It’s safe to say that when I decided to pick up Gregory Maguire’s Wicked because I thought it would be a fun read I had no bloody idea what I was getting into. For those of you who are fans of the series, please forgive me for being so awestruck by all this. For those of you who don’t know much about it, let me fill you in on what I’m learning: Wicked is actually the first in a series of four books referred to as “The Wicked Years” which follow the characters of Oz through all sorts of political and social upheavals.
Each one follows a different character and is therefore told from a different point of view. Wicked follows Elphaba, Son of a Witch follows her son, Liir, A Lion Among Men follows the famous lion from Dorothy’s group, Brrr and Out of Oz follows Liir’s daughter (Elphaba's granddaughter), Rain. Wikipedia informed me that although Maguire originally wrote Wicked to be a stand-alone story he got mobbed by fans asking for more due to the success of the musical adaptation and wrote the other three to finish a longer story arc.
I discovered this fandom by accident when I went looking for the definition to a word I didn’t recognize (I’ll get into that in a second) and stumbled upon a Gregory Maguire discussion board with way more topics than I, only a few pages in, realized there were to discuss. I picked up the book because I saw the musical a few years back, adored it, and was told by a few fellow fan that the book was even better (isn’t it always?). I had no idea that I was entering the realm of rabid fans who trace their love affair back to the creation of Oz by L. Frank Baum and went on to worship Maguire for taking the land to the next level.
Assuming that I love this book as much I suspect I will I’m going to leave more in depth discussions about the series for a time later on when I’ve actually read the whole series. For now, I am only qualified to comment on what I’ve observed to this point.
1) Language- It seems like I’m always talking about this nowadays. I guess that my brain is just way more fascinated by style and syntax than I give it credit for. At any rate, what strikes me most about Maguire’s writing at this point is the humor and the sensual nature of the descriptors he uses. The humor: “Nanny lapsed into a bout of indigestion for which they were all very sorry, olfactorily speaking.” The sensual: “Spring tipped in like green well water, frothing at the hedges, bubbling at the roadside, splashing from the cottage roof in garlands of ivy and stringflower.” I’ve already highlighted over a dozen sentences because they were so beautifully described or because they made me laugh out loud. He’s also (like all great authors) teaching me words previously unknown to me like extemporize and effluvia and brand new ones that he made up like maunt (a religious, nun-like woman). I don't know why I get such a kick out an author creating his own words. I just do.
2) Characters- Maguire has that seemingly magical power to write characters very clearly through their mannerisms, habits, thoughts and phrases. Every one in here (even the random townspeople) have something about them that makes them feel real; like people you’d see on the street. Especially the speech patterns which seem to illustrate them most clearly because you don’t have to go into much detail to get a clear vision. Like the fishwife rhyming like the Munchins we know from the original story, Nanny always talking about herself in the third person, the Quadling sounding very Yoda-like by switching around sentence elements as in “How can a Quadling to answer such a charge if a Quadling is given always to lie?” Everyone has a distinct voice whether they’re in it for a page or for the whole story.
3) The Land of Oz- I noticed this first in the musical when I saw it so many years ago: the discrimination against the animals, the different economic statuses creating entitled or disenfranchised social standings, the overt racism and bigotry exhibited by certain characters when discussing those from different lands. Although the land itself owes it’s creation to L. Frank Baum, Maguire makes the people a lot more real and concrete. There are different religions fighting one another on what is morally right or wrong, philosophical debates around the dinner table on the nature of life, crime and political corruption surrounding distribution of wealth and services and all the other things one might see on the nightly news. Except that this all takes places in the very fleshed-out land of Oz where people live very different lifestyles depending on the natural resources available to them. He examines the politics of a large oligarchy, the linguistics and races and trades of these peoples and everything in between. As I said, the world in which Maguire sets this tale was created by L. Frank Baum and I give full credit where credit is due on this. But Maguire’s tale has always been known as an adult version of the world where the fairy tales are turned over and the dark underbelly is shown. Right now I can tell I’m just scratching the surface and there’s already so much to consider.
All in all, I am loving this book so far and I have a sinking suspicion that it will be the beginning of a long-standing love affair with all of Maguire’s writings. I will have much more to say as I read on, so stay tuned.