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on 16 December 2002
In Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire has written a novel that deals with the life of Elphaba, an emerald-green skinned young woman who was born into the family of a preacher and his wife in Munchkinland. Elphaba's family are not Munchkinlanders, however, and Elphaba grows up knowing more than she ever wanted to know about persecution and alienation. As a result, she becomes somewhat introverted, rebellious and yes, a little wicked.
When we all root for Dorothy as she triumphs over the Wicked Witch of the West in Frank Baum's Oz tales, we seem to forget that we are only hearing Dorothy's side of the story. There is more to Elphaba than wickedness and Maguire proves it as he chronicles Elphaba's odyssey through the land of Oz.
What makes Wicked such a special book is the fact that Maguire has written a story that challenges our preconceived notions of what, exactly, is good and what, exactly, is evil, with the character of Elphaba at the heart of the matter. Although Dorothy does make an appearance near the end of the book, it really isn't necessary to know anything about her or the Baum stories to understand and appreciate Wicked.
In Wicked, we follow the life of Elphaba as we learn what shaped her personality, what it really means to be a witch and how things are not always as we think them to be or even as we want them to be. The characters in Wicked are fully-fleshed out and believable. Besides Elphaba, there is her university roommate, Glinda; Boq, the lovelorn Munchkin; Fiyero, a tribal prince from the primitive West of Oz; and Nessarose, Elphaba's beautiful and witchy sister.
The fantasy elements in Wicked are actually quite light; this is no book for children and it even runs the risk of becoming overburdened by the weighty issues it seeks to tackle. Maguire could have let this book slip into nothing more than a sappy view of the technologies and magic that pervade the land of Oz. Instead, he wisely chose to focus on the people, instead and he has created characters that are vibrant, strong and full of life.
Maguire's Oz is no Utopia and Elphaba is more than just a green-skinned witch. She is a woman who has become wise through the mechanations of guilt and sorrow and one who is, surprisingly, actually happy to meet the young girl from Kansas who eventually shows up at her door.
Wicked is more than satire; it is an imaginative, fast-paced, fantastically real and supremely entertaining novel of vision and revision. Once you read it, Oz will never be the same again.
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on 5 June 2009
Maguire has an excellent base story here. It is gripping, compelling and thought provoking. You will come to understand the other side of the coin and sympathise with someone who has the wicked title thrust upon them.

However the launguage is very 'long', flowery and over the top to the point the archaic descriptions and unneeded imagery get in the way of the pace of the story. Words seem to be thrown in more to make it sound intelligent than actually adding to the prose. It reminds me a bit of the launguage of tolken (which I find can get a bit OTT somtimes) but as I say someone trying too hard to copy it.

Also this book is not for under 14s due to graphic sexual scenes and strong launaguge in places. While they may help show the views of pleasure faith again it seems to be trying too hard to shock so felt it insulted the reader's inteligence.

Lastly if you are expecting the musical story be prepared for some fundamental changes and a much darker story...
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on 2 August 2013
As our beloved little amphibious friend so famously sung, 'it's not easy being green' and this is certainly true for poor old Wicked Witch of the West.
Having just reviewed the new Oz film I thought I'd review this, although I did read it a while back.
For those looking for a novelisation of the hit musical you might be disappointed. If you are looking for a deep and immersive fantasy tale then you are in for a treat. Maguire has carefully built on Frank Buam's original works and created a fully realised world that is as vivid as anything Tolkien or George Martin have created. The characters are richly drawn with enough knowing nods to the source material. As well as creating believable imagery, the deep backstory built into all aspects of the novel really bring the whole book to life.
A beautiful fantasy tale with a really poignant note, I think we all know how it ends, and with only a fleeting glimpse of the gingham wearing dog lover, Maguire opens up a whole new Oz.
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VINE VOICEon 3 February 2006
Occasionally there are those ideas that seem so blindingly obvious, so clever but clear that you just wish you had thought of them first. And so it is with Gregory Maguire’s work. Take a familiar, well loved tale or folk story, and turn it on its head. Postmodernism comes hurtling against the Brother’s Grimm in a truly startling smash. Wicked is the sugary sweet tale of the Wizard of Oz told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Rather than the insufferably precocious and wide-eyed Dorothy we get to enjoy the life story of Elphaba, and Maguire weaves an impressive narrative to fill in the gaps in the original tale. Why did the wicked witch want the shoes Dorothy had stolen so much? Why was she green? And why do they have to sing? Maguire answers (nearly) all these questions in a book that is far more than a take off of the original. It is an entirely independent world, forged out of the idea of Oz but seen through very different eyes.
And so we have the witch’s birth, the explanation of her struggles through university, and the complex socio-political order of Oz. The strife with the Emerald City, the oppression of the Animals (those beasts who possessed personality and speech), and the true nature of Munchkinlanders is all laid bare. And most importantly a deep and moving story of the witch’s own transformation is told. She loves, and loses. She has deep political concerns, and is betrayed. By the end of the book we are unsurprised by her bitterness, and her untimely demise at the hands of Dorothy is a moment of sadness rather than the joyous victory of ‘good over evil’.
Essentially the novel is a very well written story, and should provoke interest from anyone who has read the original or seen the movie. But in many ways it is a more fundamentally important work. Without been unnecessarily pseudo-intellectual it really makes you think about the nature of good and evil, and really focuses on the idea that the history is written by the victor. By extrapolating these ideas into the fantasy world of Oz, Maguire has more freedom to present these sobering ideas. So we start to empathise with the Witch, who in the movie is the ultimate hate figure, the embodiment of evil. We start to dislike Dorothy, and despise the Wizard for his tyranny. When both sides of the story are told, when the mirror is held up to Oz society, it becomes clear that there is more to the tale than you would have thought.
But don’t get bogged down in this nonsense. Enjoy what is fundamentally a crackingly well told story, that takes an adults’ delight at shattering a childhood myth. The only thing I wonder is when Tim Burton will get the movie rights ...
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on 20 September 2007
Despite never being a fan of the Wizard of Oz in either it's MGM movie format or Frank Baum's original novel, I had taken interest in the whole "Wicked" phenomenom since witnessing it's success each time I visited the USA, in particular following the release of the musical.

