The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
by Gregory Maguire
Of all the retold fairy tales that I have enjoyed over the last few years, this is definitely one of the most complex. Wicked is the other side of the well-known story The Wizard of Oz. It tells of the Wicked Witch of the West's origins as the misunderstood green-skinned girl Elphaba, child of an alcoholic mother and preaching father. She grows up surrounded by the Munchkinlanders' struggle for economic stability and then leaves her backwater home to attend University in the city. Studious, witty and constantly questioning the status quo, Elphaba becomes concerned with the struggles of the talking Animals for equal rights. With a few select followers, she becomes an underground revolutionary... I don't want to give away the story so I won't say much more.
Suffice to mention that this is not a book for children. It has very adult themes and several sex scenes. Besides the political and economic overtones, it also addresses issues of religion, social class and education. Wicked is a very convoluted book, sometimes difficult to read and keep track of all the threads of the story. The familiar Wizard of Oz characters are only minor figures here, although Dorothy does play her key part in the end. It is a fascinating look at how one character's difficult moral choices lead to her being called evil by the world at large.
Rating: 4/5 ......... 409 pages, 1995
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