Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

*Trumpets sound, angels sing."

I loved it. Loved, loved, loved. And not like "love that goes away because it's really just a passing infatuation." OHHHH NO, this is real love. Real bookish, all-time favorite, gooey love.

Now let me try my best to explain because I want there to be some logic behind this lovefest and not just a gushy mess.

I only sort of knew what to expect when I picked up Gregory Maguire's Wicked. Having read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and having NOT fallen in love with that one, I thought I might pick this book up, read through a bit, and then set it aside. I am thrilled to be wrong.

Elphaba, the eventual Wicked Witch of the West, is born to a minister father and a tart of a mother. She's green, she has pointy teeth and odd eyes, and her mother doesn't really bond with her. She spends her childhood with her missionary family in an unsavory part of Oz called Quadling country and is nearly uncontrollable until her younger siblings come along. As she grows, it's evident that she's not as odd as her parents originally feared, and she's a smart little whipper snapper. She attends Shiz University with Galinda (later Glinda) and a cast of other pivotal characters, and her life unfurls into an adventure as she eventually becomes involved in political workings and endures heartache and failure throughout her life until the unavoidable ending we know awaits her.

I did not expect an epic, and that's what this book feels like. From Elphaba's birth to death, we have a peek into her best and worst moments, and rarely have I met such a sympathetic character. Is she all sunshine and light? OH no. She's smart, intuitive, moral, and conflicted. She is sensual but also practical to a fault. She might be me. If I were green. Maybe.

Aside from loving Elphaba herself, I really enjoyed Maguire's narrative on several levels. First off, there is an obvious fantasy element here -- this is Oz, after all -- but there's also a distinctly historical feeling to this book. At times I felt like I was living in Victorian England, at times Nazi Germany, and even Nixon-era America. The various regions of Oz were colorful and unique, and I enjoyed getting to know them through Elphaba's travels and their representative characters.

This book also critiques and satirizes some big, honkin' issues. Maguire explores the nature of evil, implications of religion, human rights, revolution. I was genuinely surprised and delighted by how political in nature this book became at times. I was most compelled when Elphaba was embroiled in some plot or other and impassioned by the dwindling rights and oppression of Animals (animals with a human capacity for intelligence, thought, and communication). It was easy to see how she started strong and almost naively passionate about issues in her college years, but withered and became embittered with time. Though, I have to say, she was never as bitter and never wicked as one might associate with the book or film version.

I suppose I also had my doubts coming into this book because I have no particular fondness for The Wizard of Oz. I disliked Baum's novel, though I appreciate it and have used it in my college classroom. I am fond of the movie, but not fanatical by any stretch. I enjoyed Wicked in a similar way to Bill Willingham's Fables series. The characters are recognizable because they are figureheads in our pop culture. They are archetypes. Almost everyone knows them, but Maguire tells the backstory. The whole story. It's a very smart takeoff from what we think we know about these characters. He crushes the stereotypes while still leaving some nugget of the character in tact for the sake of familiarity. He grows the story; he does not just retell it.

Wicked is a world of it's own with rich characters, settings, and a twisted plot. It's humorous and horrific by turns. It's political and silly and passionate. It is the best of what I look for in a book -- an intricate plot and well-fleshed characters and a huge emotional investment. For these reasons and more, it's going on my all-time favorites list. Having read some reviews, it seems that this novel is quite polarizing, but that's another sign that a novel is worth risking. It can be a payoff or end up in pissed off, but it's most definitely worth a go.

Snuggle (with big, sloppy kisses) -- Skewer

Pub. Date: September 1995
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: e-book
ISBN-13:  9780060987107 
Source: Purchased by me.


  1. You have totally sold me on reading this book, Andi! It's been sitting on my shelf (among others by Mr. M) collecting dust. As I mentioned on twitter, I LOVED the musical... but I've been hesitant with reading it. I wanted the magic and amaziness to still exist. And it seems that it does.

    I've heard his other books aren't that fantastic. I wonder why? Also, when I'm done with Norwegian Wood, I'm e-mailing said you loved it...and I'm wondering if I'm missing something!

  2. You have convinced me too!!

  3. It makes me smile to see how much you loved this novel; good for you! I'm so glad that you found a book which really meant a lot.

    As for me, I liked it, but didn't love it. There are a few parts, however, that I thought were very sympathetic with a Christian point of view. I remember thinking that the witch's death by water was comparable to baptism; her evil side was washed away in a cleansing. Maybe that's too extreme, it's been years since I read it, but I can see why the characters spoke to you. They are very real and sympathetic.

    Also, as I remember, there was a lot of sex in this book, right?

  4. I loved this book too, and was so enthralled with the way that Maguire really fleshes out his world, and fills it with politics, and social construction, and vary finely tuned characters. I haven't read it in a long time, but it is definitely one of my favorites. I totally agree with you that it is a polarizing book, and some just hate it, but I think there is just so much brilliance behind what he was doing here. He basically created this whole environment and re-imagined characters that everyone at least has a passing familiarity with. This book made me seek out more of his works, and though some of them were good, none of them approached this one in terms of scope and organization.

    This was a lovely review today, Andi. I loved your enthusiasm!

  5. I've never read this book but have wanted to, given all the swoon-y love it gets. I'm reassured by your comment about not like Baum's books because I don't either -- so if this is still readable, than I'm in.

  6. I love your comment about how he grows the story! I really loved this one.

  7. I've avoided this one for years, thinking I would hate it. But you have me sold! I'll have to read it!

  8. Oh I love loved Wicked when I read it years and years ago. I've tried some of his others since then with less satisfaction and have just kind of not read any more of his stuff. But Wicked does go on a "best books ever" kind of list. Glad you enjoyed it too! I must re-read it again sometime. Maybe get my friend to join along and then see if we can go see the musical.