I watched the show in London this year and was simply blown away by everything about it (something which is rare when I watch a musical). Following seeing the show I was eager to read Maguire's novel although I still can't make my mind up whether you'd be better off reading the book or seeing the show first, if indeed you plan to do both(I think I'd probably opt for seeing the show first.)

The book is vastly different to the muscial in many aspects & it's credit to the people behind the show to recognise that the novel was worthy of basing a musical on it despite obviously going to have make many changes to make the show "Broadway-friendly". Even though the show itself isn't what you'd call "sugar-coated" the book remains much darker & adult.

Without going into the novel's plot, themes, etc as there's plenty of other resources where you can find this out, I'd recommend this book to any fans of fantasy or anyone over the age of 18 who really enjoyed the musical. Whilst not quite on a Tolkien-level, it's set in a richly detailed "alternate" world that whilst different from ours, it still retains a strong sense of reality (Elphaba may be green but everyone who see's her reacts exactly the same as someone in our lifetime would, monkeys fly due to "surgery", etc). A lot of the books involves the political side of Oz although it wasn't this side of the novel that I found "heavy". There were a couple of sections that I found quite tough to plough through and I felt a lot was crammed into the last 50 pages or so but generally it was a good read. From Elphaba's birth upto her time in the Emerald City was highly addictive reading & I couldn't help but really like the character but as she grows up & changes you stop feeling quite so fond of her which for me made it less enjoyable. In fairness to the author it's totally credible as that's the whole point of the book - how she turns "Wicked", it's very similar to what George Lucas had to contend with when attempting to tell a story of why Darth Vader tuned evil. When you look at the timelines I couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd appreciated Wicked so much that he almost duplicated much of the story when coming up with Episodes II & III of his Star Wars saga !!!

Many people will have undoubtedly picked the book up because they loved the musical so much - I'm sure many will enjoy the novel but there will be large percentage of others that it won't appeal to. If you're someone that loves the show but aren't usually a fan of this kind of book I'd highly recommend spending the extra money of getting a copy of the amazing "Grimmerie". This is a beautifully crafted account of how they brought the book to the stage & found myself soaking up every word & picture.

To summarise I found "Wicked" the novel a fascinating read despite there being several points in the book where I found it tough going. Maguire has certainly created a brilliantly alternate look at all things "Pre-Wizard of Oz" & come up with a richly detailed world in which to set a genuinely interesting, funny, clever & on the whole enjoyable story.
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on 31 July 2007
Wicked was the first book in our newly formed book club, and between us, people either hated it or loved it. I was intrigued and amazed at the level of creativity it takes to come up with the highly unique imaginary names of the people and places in this story. There were familiar characters and new ones, and places a person could never even dream of. This book evolved a fantastical world to the maximum capacity, and there was an odd timbre to the book, but after adjusting to this, you easily fall in with the evocative names and Gregory Maguire's superbly descriptive style of writing, eventually feeling enmeshed in this fantastical world. It almost seems sacrilegious to do a book like this about "The Wonderful Land of Oz", but as a grown-up, I guess all imaginings from our youth must come to an end, and this is definitely an end to the wholesome image of Judy Garland's Oz. The main character, Elphaba, seems like a person we all knew in high school who resents everyone, wears black, and whose hair covers one eye for some reason. Sometimes her shrill, whiny attitude makes you think, oh good grief, get over yourself, but you soon realize that even in this bizarre Land of Oz, it ain't easy being green. The ending was a little anticlimactic- I'm not sure what I was expecting since we all basically know what happens (it follows the general outline of the Wizard of Oz); however, I still enjoyed the book very much, and I thought it was a marvel of the creative process.
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on 7 April 2012
I guess I can give the ending away on this book and not spoil it for others as we all know what happened to the Wicked Witch of the West in the story, The (Wonderful) Wizard of Oz.

