Wicked by Gregory Maguire was, I think, kind of the beginning of the justifying the bad guys stories that have becomes more and more prominent in recent years.
Usually I’m not into this kind of story, but I’ll admit I didn’t know that was the story of Wicked (though one could guess, I suppose). And, even still, it’s received enough praise and publicity, I was curious to read it.
I think the story is about to stand because Frank L. Baum wrote so little about the Wicked Witch of the West to begin with. She had no history with Dorothy before the house dropping incident. Elphaba’s story was a blank slate.
The story begins, of course, with her birth, and follows her through college and into adulthood. Despite her tendencies at birth, Elphaba isn’t inherently evil, she is, mostly, pulled along by her the causes that become her convictions.
But mostly she is wrestling with herself. Born green, literally, to parents who viewed her mostly as a punishment, Elphaba has issues to work through. But so do all the characters.
The story is largely a discussion of good and evil. Glinda the Good Witch tells Dorothy to seek help from the Wizard, but does that make her good? Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East, rules over Munchkinland, which chose to secede from the rest of Oz, and through religious fervor becomes an unwanted dictator–but is she evil?
The story challenges readers to think critically about actions and motives, instead of jumping to an immediate conclusion of good or evil.
What I liked about this book, more than the movies that have tried to make the villains misunderstood, is that Maguire doesn’t quite do that. He presents alternate motives and allows the reader to decide which characters were right and which were wrong. Instead of changing a fairy tale, he turned it into a real-life story, in a way, and that made it very enjoyable to read.