’ve read several negative reviews about the book so I’ve put off reading it. Thanks for the review, I may just have to file the book away so I don’t soil the good memory of the musical (which I highly recommend, by the way).

  4. sevenstories

    I was so confused about the book – I tried to convince myself I liked it more than I did because it had so much potential. I liked, on the whole, the section at Shiz when the tone was adult but still playful with the characters and the original story. However I found the second half on the novel just so unrepentingly depressing and miserable.

    I do, however, adore the musical and was relieved to find it was signficantly different from the novel. It’s really just based on the basic outline and premise of the book and is well worth a watch just to listen to Defying Gravity live.

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