Friday, 18 October 2013

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

This was another in the series of my bathroom rereads. I had first read Wicked many years ago, and was revisiting it. Coincidentally, this happened at the same time I was listening to an audiobook of The Wizard of Oz, so the two were occupying space in my brain at the same time. (Side note: I don't really recommend the Brooke Shields-read version of The Wizard of Oz. She occasionally breaks into this singsongy way of reading, and it feels patronizing.)

And I have to say, I didn't enjoy it as much the second time. The first time, it was the shininess of something new - why hadn't anyone written from the Witch's perspective before? I was so entranced with the idea that any other flaws pretty much passed me by.

On this read, though, I was suddenly much more critical. I still love the idea, but I'm no longer convinced by the execution. Mostly because the characters are so shallowly explored. If you want to recast the Wicked Witch of the West, then, by gum, you've got to give me a character study! This time, I was noticing the jerkiness, the way the story sort of lurched from episode to episode, without a clear throughline, and with a Witch who was much less well-defined than I had wanted.

I mean, seriously. You have a Witch who's part of an Animal rights underground, and later in the book, she's suddenly a vivisectionist? If you want that kind of veer, you at least have to explain how she justified it to herself. I thought it would be cool if these monkeys had wings is not enough.

You want her to be scarred by her childhood? Would have helped if we'd seen some of that in her formative years, and not then related right near the end. And when it was related, it didn't help make sense of what had gone before. I was just baffled as to the placement. If you want her to be the neglected sister, use that as part of the book, don't just throw in a few vague allusions and then expand in the last hundred pages. If it's that integral to who she would become, it either needs to show up earlier, or be the kind of lightning bolt that truly does recast everything we've seen to that point. It did neither.

This book skirts around much of the Oz mythology, and makes references, but doesn't really take that opportunity to change and mess with it in interesting ways. So what are the Adepts supposed to do? That's kind of dropped. Why does the Wizard become a fascist dictator?

Which was another issue, reading two at once. As far as I'm concerned, you can have the Wizard as the evil despot. but I would have liked to seen the reason for that reign of terror come out of his fear of being unmasked as a humbug. I think that charlatanism is so essential to that character, and "powerful Wizard who came to Oz to find a magic book" just doesn't cut it. There's stuff in the book that you could unmask so beautifully - have Elphaba be the one to figure out that the Emerald City isn't really all emeralds, it's just that everyone is required to wearing locked green goggles at all times! That would be wonderful thing to delve into in a recasting of the legend, the way that what people are told doesn't reflect what is actually happening. Changing it from that to a titanic struggle for magic isn't as much fun.

I like what Wicked is trying to do. On the first read, I really enjoyed it. On reread, and particularly in close proximity to listening to The Wizard of Oz, it felt choppy and a bit clumsy.

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