Gregory Maguire’s “Wicked” expose the untold history of the evil Witch that the West, consisting of her years as the alienated college roommate the a vain, social-climbing beauty named Glinda. All of which sounds deliciously high camp--like a Charles Busch take it on the Oz mythos.

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But “Wicked’s” subversive strategy is to suck friend in v such juicy pleasures and then fight you with the difficult stuff. For “Wicked” is ambitious; that sets the end to discover the scenarios that develop evil (if evil can even be said to exist). That it does for this reason by using a character from children literature, rather than a historic figure, is component of the genius. After ~ all, the Witch is as recognizable to us as any historical tyrant, however we know her only as angry incarnate, a construction-paper villainess. Deserve to we now, as adults, accept a retrofitted background of just how an otherwise well-meaning mrs went so wrong--to the point of in reality sympathizing with her? (And if us can, what unsettling things deserve to we infer around “absolute” angry in our own world?)

Late in the novel, before our pea-green heroine, here named Elphaba, has any idea that she will one day become a witch, she overhears a travel companion comment tartly ~ above a individual tale. “To the grim negative there require be no to water quoi tale about where angry arises,” the traveler says, “it just arises; it constantly is. One never learns just how the witch ended up being wicked, or whether the was the right choice for her--is it ever the right choice?” by the end of “Wicked,” we’ve viewed that that is indeed the right an option for Elphaba, since the details brand that evil that has defined her for us--hostility to an entrenched authority--is shown to us in a brand-new light. In Maguire’s Oz, the real evil is the totalitarian magician and, come a lesser extent, Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, that is recognized as the angry Witch that the east not because she’s diabolically bad, but due to the fact that she’s angelically good--she’s horrifically holier-than-thou.

Elphaba, by contrast, is self-effacing, a woman who scorns power and also claims not not also to have actually a soul. We fulfill her first as the deformed child daughter that a humorless preacher, Frexspar, who tries to transform Munchkinlanders native “paganism” (they think in the fairy goddess Lurline) to the worship of the “Unnamed God.” Frexspar sees Elphaba’s environment-friendly skin as that god’s judgment on his failures--or top top his promiscuous wife, who’s so addled native chewing drug leaf that she can not remember specifically who fathered Elphaba. For every she knows, it might have to be an elf. (We’re clued in to Elphaba’s actual sire later, and also it’s a shocker.)

We following see Elphaba at the university, being scorned (at the very least initially) by the spoiled heiress Glinda, through whom she’s required to room. Yet during this period, Elphaba takes up the reason of pet rights--that’s upper-case A, denoting sentient pets as protest to dumb animals. (Think of the cowardly cap-L Lion.) The animals in Oz are being systematically stripped of all civil civil liberties (in a risky parallel to occasions in our very own century), which eventually sets Elphaba dead against the Wizard.

Later, ~ a frightening attempt to recruit her to sign up with the Wizard’s side, Elphaba flees come the Emerald City to sign up with an underground extremist group committed to toppling the tyrant and restoring animals to citizenship. However she’s sidetracked by a love affair through an old college chum, currently chieftain that the western district of Vinkus (home the the “Winkies”). Once he’s eliminated by police due to the fact that of the attachment, Elphaba abandons she politics and travels to his craggy homeland to beg forgiveness from his widow. But the widow, while agree her together a residence guest, refuses come hear she petition. Elphaba, unable to depart there is no clearing her conscience, remains self-exiled in a tower, coming to be increasingly witchlike, until the Wizard’s lengthy arm will her--and his appointed assassin, Dorothy, arrives. And we all know what wake up then. Or rather, we thought we did.

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“Wicked’s” flap copy compares that favorably come both J.R.R. Tolkien and also Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and for once that’s not simply P.R. Lip flap. Maguire filling in L. Open minded Baum’s large outlines to develop a totally realized fantasy realm that coheres politically, culturally, sexually--and magically. It’s a staggering feat that wordcraft, made no much less so through the reality that its borders were set decades back by someone else. (I’d imagine that, rather the opposite, that would’ve do it all the an ext difficult.) i was devoted to the Oz books when ns was young, and also it’s thrilling to view the acquainted places and personages fleshed out with included literary depth. (One little aside: return Maguire generally remains faithful come Baum’s books, his Witch and also Dorothy fan much an ext to Margaret Hamilton and Judy Garland. The performances of these two actresses in MGM’s 1939 “Wizard of Oz” movie are supposedly too indelibly etched in our communal imagination ever to it is in effaced, even for literary fealty; I understand this is true because that me.)

Maguire’s bigger triumph right here is twofold: First, in Elphaba, he has developed (recreated? renovated?) one of the good heroines in fantasy literature: a fiery, passionate, unforgettable and ultimately disastrous figure. Second, “Wicked” is the finest fantasy novel of concepts I’ve read because Mervyn Peake’s “Gormenghast” or open minded Herbert’s “Dune.” and with its Oz connection, it’s almost particular to offer well. Would that all books with this lot innate consumer appeal were also this good. And vice versa.