Wicked (Maguire)

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Gregory Maguire, 1995
406 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061350962

Following the traditions of Gabriel García Marquez, John Gardner and J.R.R. Tolkien, Wicked is a richly woven tale that takes us to the other, darker side of the rainbow as novelist Gregory Maguire chronicles the Wicked Witch of the West's odyssey through the complex world of Oz—where people call you wicked if you tell the truth.

Years before Dorothy and her dog crash-land, another little girl makes her presence known in Oz. This girl, Elphaba, is born with emerald-green skin—no easy burden in a land as mean and poor as Oz, where superstition and magic are not strong enough to explain or to overcome the natural disasters of flood and famine. But Elphaba is smart, and by the time she enters the university in Shiz, she becomes a member of a charmed circle of Oz' most promising young citizens.

Elphaba's Oz is no utopia. The Wizard's secret police are everywhere. Animals—those creatures with voices, souls and minds—are threatened with exile. Young Elphaba, green and wild and misunderstood, is determined to protect the Animals—even it means combating the mysterious Wizard, even if it means risking her single chance at romance. Even wiser in guilt and sorrow, she can find herself grateful when the world declares her a witch. And she can even make herself glad for that young girl from Kansas.

In Wicked, Gregory Maguire has taken the largely unknown world of Oz and populated it with the power of his own imagination. Fast-paced, fantastically real and supremely entertaining, this is a novel of vision and re-vision. Oz never will be the same again. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 9, 1954
Where—Albany, New York, USA
Education—B.A., State University of New York, Albany; M.A., Simmons College; Ph.D., Tufts
Currently—lives near Boston, Massachusetts

Gregory Maguire is an American novelist. Most famously, he is the author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West; Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister; After Alice; and more than 30 other novels for adults and children.

Maguire, born and raised in Albany, New York, is the middle child of seven. Schooled in Catholic institutions through high school, he received a B.A. in English and Art from the State University of New York at Albany, an M.A. in Children's Literature from Simmons College, and a Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University. His doctoral thesis was about English-language fantasy written for children between 1938 and 1988.

Early career
Maguire was 24 when, in 1978, he published his first novel for children. He has since published more than 20 books for young people and, alongside his creative work, has devoted much of his professional life to literacy and literature education.

In 1979, Maguire began teaching at Simmons College, where he became co-director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature. He remained at Simmons until 1986.

In 1987, he co-founded a nonprofit educational charity, Children's Literature New England, Inc., and served as co-director for twenty-five years.

Children's novels
Starting with that first book in 1978, The Lightning Time, Maguire has published over 20 books for young readers, including his well-known "The Hamlet Chronicles." That seven book series includes Seven Spiders Spinning (1994), Six Haunted Hairdos (1997), Five Alien Elves (1998), Four Stupid Cupids (2000), Three Rotten Eggs (2002), A Couple of April Fools (2004), and One Final Firecracker (2005). Though he is best known as a fantasy writer, Maguire has also written picture books, science fiction, realistic and historic fiction.

Adult novels
In 1995, Maguire turned to adult novels with the first book of his "Wicked Years" series: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995). That book transforms the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its 1939 film adaption into the misunderstood green-skinned Elphaba Thropp. The novel became the blockbuster Broadway musical Wicked and, at its height, had nine companies running simultaneously around the world.

Next in "The Wicked Years" line-up came Son of a Witch (2005), A Lion Among Men (2008), and Out of Oz (2011).

Maguire's other adult novels, most of which were also inspired by classic children's tales, include Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (1999), Lost (2001), Mirror, Mirror (2003), and After Alice (2015), which was published on the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Maguire is an occasional reviewer for the New York Times Book Review. He has contributed and performed original material for NPR's All Things Considered and has lectured widely around the world on literature and culture.

In addition to his writing, Maguire has been a board member of the National Children's Book and Literacy Alliance. He has also served on boards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Board of Associates of the Boston Public Library, and the Concord Free Press, among others.

Maguire met the American painter Andy Newman in 1997, and in 1999 they adopted the first of their three children. Two others followed in 2001 and 2002. Maguire and Newman were married in June 2004, shortly after gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Maguire and his family were featured on Oprah, and he was the subject of a New York Times Magazine profile by Alex Witchel. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 10/29/2015.)

Book Reviews 
Listen up, Munchkins. Stop your singing, stop the dancing. The Wicked Witch is no longer dead. But not to worry. Gregory Maguire's shrewdly imagined and beautifully written first novel, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, not only revives her but re-envisions and redeems her for our times.

