You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Gregory Maguire's Wicked is a retelling of the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, from Frank Baum's Oz. It is an inventive story that delves into the psychology of the witch and her sister.

The story starts in Munchkinland, where Elphaba is born as a green baby to a Unionist minister and his wife. She is born inside a clock of the Time Dragon, which has caused unrest in the lands. Everybody is surprised that she is green, and she is naturally afraid of water. She ends up in Shiz, the university in Oz, where she meets Galenda and others. They get caught up in politics, trying to stand up for the rights of Animals, who can talk. When her professor, a Goat, is killed and Galinda's guardian dies, Elphaba runs away to the Emerald City to be an insurgent.

There she ends up having an affair with Fiyero, a young prince who was also a classmate. Things end badly when her insurgent plans go awry, and Fiyero dies. After years in a nunnery, she travels to Fiyero's lands to meet his widow and try to get forgiveness. There her powers start to grow. She goes to visit her sister one day, who has become a leader in Munchkinland, called the Eminent Thropp, since it is hereditary and Elphaba has rejected the title. Her sister, Nessa Rose, was born without arms, but has managed to walk a lot better since her father gave her some special ruby shoes. When Elphaba returns to Fiyero's family, she finds that they have been kidnapped by the wizard's troops.

Years later, she visits her father after a house drops on her sister. She is enraged at Glenda for giving the shoes away to the girl in the house. She obsesses over the shoes and the wizard, until the girl throws water on her and kills her.

There is a lot more to the story. It delves into the conflict between the Unnamed God of the Unionists, the pagan Lurlene, and the Pleasure Faith. There's also the wizard, who has grabbed power from the Princess Ozma. There's the sisters' wanton mother and conflicted father. The wizard takes away the rights of the Animals. There's also the snobbishness of Galinda, and how she and Elphaba become attached.

The witch is a misanthrope through and through. It is amazing that she ends up in bed with a man at all. She treats her son from Fiyero, who she doesn't remember giving birth to, with neglect and hostility. Yet her character arc is a growth from a child who can't relate to other children (in fact the children shun her), to a young adult who acts with wit, humanity, and even charm, to an adult who bears an awful burden and takes on the needs of those around her. It is telling that she treats the Animals and other downtrodden humans with more humanity than her fellow humans.

The land of Oz is vast, and we get to see the lands of Munchkinland and the Thousand Year Grasslands, and more in between. The story is infused with a wonderful mysticism, giving it a deeper and broader meaning. Between that and the insights into the personality of the witch, the book gets an A.


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