Title: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Author: Gregory Maguire
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, is a novel by Gregory Maguire. I read this book initially when I was in college, so around 3 years ago and picked it up because I was interested in going to see the Wicked musical (I adore musicals and I heard great things about this one). Sadly, I did not have the money to attend the show, but I started reading the novel, hoping to get a glimpse as to what they show could entail. I loved the book from the first page on, reading it all throughout my classes and at night until it was finished. However, after discussing the book a few months ago with some friends, I decided that I did not remember as much as I wanted to, and the details of the book were fuzzy. So, one day while at Target, I decided to pick up the book, and read it all over again. After just finishing the novel this weekend, I am so glad I read it again!
Wicked is the story of a green-skinned girl named Elphaba who is born of a unionist ministor named Frexspar and the granddaughter of the Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland, Melena Thropp. She is the older sister to an armless girl named Nessarose and a boy named Shell. The novel starts by discussing the strange birth of Elphaba and her appearance. She not only had green skin but was also equipped with a set of very sharp teeth and a nasty temper. She also has a huge fear of water. Melena’s childhood nanny was brought in to help raise Elphaba and eventually Nessarose.
The second part of the book talks about Elphaba’s adventures in Shiz, a university in southwestern Gillikin. It is here where Elphaba meets Galinda, who is descended from a noble Gillikin clan and is the complete opposite of Elphaba; beautiful, wealthy, snobby, and most importantly not green. Being forced to room together, both Elphaba and Galinda cannot stand one another and try hard to not have any interaction. But eventually grow to love each other like sisters.
As to not ruin most of the book, I will just say that there are many events that transpire at Shiz that lead Elphaba down a path that is much different from her classmates/friends. The rest of the book contains political intrigue, love affairs (amazingly written and heart wrenching), assassination attempts, and murder. Sounds nothing like the original Wizard of Oz does it? Well it really is nothing like the movie we all watched as children!
The characters are written with such care, especially when concerning Elphaba, that you can feel for each one of them as they do through their trials. Becoming “the Wicked Witch of the West,” was never Elphaba’s intent as she fought for Animal (capital A, sentient creatures that can be bipedal, talk, and work jobs just like humans can) rights, against the Wizard, and for her own justice (whether it is for self punishment or the punishment of others). You feel for this historically “evil” character, even after all that she has done, whether it is good or bad natured. For me, Elphaba is a strong female character who blossoms and grows throughout the novel into a stronger being. She is in constant battle with her own moral value of a soul. Her ties to the books Saint Aelphaba are shown through her emotions and general lack of religious interest. The books general question seems to be asking if someone can be born evil. I really do not feel this question is even fully answered, though there are many hints in both directions of the answer.
The graphic nature of this book took me back a little. Finding this in the Young Adults section, I first questioned the content. However after the discussion and detail of sex, murder, and bestiality, I thought this novel was meant for an older audience. Personally, I loved the adult nature of a book whose topic seems childlike, and nothing in this book screams childlike to me. The political nature of this book is also something I would think could turn off potential readers. But the detail and understanding Maguire writes with allows even the most politically lost souls (your truly), to follow with ease.
I would rate this book a 9 out of 10 with great characters and a good storyline to boot. I would recommend this book for ages 16+, just so they are at an age where they can understand the language.