  9. Christina, you're my first sell! You get a set of steak knives! And I sure haven't had much luck with his other books, though I have some hope for the rest of this series. Definitely e-mail me about Norwegian Wood! I don't know how helpful I'll be since it's been a gazillion years, but I'll try!

    Right on, BookQuoter! Have just "followed" you! Thanks for stopping in.

    Bellezza, I think you're RIGHT ON with the water. Even before the incident that brought along her death she mistakenly spoke the words, "I want a soul..." Aha! There was also a lot of sex. Funny sex, to me. Much like watching puppet sex in Team America: World Police.

    Thanks, Heather! I agree...he's just done so much with this story and fleshed it out so well. The issues he inserted in the novel really gave it weight and heft I had not anticipated. Such a great surprise.

  10. Audra, I really think it's an advantage to not be toooo tied to any of the incarnations of Baum's world. The film or the novel. It really makes this book more acceptable with the liberties he's taken with the characters.

    Thanks, Ana! :)

    I hope you love it, Allie!!!

    That's a great idea re: the musical, Amanda. This is one of those books I would really like to re-read somewhere down the road. I think I'd gather even more from it on a second go.

  11. Wicked has been sitting in my TBR pile for ages. After reading your review, I think it's time to dig it out ...

  12. I'm sad I missed the stage production of this when it came round to San Francisco. This sounds wonderful and I know there is a whole series that he has written so lots to look forward to.

  13. You really have to see the musical. Just to note though (no spoilers): it is quite different from the book. And, must like movies, the book is sooooo much better (though, it seems to split between people who read the book first or saw the musical first) But still, the musical is definitely awesome. I first saw it over 5 years ago and I still randomly burst into song.

  14. I was really surprised at how political this book was when I read it for the first time too. Since I was only familiar with the story from listening to the music from the musical (and not having actually seen the musical), I was expecting something different too. But I loved this book, so much. You're making me want to reread it right now!

  15. Epic is a perfect word for this book. Even years and years after reading it, I can still remember how much I loved the story. Someday I will re-read it.

  16. So glad to hear that you finally found a book that you really loved! My bf read it and said he remembered really enjoying it. I don't necessarily know if it's my cup of tea but this has certainly made me consider. Sounds like it contains much more than I've always assumed.

  17. So glad that you loved this one. I saw the play, but did not read the book.
    I did, though, read Son of a Witch last year, and loved that one. I have the third and fourth one in the series on my shelves, and am anxious to get to them soon.

  18. I've had this book for a while now, afraid to crack open its cover. I don't really know why, but the fear is definitely there. Chris started chipping away at that fear, and I think you definitely just hacked away another huge hunk. :)

  19. Aww geez, I'd already given up on this one as a lost cause after trying to read it at least twice and not being able to get through it. Plus I was NOT crazy about Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister either and Mirror, Mirror is just okay. But I trust my Andi-bug, so I might give it another try someday. You do make an excellent case for it!

  20. WELL, clearly I need to read me some Maguire.

  21. As I expected, your review has 100% persuaded me to try this again. I hope I feel this way when I read it now!! :)

  22. I wanted to love this book, but it just didn't happen. I just do not like Maguire's writing style. :(

  23. Belle, I found it pretty easy to ignore for a very long time. lol I expected fluff, but not so much.

    Kathleen, I missed it when it came through Dallas, too, but I'm kind of glad as I went into it with no expectations. I rarely get excited about series books, but I went right out and bought the next two in this series. :)

    Hi, Me! I'm so confused, me typing to Me. :) 5 years and still bursting into song is a good track record! I notice that those who saw the musical first often receive the book differently. I feel the same way when I watch film versions first. The book is still usually better, but it's just a different experience.

    Oh Kim, it is DEFINITELY a book I would love to re-read. I'm glad you enjoyed it so much, too!

  24. Trisha, this is one of those books I think I'll remember very vividly. Specific scenes and most definitely the emotions involved. It was a heavy hitter!

    Beth, I simply adored it, and it's been a good long while since I felt that way about a book. It was much more than I ever imagined it would be, that's for sure.

    BookGirl, I'm looking forward to Son of a Witch, too. I usually wait a ridiculously long time between books in a series, but I think I'll be getting to these very very quickly. Both Son of a Witch and Lion Among Men are staring at me from my TBR and I can barely contain myself!

  25. Debi, YAY!!! Listen to Chris and I. lol I hope you love it if you get around to it. It was definitely a treat.

    Thank you, Heatheroo! After the first bit where she's born and weird in Munchkinland, things really pick up. I'm not sure if you got to the part where she goes off to Shiz and meets Galinda, but that really gets things going.

    Aarti, just this one. Skip the rest of his books. lol

    Meghan, I hope so too! Give it some time as it doesn't start off quickly. When she gets to Shiz University, that's when it's really on.

    Kelly, I definitely didn't enjoy it in Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, so I was doubly surprised to love this one. He put me to sleep in Confessions.

  26. YES! Yesyesyesyesyes. I'm so excited that you love this book as much as I do that I could hug you :)

  27. So so so glad you loved this one! It's one that had so many complex themes that I'd love to re-read it again one day. I've only read one of his others (based on escapes) but I didn't like it as much.

  28. This is one of my favorites that definitely deserves a reread. I read it with a book group and our discussion only made me love it more since so many of them had seen things that I hadn't.
    I know I'm in the minority when I say I was disappointed in the Broadway musical. And don't feel like you need to read the next one, Son of a Witch, it was disappointing too.


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