It's a staggering feat of wordcraft, made no less so by the fact that its boundaries were set decades ago by somebody else. Maguire's larger triumph here is twofold: First, in Elphaba, he has created (re-created? renovated?) one of the great heroines in fantasy literature: a fiery, passionate, unforgettable and ultimately tragic figure. Second, Wicked is the best fantasy novel of ideas I've read since Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast or Frank Herbert's Dune. Would that all books with this much innate consumer appeal were also this good. And vice versa.
Los Angeles Times

Children—children of all ages, as Maguire reminds us in this splendid novel—need witches. Gregory Maguire has taken this figure of childhood fantasy and given her a sensual and powerful nature that will stir adult hearts with fear and longing all over again. It's a brilliant trick—and a remarkable treat.
New Orleans Times - Picayune

Born with green skin and huge teeth, like a dragon, the free-spirited Elphaba grows up to be an anti-totalitarian agitator, an animal-rights activist, a nun, then a nurse who tends the dying?and, ultimately, the headstrong Wicked Witch of the West in the land of Oz. Maguire's strange and imaginative postmodernist fable uses L. Frank Baum's Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a springboard to create a tense realm inhabited by humans, talking animals (a rhino librarian, a goat physician), Munchkinlanders, dwarves and various tribes. The Wizard of Oz, emperor of this dystopian dictatorship, promotes Industrial Modern architecture and restricts animals' right to freedom of travel; his holy book is an ancient manuscript of magic that was clairvoyantly located by Madam Blavatsky 40 years earlier. Much of the narrative concerns Elphaba's troubled youth (she is raised by a giddy alcoholic mother and a hermitlike minister father who transmits to her his habits of loathing and self-hatred) and with her student years. Dorothy appears only near novel's end, as her house crash-lands on Elphaba's sister, the Wicked Witch of the East, in an accident that sets Elphaba on the trail of the girl from Kansas—as well as the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman and the Lion—and her fabulous new shoes. Maguire combines puckish humor and bracing pessimism in this fantastical meditation on good and evil, God and free will, which should, despite being far removed in spirit from the Baum books, captivate devotees of fantasy.
Publishers Weekly 

(Young Adult) Elphaba, the future Wicked Witch of the West, has gotten a bum rap. Her mother is embarrassed and repulsed by her bright-green baby with shark's teeth and an aversion to water. At college, the coed experiences disapproval and rejection by her roommate, Glinda, a silly girl interested only in clothes, money, and popularity. Elphaba is a serious and inquisitive student. When she learns that the Wizard of Oz is politically corrupt and causing economic ruin, Elphaba finds a sense of purpose to her life—to stop him and to restore harmony and prosperity to the land. A Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and an unknown species called a "Dorothy" appear in very small roles... The story presents Elphaba in a sympathetic and empathetic manner-readers will want her to triumph! The conclusion, however, is the same as L. Frank Baum's. The book has both idealism and cynicism in its discussion of social, religious, educational, and political issues present in Oz, and, more pointedly, present in our day and time. The idealism is whimsical and engaging; the cynicism is biting. Sometimes the earthy language seems appropriate and adds to the sense of place; sometimes the four-letter words and sexual explicitness distract from the charm of the tale. The multiple threads to the plot proceed unevenly, so that the pace of the story jumps rather than moves steadily forward. Wicked is not an easy rereading of The Wizard of Oz. It is for good readers who like satire, and love exceedingly imaginative and clever fantasy. —Judy Sokoll, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
School Library Journal

Discussion Questions 
Introduction:  It's hard to pin down the aspect of Gregory Maguire's Wicked that is likely to fascinate book clubs the most. Is it the detail with which the author reimagines L. Frank Baum's fantasy world of Oz? The care with which Maguire takes the classic work and uses it to explore modern issues like justice and equal rights, superficial notions of beauty and ugliness, ecological concerns and domestic violence? Or, perhaps, is it the sheer delight in watching an immensely gifted writer take a set of familiar characters and imbue them with an entirely new life.

Of course, it is the Wicked Witch of the West herself who dominates this time around: Elphaba, as she is called, is now the complicated centerpiece of a story that once seemed to belong to the relatively simple Dorothy. Brilliant, troubled, passionate, and powerful, Elphaba stands in marked contrast to the girl from Kansas, who, on the whole, takes a backseat to the natives of Oz in this version. Maguire's method with Elphaba's tale is to unpack the simple idea of a "wicked witch" and ask the question, How do you get to be "wicked"? The novel offers the possibility that what from one perspective is a simple case of villainy could be, from another point of view, a life that doesn't resolve into a simple set of "good" or "bad" actions. Book clubs will be particularly interested in following how, as a heroine, Elphaba is a strong, deeply modern woman, whose intelligence is both her great strength and a curse almost as powerful as her more fantastic features, emerald skin and monstrous teeth.

