Book Review: WICKED (1995)
I was as big a fan of THE WIZARD OF OZ as much the next film-geek. So I was excited to read a sort of prequel to the overall story of THE WIZARD OF OZ that came in the form of WICKED. This book also happened to be adapted into the intensely popular Broadway Musical. Note: this review is limited to WICKED that follows events prior to and ones that occurred in the first book and story of Oz which inspired the film. Not the gazillion sequels that followed.
see that smile… it indicates her WICKEDness!
I wanted this review to be spoiler free, however without knowing what happens in THE WIZARD OF OZ, the cool-ness of this book can’t be appreciated. So here’s a quick summary of what happened in the movie.
Sheltered orphan girl from Kansas gets caught in Tornado and dropped off to a weird land (Oz). Her arrival kills a good Witch because the tornado dropped the orphan’s house on her (murderous bitch). Another good Witch comes by and gives the orphan girl the dead witch’s shoes, which is wanted by another Witch who is ‘evil’. The orphan girl wants to go home, so she sets off on a magical journey to see the Wizard of the entire land; along with some creepy ass creatures like a cowardly talking Lion, a stupid talking Scarecrow, a heartless talking Tin-Man and her humorously named dog. The Wizard tells orphan girl she can only go home after she kills the evil Witch, she does and bingo bango orphan chick realizes she could’ve gone home anytime using the dead witch’s shoes. Or something along those lines… (it’s been decades since I’ve watch the movie.)yea, that’s them… creepy right?
OK fine, my retelling sucked ass… let’s move on.
WICKED is a pretty cool story, however, follows the basic premises of a prequel in a lot of ways. It tells the story of The Wicked Witch of the West as introduced in the first story (film). The Wicked Witch is essentially the villain in the story of Oz, the antagonist to Dorothy’s protagonist, however WICKED gives us another take on the perspective of good versus bad by telling us the story of the Wicked Witch… showing us a time before she was a Wicked, or even a Witch.
Starting out as a spiritually doubtful childhood which seemed cursed, the future Witch Elphaba never really fit in with her preacher Dad and emotionally absentee mother. Add to that being born with green skin causing everyone to be repulsed by her and a handicapped sister that everyone doted on, and you have the perfect recipe for a complicated anti social adolescent with a major inferiority complex. However the greatest thing about WICKED is that the Witch is never portrayed as being evil. The book gives us the intentions and motivations of the lead character, and also an elaborate set up to the entire history of Oz itself that complicates and misunderstands the Witch… eventually leading to—well you know.
What surprised me most about WICKED, is how layered and complex-ly (I realize it’s not a word) the world of Oz was created. The political and religious backdrop coupled with the segregation based on various classes, and even possible civil war-like things brewing made the read a lot more enjoyable than just if it were just sympathizing crap about a villain before they was a villain. (**cough*Phantom Menace*cough**)
The ‘Wicked’ Witch starts out as an opinionated girl more mature than her peers who sees the injustice and political discrimination of Animals (capitalized because the animals of Oz are intellectual creatures that talk, think, teach, etc… but are segregated due to political agendas). Thus, the maturation of this girl into adulthood draws parallels to freedom fighters who follow a just cause but are portrayed as terrorists to a world oppressed by the current regime. Elphaba’s transformation into an outcast is eventually what causes her to become misunderstood as the evil Wicked Witch of the West.
It’s an insanely interesting read as the world we thought we knew, and some even grew up with, gets completely turned around on our head. (again, assuming you go from the movie to this book only.) Even the characters and their motivations are questioned and doubted and alternative explanations are provided for their actions. The pace sometimes is painstakingly slow and takes a while to get through some of the more intensely descriptive imagery (still nothing like LORD OF THE RINGS.) Also the 2nd act of the book reads very much like a romance novel with a bit of spy intrigue thrown in for good measure.
On its own, as an individual story that stands apart from any other franchise, WICKED is a decent read but nothing groundbreaking. However for fans of the Oz world or people familiar with the movie will enjoy stories about that world again after such a long time and appreciate the novelty of it all. This was basically the case for me. WICKED on it’s own is mediocre, but as a prequel in the Oz continuity, it’s pretty cool.