Every child knows the wonderful story of The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum: a light-hearted children’s tale of a wicked witch and a pair of magical shoes. Gregory Maguire took this world and twisted it into something new, dark and political. In Wicked Maguire built a world where talking animals, dwarves and magic are real; but the world he envisioned involves issues of race, class and a corrupted dictator. He creates a sense of an entirely original world that has its own dialect, quirks, charms and hidden secrets. The story of Elphaba Thropp will leave you unsettled, but intrigued to the last page.
Born with unnaturally green skin, Elphaba faces discrimination from the beginning, though perhaps this is what makes her such an intriguing character. Sarcastic, witty and cynical, Maguire writes her as a protagonist you cannot help but root for. The main secondary character is Glinda, Elphaba’s roommate due to an unfortunate accident. She is pompous and childish, which is what makes her development throughout the book even more satisfying. Over the many years that the book takes place, not only do we see the growth of their relationships and the growth of all the characters within the book, but we are introduced to the mystery of the Wizard, a dictator who has begun dark workings reminiscent of Nazism.
The issue of racism is the main dilemma within the book, seen not only with the segregation of Animals but with the Vinkus and Quadlings as well. It is the motivation behind many of Elphaba’s actions and sets a wondrously dark theme to the whole story. The religious undertones, though not essential to the plot, help create a realistic world, for in a world where there is magic wouldn’t there be a great controversy about religion? I personally was captivated by the religions Maguire has created, and can only attribute this to his skill in writing something unique but relatable.
Inspired by the likes of Orwell and C.S. Lewis, Maguire has been unafraid of broaching subjects that shroud the story in a sinister mystery: death, discrimination and torture, awaiting young Miss Elphaba around every corner. As mysteries unfold and the intent of the Wizard comes to light, we witness the formation of his private army, and Elphaba living underground. Maguire amps up the tension in this final section as we wonder whether Elphaba will survive.
This novel, though quite long, is an intriguing read that introduces a completely new take on the Land of Oz. Filled with tragedy and suspense it does not fail to create empathy for a whole host of characters, including multiple animals and Miss Elphaba Thropp from start to finish. Perhaps this novel's greatest asset is, as I’ve mentioned before, the unique nature of the world it presents: dark though it is, it draws one in and I for one will remember it for a long time to come.
About the reviewer
Evie Doyle is currently studying Psychology, Biology and Performing Arts at Charnwood College. She is an avid reader in her spare time as well as a scout and guide. She is also part of an amateur theatre group.