A review of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (ReganBooks, 1995)
By Derek Newman-Stille
Gregory Maguire’s Wicked is a tale of oppression and marginalisation. Maguire centralises his narrative on the life of the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, giving readers the opportunity to question the singular portrayal of a narrative and opening up the possibility that any narrative only speaks one truth among many. Maguire explores the Wicked Witch’s life from her own perspective, giving new context to her tale and examining her as a marginalised figure.
Like many figures who have been socially assigned to the category of “problem”, Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, had characteristics that others could point to as “different”. She was the only green skinned person in Oz, making her a target for discrimination, assumptions about her origins, and threats to her safety. Even her own father thought that she was a physical manifestation of his own sin, illustrating the compulsion to moralize difference.
Elphaba’s birth and life come at a time when the social political situation of Oz is already uncertain. The citizens of Oz have sat by while the Wizard of Oz has exploited the existing discriminatory attitudes of the citizens to launch campaigns of rights denial, ghettoisation, and ultimately extermination for Oz’s marginalized populations. Elphaba, a person who has lived her entire life through the lens of discrimination, launches a campaign of freedom fighting against the Wizard, seeking to find a place for herself in the world by getting rid of the horrors of the world.
Steeped in philosophical debate about the nature of evil, battles of political discrimination, and, of course, fairy tale battles against those who inherit the title “witch”, Maguire’s tale is fundamentally one about belonging. It is about the desire for home, and the question of whether a home can be made or something one has to be born into. It is about what constitutes belonging and who doesn’t belong when we create barriers around belonging. And, of course, it is about the horrors visited on those who the people in power decide don’t belong.
To discover more about Gregory Maguire, visit http://gregorymaguire.com