Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

These words don't come lightly, but I haven't had a reaction to a book like this since Neil Gaiman's American Gods. For some reason I was put off by Wicked for a long time. I don't know why. I've actually had a copy of it twice before, but gave it away. And then I was in the bookstore at the airport looking for a book to read. And I knew that Wicked was Matt's favorite book, so I owed it another chance. I owed it A chance. So I bought it and opened it up to the first page and I immediately fell under the spell of this book. I've never read L. Frank Baum's original Oz novels, but I've seen the movie enough. And let me tell you, I'll never look at that movie in the same way again. Instead I'll watch it and know the story of Elphaba, aka, the Wicked Witch of the West. I'll know the cruelties and hardships that she suffered to make her the character that we know. I'll know that Elphie isn't really all that evil, but a character wrought by political concerns and equal rights for everyone and someone who just wants to be loved. I'll see the wizard as the bastard that he is and I'm sorry, but I totally hold a grudge against Dorothy now...for we all know how Elphaba's story ends. Wicked does something genius. Gregory Maguire takes a character that's come to represent pure evil in our culture and makes us question that. Shows us that underneath perceived evil, there is a true person there. In Wicked we learn the story of Elphaba (whose name he formed from the initials of L. Frank Baum's name) and see her rejected from the moment of her birth when she is born green. But she doesn't give up on humanity. She questions society's ideals, yes, but perseveres and instead tries to make the world a better place. And yet is soon known as a witch. And this is more than Elphaba's story. It's also Glinda's know, the GOOD witch. Maguire will make you question that too. And it's the story of Nessarose, Elphie's sister who we only know as a pair of legs with a house on top of her in the film version of The Wizard of Oz. It's the story of politically motivated crimes, equal rights among beings or the lack there of, gender stereotypes, magic. And it's all told so wonderfully. I never wanted this book to end really. But central to the story is the concept of good and evil. Is there such a thing? Or is there such a polarized meaning of good and evil? Can anyone be completely good or completely evil. In Maguire's story, the line is often blurred...and aside from a few scenarios, there really is no true answer. Good is often motivated by evil, evil often caused by a desire to do good. And the story is told as one big, adventurous, heartening tale. A tale that luckily has three more books left for me to read, though sadly, Elphie is gone now...a character I came to love so much. I'm not spoiling anything here. I think the story of the Wicked Witch of the West and her demise is universally known. But how he gets us to that story is not. And that is the part that I won't spoil for you. Do yourself a favor and meet Elphaba. Learn to love what society has damned as evil. Read. This. Book.

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