(PJS is forbidden from commenting on this post.)
Wicked:The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
by Gregory Maguire
Having been in the book selling business for more years than I care to admit, I see a lot of books come across my desk. Most are adequate, someare dreadful, and then there are the select few that are astonishing. 'Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West' is one of those few books you can read over and over again.
Gregory Maguire has taken the Oz that we know and turned it on its ear. We do not follow the adventures of Dorothy of Kansas, lost and trying to get home. Instead, we follow the life of Elphaba, the daughter of a munchkin minister, destined to be known as The Wicked Witch of the West. Elphaba has grown up here, so her Oz is not the tourist Oz. It is a fun house mirror of our own world. There are two classes of animals in Oz, animals, who are beasts of burden, and Animals, gifted with the power of speech, and citizenship, until a not-so-wonderful wizard starts denying some of his citizens rights. It is a reflection of the Civil Rights struggles ofthe 1960's.
Elphaba is concerned with the politics of her world and strives to do something about it. It is this critique of her leaders, coupled with her unnatural green skin which enable Oz spin doctors to denounce her as evil.
With this different perspective on Oz, you begin to wonder how much point of view plays a part in history. I never thought of the Wicked Witch ofthe West as a sympathetic character, but Elphaba is. Trapped by her convictions and by circumstances she cannot control, she wonders if she has become this evil being without even realizing it.Many familiar characters decorate the landscape of this book, but in a slightly skewed fashion. Glinda the Good is Elphaba's former college roommate, who is more a society dame than a 'Good Witch.' The wizard is a maniacal despot with armed guards reminiscent of Hitler's SS. The book also touches on many social conflicts, if you know how and where to look.
Long before there was a musical, the novel 'Wicked' opened my eyes to what a good writer and a good story can do.