This was a fantastic read and it was fascinating to read into the life and times of the little green girl who, though not inherently evil, grew up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, along with her sister who became the Wicked Witch of the East.

I actually ended up feeling vary sorry for the witch and was quite saddened when she was killed by Dorothy. Though called the Wicked with she wasn't actually that evil and did have compassion and love within her.

The story kept me wanting to read one more chapter before putting it down and I was a little disappointed when it ended; I really wanted to witch to live in the end.

I recommend this story to any fan of the original Oz story who is interested in reading more about the land of Oz and its characters.

I wish this was available on the Kindle; the 3 sequels this book spawned are on Kindle. For some reason this book is available on Kindle on the US store but not the UK store. Oddly though the Amazon UK site sells the kindle version of this book in the German language, and on Amazon Germany you can get the English version of this book. Amazon, why is this? Why can I not get the English Kindle version of this book from Amazon UK, only the German version, yet on your Germany site it's available in English?
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on 24 September 2011
*possible minor spoilers*

Before I begin my review, I must state I am not generally a fan of fantasy. Other books in the genre have left me completely cold, including every one that is considered a classic. So, I did not expect to especially like "Wicked". The only reason I bought it was because I was a big fan of the musical of the same name, which used this book as the source material. I have to say, I was very surprised. In fact, I would not class "Wicked" as a fantasy novel. True, it is set in the fictional world of Oz. But I think "Wicked" falls very much into the class of literary fiction, and would recommend it even to people who think the idea (of what it really means to be wicked) is interesting but, like me, aren't sure whether they would be interested in an "airy-fairy fantasy story". I wish to make it clear, it is not an "airy-fairy fantasy".

"Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" bears little similarity to the musical, it has to be said. Firstly, unlike the musical - which is suitable for teens and older children - "Wicked" is not. There is some cursing and some substantial sexual content. Secondly, it covers a much larger period of time, taking the Elphaba, the eponymous Wicked Witch of the West from infancy to the time of her death approximately forty-years later. Thirdly, the tone is much darker.

Maguire's Oz bears no resemblance to Baum's Oz. Maguire's Oz is a world fraught with tensions, political intrigue, and the oppression of various social groups. Maguire managed to achieve what I always thought was impossible. He manages to make Oz appear to be a world as realistic and tangible as our own, so that any fantastical elements - such as the talking animals - seem perfectly mundane.

Elphaba as a character is wonderfully, vibrantly drawn. Intelligent, misunderstood, and passionate; a daughter needing to be loved, a woman yearning for her lover, an adult desperate for forgiveness that never appears. He manages to make the story of the Wicked Witch so tragic that by the time the inevitable melting occurs, I couldn't stop my tears. I also found the story of Galinda/Glinda to be tragic in a different way - a woman so bound by convention and her own social standing that real freedom is elusive. All the characterisation is incredibly strong. Maguire brings all the minor characters (religious zealot Nessarose, lovelorn Boq, Fiyero Prince of the Arjikis, his former child-bride Sarima and her in-fighting sisters) to wonderful life, and the characters we get to see age (unfortunately, we don't see nearly enough of some of them) age in a realistic manner suggesting the author's life experience.

My only small fault with this book is that the author is incredibly verbose, and while it does add to the off-kilter feeling of Oz - the sensation of a world very much like our own, but not quite - I did find I had to sit with a dictionary next to me at times, despite considering myself quite well-read. I also found there were some words that weren't even in the dictionary.

