Friday, June 17, 2005

Gregory Maguire, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

Flat out, one of the best books I've read in a while!

Maguire takes a character that pop culture has deemed Evil Incarnate (based on L. Frank Baum's 1900 novel and, of course, the popular 1939 film) and invests her with a family, an education, an activist sensibility, a libido, and a wit! Drawing more from the Baum novel than from the film -- and those readers who are only familiar with the film will undoubtedly notice some inconsistancies with the Maguire novel . . . so read Baum! -- Wicked traces the birth and education of Elpheba as she encounters a rogue's gallery of Munchinlanders, talking Animals, tictok figures, etc. More importantly, Maguire gives us a fictional world that is likewise plagued with dictatorial political figures, conspiracy and intrigue, terrorism, social activism, and inherent absurdity. And, er . . . flying monkeys.

There are several literary works out there that take an established literary figure and create a "backstory" for him/her. Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (which tells the backstory of Bertha Rochester, the madwoman in the attack from Jane Eyre) and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (which gives an account of Hamlet from the point-of-view of two of its minor characters) come most immediately to mind. But Maguire makes the world of Oz our world, and there is a stunning relevance here between the Oz on the page and our own post-9/11 existence (even though the novel itself was published almost a decade ago).

And while it's a fun read, it's definitely a book that will leave you with more questions than answers. Consequently, multiple readings make this a rewarding novel to experience -- something which, in my opinion, makes a work of literature valueable.

If you haven't done so already, read Wicked. Read it soon!