Saturday, August 23, 2008

Good vs. Evil?

Traveling productions of Broadway musicals often visit my city, and the main event of this season was Wicked. Heavily promoted on the radio and on billboards, its presence in town reminded me that the book, by Gregory Maguire, was on my TBR list. I got it for my birthday and finished it a couple of days ago.

Whenever I see a good-vs.-evil type movie, I always wonder about the villain. How did he or she get to be like that? I must not be the only one, because movies are fleshing these villains out a little more. Often, their actions are explained either by revenge or by some sort of psychological trauma in their past. In Wicked, we view things through the eyes of the witch herself. Turns out Elphaba is more misunderstood than anything else, and may have even been just a pawn in a game that she never understands.

Maguire takes our traditional understanding of Dorothy's tale and turns it on its head. The Wizard of Oz is definitely not wonderful, unless you happen to be a fan of tyranny and intimidation. The Cowardly Lion, being an animal endowed with a soul, has very good reasons to be afraid. The Yellow Brick Road was built at a tremendous cost to life and remains a controversial project. Oz is a place of political unrest, and the Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba) is both an activist against and a victim of the Wizard's harsh regime. The connections between herself, the Wicked Witch of the East (Nessarose), and Glinda the Good Witch are fleshed out, to the reader's delight.

Reading this book was sort of a meandering experience. I found the beginning rather slow-moving, concentrating as it does on Elphaba's parents and on her first year of life as a green baby in a rural part of Oz. The book then fast-forwards to her college days, where we view her primarily through the eyes of her social-climbing roommate and ultimate best friend, Galinda (as she was known back then). The story takes several unexpected turns, but they're handled so matter-of-factly that you can't really deem them plot twists. It doesn't join with what you know of the principals until the very end, and I started to get that same feeling I sometimes get when, 57 minutes into an episode of CSI, they seem no closer to solving the case than they were at the beginning. You know they'll get there because it's what you were promised, but how are they going to do it?

I also began to wish that I was a little more familiar with the Oz books. I learned at a previous job that there is actually some astronomical number of them, but I think I only read the one the movie was based on, and only once. A greater understanding of them would've enhanced my reading of Wicked, but I still enjoyed the book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the Oz series declines in quality pretty quickly, from what I'm told (I've never read past the first one, because i really don't like it). But i LOVED Wicked when I read it way back before it was ever even a whisper of a musical. I liked the Animal Rights angle, actually.

alas, I cannot recommend Maguire's other books. i read one or two - the ugly stepsister one, and maybe another? - and found them uninspiring. and uninspired.

but Wicked is pretty fierce.

now, go read Bleak House (Dickens, of course!). i'm re-reading it now, and it's great!!!!

~yer sis