In conclusion, although I came to this book through the musical, I actually found it much richer than the musical, with many more layers, and - no matter how nervous I was about reading a book classed as a fantasy - I found it to be a wonderful, involving piece of fiction and I was genuinely saddened when it finished.
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VINE VOICEon 22 January 2006
Occasionally there are those ideas that seem so blindingly obvious, so clever but clear that you just wish you had thought of them first. And so it is with Gregory Maguire’s work. Take a familiar, well loved tale or folk story, and turn it on its head. Postmodernism comes hurtling against the Brother’s Grimm in a truly startling smash. Wicked is the sugary sweet tale of the Wizard of Oz told from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Rather than the insufferably precocious and wide-eyed Dorothy we get to enjoy the life story of Elphaba, and Maguire weaves an impressive narrative to fill in the gaps in the original tale. Why did the wicked witch want the shoes Dorothy had stolen so much? Why was she green? And why do they have to sing? Maguire answers (nearly) all these questions in a book that is far more than a take off of the original. It is an entirely independent world, forged out of the idea of Oz but seen through very different eyes.
And so we have the witch’s birth, the explanation of her struggles through university, and the complex socio-political order of Oz. The strife with the Emerald City, the oppression of the Animals (those beasts who possessed personality and speech), and the true nature of Munchkinlanders is all laid bare. And most importantly a deep and moving story of the witch’s own transformation is told. She loves, and loses. She has deep political concerns, and is betrayed. By the end of the book we are unsurprised by her bitterness, and her untimely demise at the hands of Dorothy is a moment of sadness rather than the joyous victory of ‘good over evil’.
Essentially the novel is a very well written story, and should provoke interest from anyone who has read the original or seen the movie. But in many ways it is a more fundamentally important work. Without been unnecessarily pseudo-intellectual it really makes you think about the nature of good and evil, and really focuses on the idea that the history is written by the victor. By extrapolating these ideas into the fantasy world of Oz, Maguire has more freedom to present these sobering ideas. So we start to empathise with the Witch, who in the movie is the ultimate hate figure, the embodiment of evil. We start to dislike Dorothy, and despise the Wizard for his tyranny. When both sides of the story are told, when the mirror is held up to Oz society, it becomes clear that there is more to the tale than you would have thought.
But don’t get bogged down in this nonsense. Enjoy what is fundamentally a crackingly well told story, that takes an adults’ delight at shattering a childhood myth. The only thing I wonder is when Tim Burton will get the movie rights ...
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on 16 April 2005
Lets start off by saying this is a tremendous book, way off the mainstream, deep enough, meaningful enough, but not so much so that it should put anybody off. Maguire tells the tale of the Wicked Witch of the West of Wizard of Oz fame, but not that part of her life that we were fleetingly involved with during that story, the full story of her life. From before she was born until her unfortunate demise.
We are taken on a rather magical journey through the birth and early childhood of the Witch, known as Elphaba. We travel through her trials and tribulations of being born into a Munchkin family, focusing on her parents, their interactions and other characters that shaped her life. Then the story takes us onwards to her college life, watching as she grows more powerful as a person, living out her beliefs and trying to influence people. She develops many ideals and ideas not herself, but for the greater good of Oz and the oppressed peoples therein.
Elphaba goes into hiding, in her war against the dictatorship that has built up in Oz, eventually heading out into a castle in what are essentially wild lands having suffered serious indignities at the hands of her adversaries. This is where she is coined the Wicked Witch and this is what could then be considered her lair, where she becomes more bitter and more frustrated at the direction the world is heading.
The story starts fast and draws you in right from the beginning, yet I felt towards the second half of the book it slowed a little, as the story moved onto other locations. This was a little disappointing as I had hoped it would maintain its pace, however, this did not spoil the story, rather it almost gave it another dimension, squeezing more styles and paces into a single book.
The story is engrossing and despite it being a rather heavy book I shot through the pages greyhound style. A balance had to be struck with the original story, matching new ideas with the old format. I believe this was accomplished admirably, in fact the parts of the story that are completely new, and untold using new characters, new ideas and new situations are by far and away the most enjoyable. Overall the best was when Maguires new story was set in the old timeless world we already knew, therefore having attributes of both.
Having said that the unison between the old story and the new does not feel mechanistic, it is very fluid and it gives the story a grounding that makes it more real in the mind, linking it to something from most people's childhood 'Oz'. That gives the story a very adult fairytale feel, dark and sinister in its events and outcomes, yet with real meaning and morals for anyone who wants to seek them.
Maguire appears to be clever in his use of politics, making the choices and policies of the government in the story not directly related to those in our own world. Yet you feel it is such a short step to link the feelings, beliefs and especially the actions and reactions of the populous (including all of those for, against and completely uncaring factions of society) to our own world and a number of issues that are of note including suppression of minority groups and scheming dictatorships.
Towards the end of the story we encounter some very seriously deep and meaningful sections that I believe are out of step with the rest of the book. It is obvious that they are philosophically drawing conclusions and meaning from the story and the characters that have been identified, yet because of the tone used throughout the rest of the book, and its style, this summary could perhaps have been dummed down just a little, dealing less with this philosophy and more with the untold futures of the remaining characters.
Overall this is a very enjoyable book, one for the adults to relive a childhood classic in a very new guise.
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