(This is part of a series of “book reports” I’m doing – recording my thoughts on the books I’m reading as part of a general desire to read more. This will typically be talking about what I liked or didn’t and why I did or didn’t, generally related to thoughts on story-telling. It won’t be a discussion of deeper themes and meanings. Comments are always open to tell me your take. Click here to see all the books I’ve talked about.)
When Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West was first a thing, I resisted it with all I had. I felt that the author was building his reputation using the fame of another person’s work in a way intended to change the perception of that person’s work. Gregory Maguire intended to change the viewpoint/perception of L. Frank Baum’s character in the public consciousness in a way that was never intended by the original author. While the copyright’s expired on Wizard of Oz, that’s why copyright was set up in the first place. So in my writerly mind, I thought it was in bad taste to be doing it. Uncool.
The Breakdown: A little girl in a kind of depraved community is born with green skin. She has a hard time of things growing up. She learns that the dictator-like Wizard may be evil and tries to stop him. She then goes into hiding.
Time goes on. I mellow my harsh a little bit, and grow to at least appreciate the thought experiment of it – why did the Wicked Witch of the West end up the way she was? On top of that – regardless of the source material, it takes a lot of work to write any good story, so I at least respected that and if it was a good story and a good thought experiment, maybe it was worth reevaluating my original thinking. So, mostly buouyed by enjoying the music of the musical, I decided to read it…..
And I kind of hated this book. I probably shouldn’t have said kind of. Four key things stand out. Surprisingly, there won’t really be any specific spoilers in this.
Note: This is purely about the book and not the musical, which I haven’t seen but have read about and very much enjoy the music from.
Know Where The Story Is
The entire story of Wicked takes place in the dead space around events. It felt like every time we built up to the point where something interesting was going to happen – then on the next page we’d jumped ahead five or ten years past the expected event. Most of the story that is told in Wicked is far less interesting than the story that takes place in between chapters. This happened, without fail, every single time.
This forced us to spend pages talking about what happened in the interim, or worse, not talking about it, and then building up to another event before, whoop there we go. Jumping way past the interesting event we’ve spent chapters building up to.
Who’s Head Am I In?
The point of view is all over the place. Sometimes in one person’s head, then another‘s, then an omniscient perspective (i.e., nobody could know what’s being thought). This happens frequently in the same chapter or same page with no indication there’s a change. This is also a problem I had with Alice in Deadland. But the worst sin of all here in Wicked is that we’re almost never in Elpheba’s head.
For a story that’s supposedly made to give you insight and backstory into the Wicked Witch of the West, we’re never given any passage into what she’s thinking or planning or doing. Knowing where she’s at mentally would have been something, but we don’t and then you pair this with the fact that—
The Fool Makes a Horrible Protagonist
Elpheba is the single most innefectual character ever imagined by man or beast. She never really accomplishes anything, fails at almost everything she does, doesn’t really have a backbone to speak of. She’s nothing – even by the end of the book – like the Wicked Witch of the West is described or shown to be in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Honestly, she made me long Katniss Everdeen. Who may have been an over-emotional, cut off, whiny crazy bitch who didn’t really do anything and was dragged through her own story, but at least she had some redeeming qualities.
Bad Fan Fiction
But the thing that ultimately pissed me off the most was that Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is impossible to reconcile with the actual source material it was supposedly connected to. Key details were changed in ways that meant this not only was not a look at the actual Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz, but the story itself wasn’t even set in canon Oz. The only connection between the two is that the author says it’s so but if you changed the names in this book, nobody would ever think, ever, that this had anything remotely to do with the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It would just be – based on my other problems with it – a mediocre story.
In the end it was just really bad fan fiction – that doesn’t remotely respect or try to keep continuity with the source – that became a runaway success thanks to being pushed on best seller lists and being picked up and turned into a musical.
And that leaves us with two things. One, an author building his bonafides on the notoriety of another man’s work, and two, it’s a pretty horrible book to begin with.
What did you think? Did you enjoy reading Wicked? If so, what did you like about it? Tell me in the comments below