image courtesy GregoryMaguire.com
I generally like stories told from a unique point of view. The first book I read like that was The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. I also enjoyed the movie Hoodwinked, which does a similar thing. So, since Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire was along those same lines, and because I’d heard rave reviews about the musical based on the book, I figured I’d love this novel.
Maguire begins the tale before the Wicked Witch of the West, whom he names Elphaba, is even born. We see her flawed parents, the strange religious trends of the time, and the ways that Elphaba’s father, Frex, a minister, tries to fight against paganism and what seems like an Oz version of the occult. When Elphaba is born, she is inexplicably green and has very sharp teeth. The story follows Elphaba for a few years during her toddlerhood, then jumps ahead to her college years where she meets Galinda, who eventually becomes Glinda, known to you and me as the Good Witch of the North.
The story here is filled with political intrigue and sorcery (which seems partly academic subject and partly dark magic). Elphaba both struggles to fit in and becomes her own strong-minded person. Another jump, and we are a few more years into the future when Elphaba is a political activist (terrorist?) fighting against the evil regime of the Wizard.
As the book progresses, you see Elphaba not merely as a Wicked Witch, but a torn, lost soul, often rejected because of her strange skin color, just trying to do the right thing and make a difference in her world of Oz. I’ll admit that Maguire is imaginative. But I found the story confusing and hard to follow, as well as a little creepy with some sexually graphic material and some serious weirdness on the religious side of things.
Maybe the musical is lighter, but I don’t recommend the book.