After seeing the musical ‘Wicked’, I felt I owed it to Gregory Macguire to read his prequel to ‘The Wizard Of Oz’, and asked my friend to lend me his copy. He seemed reluctant to give me it, and now I know why: ‘Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West’ is one of the hardest things I’ve ever slogged through.
Credit where credit is due, I kept with it in a desperate attempt to see where Macguire’s story would take flight. Unfortunately this was never to be, and his version of Oz’ remained as unsteady as Elphaba’s own escapades on her broom. Gone were the powerful women who showed that good and evil were choices encountered by all. These strong characters were replaced with an absolute characature of good, doing so only for her own public benefits, and an awkward girls whose animal (sorry, Animal) activism led to the apparent demise of an empire. While the musical ties everything up in a neat bow, the randomness of the story is too much to bear when considering it’s origins: where was the threatening wicked witch when Dorothy’s gale blew her into Kansas? And just how did the wizard bring the Grimmerie to Oz’ when he wasn’t magical, but just mortal? The only promising section was Madam Morrible’s declaration that the young Glinda, Nessarose and Elphaba’s could be assigned geographically opposing posts, but even the promising beginnings at Shiz failed to grow into a fully developed storyline. The lack of depth left the tale two dimensional, and thus unable to resonate with readers.
Even a character like Elphaba, who could have been a major connection to readers, fell short of expectations. She never gained any power, she killed a near-dead woman maliciously yet without actually adding to the ‘wicked’ premise or serving the greater cause we’re vaguely aware of, and essentially became a weak woman in the face of male characters. With the haunting presence of a lacklustre Fiyero and essentially driven by a lack of paternal affection, Elphaba failed to be radical enough to capture our hearts as part of her cause, instead thinking but never doing, making the supposed death of her an absolute joke. Similarly, using Dorothy as a pawn instead of a saviour reduced her from an unaware yet dominating individual to an unknown entity incapable of resisting a lovely tea with an apparently murderous witch. None of it adds up, and subsequently our image feels tainted.
The biggest irritant, though, was the absolutely unneccessary and utterly disgusting sexualised imagery used throughout. Associating Dorothy, who is only supposed to be a young teen, with the notion of being kidnapped by the Gale Force for ‘sport’ was revolting, and while I see that this was hoped to provide the darker and more grown up imagery, all it really left was a vile taste in the mouth. It wasn’t needed to enhance the story or move the plot, it was just a shock factor ploy, with no meaning beyond brutality, and while the politics of the novel may demand darker tones, it could have been subtle nuances instead of in-your-face brashness.
You know what? In short, go and see the musical. It provides the undertones of a disparate political climate without compromising Baum’s original and wonderful world of Oz’.