Monday, June 7, 2010


While getting ready for a trip to New York City, I began thinking about the books that I would read during my travels. I wanted to read something that would somehow connect with my trip, perhaps a story set in the big apple, or a biography of a native New Yorker. I finally settled on the perfect book as I was deciding on the shows and Broadway productions I was planning to attend. Having heard many great things about the Broadway version of Wicked, and like so many others, only knowing half of the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and her quarrels with Dorothy, I decided that reading the book by Gregory Maguire, and seeing the show would be a divine fit. This book is richly textured, and fantastically real, and after reading it, you will be unable to see the Wizard of Oz in the same way again.

Maguire has re-created, and populated Oz with the power of his own imagination. His strange and inventive postmodernist fable uses L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a springboard to create a tense realm inhabited by humans, talking animals, Munchkinlanders, dwarfs and The Wizard of Oz himself, emperor of this dystopian dictatorship. While we were first led to believe that Oz is filled with happiness, joy and color, we learn that it is in fact not a place of fairy-tale, but a dark, oppressive police state full of political machinations. It's a land where Animals, who are sentient and have voices, souls and minds, are persecuted and exiled. It's a place where you are wicked if you are different; if you tell the truth.

Maguire's fantasy world in Wicked is sketched vividly enough to change the way we look at Oz. For starters, the Wicked Witch has a name: Elphaba, and she is not wicked, but insecure and unfortunately green. We are Introduced to the Wicked Witch at the very beginning of her story, her consummation. The free-spirited Elphaba is born to a giddy alcoholic mother, and a hermit-like father who transmits to her his habits of loathing and self-hatred, both parents being challenged in loving rather than taunting her. We come to know about her tumultuous childhood, and her journey to Shiz University, where she is forced by circumstances to become roommates and eventual friends with an unlikely candidate, Glinda, the Good Witch.

Elphaba, unlike the figure of our childhood fantasies, is not a person who dreams of inflicting devilish deeds on the world that refuses to accept her. She is a zealous Munchkinlander who fights for tolerance and who's willing to take the necessary steps to put an end to the tyrannical rule of the Wizard of Oz. She grows up to be an anti-totalitarian agitator, an animal-rights activist, a nun, a nurse, and a lover. Elphaba is smart, sassy, honest, and compelling. She is an intellectual, an activist, and a bit of a revolutionary, who is often misunderstood and not accepted, and who will make you question the nature of morality.

The eminent Dorothy, who we have all grown up to love, appears only near the novel's end, as her house lands on Elphaba's sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, in an accident that sets Elphaba on the trail of the girl from Kansas, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, the Lion, and the infamous red shoes that hold so much sentimentality and and symbolize a lifetime of yearning to be loved as her sister was.

Maguire fills Elphaba's story with liberal amounts of dark humor, sociopolitical satire, honesty, sympathy and earnestness. The detailed and complex religion, culture, and government of Oz are revealed, and help to supplement the narrative beautifully, adding a great deal of depth to the story. Maquire creates real and complex, three dimensional people out of the original characters, while introducing a new cast to help fill in the blanks of Elphaba's past. The combination of puckish humor and bracing pessimism in this fantastical meditation on good and evil, God and free will, shall captivate devotees of fantasy for many years to come.

I have great respect for people who come up with their own original ideas, and bring them to life. I love Maguire's idea of learning about the rather mysterious wicked witch. What really mesmerized me was the way he fit together the story in this novel with the context of the original Oz book, however I found a good portion of the book hard to read. I found that some things were unnecessarily described to no end, while other situations, people, or places were not described at all, making it hard to obtain more than a skeletal idea of what was going on. The beginning and end, however, were enchanting and made the slight struggle worth while.

There are so many details included in the pages of this book, and like I said, some are not described to a point that you become familiar with them, so my tip would be to read this books rather quickly. Try to resist giving into the possible desire to put the book down when the story starts to lag a little in the middle, as you will forget all the details, and the end will not be as impacting. If you can find a period of undistracted time, you will have the reward of reading a story of richly detailed characters, brought together by an intriguing and insightful plot you surely will not soon forget.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I decide to see the broadway production of Wicked. During this lag of the trip I was with my mom, and one of my close friends, and we were wildly anticipating our evening at the theater. After running back to our hotel from Times Square in a mild torrential downpour, we arrived with puddles in our shoes, and pools of water trailing behind us, and slowly came to the heartbreaking realization that our tickets were for the Thursday night of the previous week. After taking a moment to be disappointed, and filled with a melancholy like non other, we raced to the theater to try and find tickets. After almost an hour of roller-coaster emotions, we managed to find three tickets and made our way to the extremely welcoming red velvet seats. Even the fact that we were cold, and still wet, could not take away from the extraordinary show. Although the musical diverted from the book, it follow the basic story and provided me with an even greater understanding of Elphaba. The story was brought to life beautiful by a cast of extremely talented actors and singers, and I am so thrilled I was able to experience that on my trip. If you ever have the chance to see this production, I highly recommend it.


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