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? Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability, and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly, and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil.
About the Author
Gregory Maguire is the bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, and the Wicked Years, a series that includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, and A Lion Among Men. Wicked, now a beloved classic, is the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. Maguire has lectured on art, literature, and culture both at home and abroad. He lives with his family near Boston, Massachusetts.
Date of Birth:June 9, 1954
Place of Birth:Albany, New York
Education:B.A., SUNY at Albany, 1976; M.A., Simmons College, 1978; Ph.D., Tufts University, 1990
Read an Excerpt
From the crumpled bed the wife said, "I think today's the day. Look how low I've gone."
"Today? That would be like you, perverse and inconvenient," said her husband, teasing her, standing at the doorway and looking outward, over the lake, the fields, the forested slopes beyond. He could just make out the chimneys of Rush Margins, breakfast fires smoking. "The worst possible moment for my ministry. Naturally."
The wife yawned. "There's not a lot of choice involved. From what I hear. Your body gets this big and it takes over--if you can't accommodate it, sweetheart, you just get out of its way. It's on a track of its own and nothing stops it now." She pushed herself up, trying to see over the rise of her belly. "I feel like a hostage to myself. Or to the baby."
"Exert some self-control." He came to her side and helped her sit up. "Think of it as a spiritual exercise. Custody of the senses. Bodily as well as ethical continence."
"Self-control?" She laughed, inching toward the edge of the bed. "I have no self left. I'm only a host for the parasite. Where's my self, anyway? Where'd I leave that tired old thing?"
"Think of me." His tone had changed; he meant this.
"Frex"--she headed him off--"when the volcano's ready there's no priest in the world can pray it quiet."
"What will my fellow ministers think?"
"They'll get together and say, 'Brother Frexspar, did you allow your wife to deliver your first child when you had a community problem to solve? How inconsiderate of you; it shows a lack of authority. You're fired from the position.'" She was ribbing him now, for there was no one to fire him. The nearest bishop was toodistant to pay attention to the particulars of a unionist cleric in the hinterland.
"It's just such terrible timing."
"I do think you bear half the blame for the timing," she said. "I mean, after all, Frex."
"That's how the thinking goes, but I wonder,"
"You wonder?" She laughed, her head going far back. The line from her ear to the hollow below her throat reminded Frex of an elegant silver ladle. Even in morning disarray, with a belly like a scow, she was majestically good-looking. Her hair had the bright lacquered look of wet fallen oak leaves in sunlight. He blamed her for being born to privilege and admired her efforts to overcome it--and all the while he loved her, too.
"You mean you wonder if you're the father"--she grabbed the bedstead; Frex took hold of her other arm and hauled her half-upright--"or do you question the fatherliness of men in general?" She stood, mammoth, an ambulatory island. Moving out the door at a slug's pace, she laughed at such an idea. He could hear her laughing from the outhouse even as he began to dress for the day's battle.
Frex combed his beard and oiled his scalp. He fastened a clasp of bone and rawhide at the nape of his neck, to keep the hair out of his face, because his expressions today had to be readable from a distance: There could be no fuzziness to his meaning. He applied some coal dust to darken his eyebrows, a smear of red wax on his flat cheeks. He shaded his lips, A handsome priest attracted more penitents than a homely one.
In the kitchen yard Melena floated gently, not with the normal gravity of pregnancy but as if inflated, a huge balloon trailing its strings through the dirt. She carried a skillet in one hand and a few eggs and the whiskery tips of autumn chives in the other. She sang to herself, but only in short phrases. Frex wasn't meant to hear her.
His sober gown buttoned tight to the collar, his sandals strapped on over leggings, Frex took from its hiding place--beneath a chest of drawers--the report sent to him from his fellow minister over in the village of Three Dead Trees. He hid the brown pages within his sash. He had been keeping them from his wife, afraid that she would want to come along--to see the fun, if it was amusing, or to suffer the thrill of it if it was terrifying.
As Frex breathed deeply, readying his lungs for a day of oratory, Melena dangled a wooden spoon in the skillet and stirred the eggs. The tinkle of cowbells sounded across the lake. She did not listen; or she listened but to something else, to something inside her. It was sound without melody--like dream music, remembered for its effect but not for its harmonic distresses and recoveries. She imagined it was the child inside her, humming for happiness. She knew he would be a singing child.
Melena heard Frex inside, beginning to extemporize, warming up, calling forth the rolling phrases of his argument, convincing himself again of his righteousness.
How did that proverb go, the one that Nanny singsonged to her, years ago, in the nursery?
Born in the morning,
Woe without warning;
Woeful and wild;
Born in the evening,
Woe ends in grieving.
Night baby borning
Same as the morning.
But she remembered this as a joke, fondly. Woe is the natural end of life, yet we go on having babies.
No, said Nanny, an echo in Melena's mind (and editorializing as usual): No, no, you pretty little pampered hussy. We don't go on having babies, that's quite apparent. We only have babies when we're young enough not to know how grim life turns out. Once we really get the full measure of it--we're slow learners, we women--we dry up in disgust and sensibly halt production.
But men don't dry up, Melena objected; they can father to the death.
Ah, we're slow learners, Nanny countered. But they can't learn at all.
"Breakfast," said Melena, spooning eggs onto a wooden plate. Her son would not be as dull as most men. She would raise him up to defy the onward progress of woe.
"It is a time of crisis for our society," recited Frex. For a man who condemned worldly pleasures he ate with elegance. She loved to watch the arabesque of fingers and two forks. She suspected that beneath his righteous asceticism he possessed a hidden longing for the easy life.
"Every day is a great crisis for our society." She was being flip, answering him in the terms men use. Dear thick thing, he didn't hear the irony in her voice.
"We stand at a crossroads. Idolatry looms. Traditional values in jeopardy. Truth under siege and virtue abandoned."Wicked. Copyright © by Gregory Maguire. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
Gregory Maguire's donnes in Wicked are from Baum's land of Oz; but everything here has been recut to sparkle fresh and new, with illuminations shining in unexpected directions. Funny and serious, pulsing with imaginative energy, encompassing political thriller and moral reflection, this is truly a fabulous novel.
(Jill Paton Walsh, author of Knowledge of Angels)
Here is a story that is at once a page-turner and a powerful stimulus to thought.
(John Rowe Townsend, author of The Islanders)
Starting with the Wizard of Oz material, Gregory Maguire has added greater depth and different facets, creating something altogether different and unique. A magnificent work, a genuine tour de force.
(Lloyd Alexander, author of The Chronicles of Prydain)
I fell quickly and totally under the spell of this remarkable, wry, and fully realized story. Maguire's adult fable examines some of literature's major themes: moral ambiguity, the nature of evil, the bittersweet dividends of power, the high costs of love. Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West is as scary as ever, but this time in a different way: She's undeniably human, She's us.
(Wally Lamb, author of She's Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True
This book is a glorious frolic, a feast of language, a study of good and evil, and a massive history of the fabulous land of Oz.
(Jane Langton, author of The Diamond in the Window)
Reading Group Guide
Our Book Club Recommendation
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 talelike, 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
Reading Group Materials from the Publisher
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?Gregory Maguire creates a fantasy world so rich and vivid that we will never look at Oz the same way again. Wicked is about a land where animals talk and strive to be treated like first-class citizens, Munchkinlanders seek the comfort of middle-class stability and the Tin Man becomes a victim of domestic violence. And then there is the little green-skinned girl named Elphaba, who will grow up to be the infamous Wicked Witch of the West, a smart, prickly and misunderstood creature who challenges all our preconceived notions about the nature of good and evil. Questions for Discussion