Beyond the issues of moral character raised by Elphaba's story, Wicked provides readers with a host of delights, some of which echo the original Oz books and some of which are completely original. Reading groups will find that Maguire's language, and particularly his facility for making the world of Oz both contemporary yet fairy tale–like, provides fertile grounds for conversation about just where the difference between the "fantastic" and the "realistic" can be drawn, a skill which may invite comparisons to writers like Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie.

Reading groups will perhaps find their greatest pleasure in discussing what Maguire has taken from the original book, and how he has altered or mutated Baum's world. Book clubs may even be interested in comparing the famed film version of The Wizard of Oz with the novel, to see what the author has borrowed from that source. In this sense Wicked is far more than a cleverly twisted tale about good and evil witches, Munchkin society, and talking animals — it is a book that shows how a children's story can become a larger myth for an entire society. Maguire invites us to think about how and why we read fantasy, what we take from it as children, and what we can see in it as adults. Wicked may be "updating" L. Frank Baum's original work, but it also reveals how the original remains so captivating to generations of readers, young and old. —Bill Tipper for Barnes & Noble Reviews


1. When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

2. Gregory Maguire fashioned the name of Elphaba (pronounced EL-fa-ba) from the initials of the author of The Wizard of Oz, Lyman Frank Baum-L-F-B-Elphaba. Wicked derives some of its power from the popularity of its source material. Does meeting up with familiar characters and famous fictional situations require more patience and effort on the part of the reader, or less?

3. Wicked flips the Oz we knew from the classic movie on its head. To what extent does Maguire's vision of Oz contradict the Oz we're familiar with? How have Dorothy and the other characters changed or remained the same? Has Wicked changed your conception of the original? If so, how?

4. The novel opens with a scene in which the Witch overhears Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow, and theTin Woodman gossiping about her. She's "possessed by demons," they say. "She was castrated at birth...she was an abused child...she's a dangerous tyrant." How does this scene set the stage for the story, and what themes does it introduce?

5. What is the significance of Elphaba's green skin? What are the rewards of being so different, and what are the drawbacks? In Oz — and in the real world — what are the meanings associated with the color green, and are any of them pertinent to Elphaba's character?

6. One of Wicked's key themes is the nature and roots of evil. What are the theories that Maguire sets out? Is Elphaba evil? Are her actions evil? Is there such a thing as evil, a free-floating power in the universe like time or gravity? Or is evil an attribute of the actions of human beings? (Hint: Turn to pages 231 and 370 for scenes that will draw you into the conversation.)

7. Discuss the importance of the Clock of the Time Dragon. Does the Clock simply reflect events, or does it shape them? Why is it significant that Elphaba was born inside it? That Turtle Heart was killed by it? What revelations does it offer to Elphaba and the reader when she reencounters it at the end of the book?

8. The first section of the book ends powerfully but enigmatically when the young Elphaba is discovered under the dock, cradled in the paws of a magical beast as if sitting on a throne. How do you interpret this scene, and what do you think it foretells, if anything?

9. The place of Animals in society is an important theme in Wicked. Why does Elphaba make it her mission to fight for Animal rights? How else does social class define Oz, and why?

10. [Galinda] reasoned that because she was beautiful she was significant, though what she signified, and to whom, was not clear to her yet" (page 65). Discuss the transformation of Galinda, shallow Shiz student, to Glinda the Good Witch. How does she change — and by how much? What is her eventual "significance," both in Oz and in the story?

11. Discuss the ways in which Elphaba's determination and willfulness lend purpose and order to her life, and the cost of being such a strong character. Elphaba isn't the only strong female character in Wicked. How do Nessarose, Glinda, and Sarima deal with the issues of power and control? Where do each of them draw strength from? Is the world of Maguire's Oz more or less patriarchal than millennial America?

12. Wicked is an epic story, built along the lines of a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy, in which the seeds of Elphaba's destiny are all sown early in the novel. How much of Elphaba's career is predestined, and how much choice does she have? Do you think that she was no more than a puppet of the Wizard or Madame Morrible, as she fears?

13. Early in their unlikely friendship, Galinda catches a glimpse of Elphaba and thinks she "looked like something between an animal and an Animal, like something more than life but not quite Life" (pages 78-79). Discuss the dual, and sometimes contradictory, nature of Elphaba's character. Why does Elphaba insist that she doesn't have a soul?

14. Who or what is Yackle? Where does she appear in the story, and what role does she serve in Elphaba's life? Is she good or evil — both or neither?

15. Was Elphaba's story essentially a tragedy or a triumph? Did she fail at every major endeavor, and thus fail at life; or because she refused to give up or change to suit the opinions of others, was her life a success? Is there a possibility that Dorothy's "baptismal splash" redeemed Elphaba on her deathbed, or was this the final indignity in a life of miserable mistakes?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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