Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wizard of Oz Week: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I can hardly spend a week talking about Wizard of Oz retellings and not mention Wicked.

Both a bestselling novel and a Broadway hit, I'll probably meander back and forth through both, but I'll try to keep them distinct for the purposes of this blog.

So let's see--the book. The book is extremely dense and lyrically heavy. It's one of the harder things I've read. I don't come across many books any more that send me to the dictionary, much less more than once. And yet every time I looked up a word, it turned out to be the perfect word. I had to take a break in the middle of the book because my brain just needed to process for a while. (I think I read a couple picture books and then went back to it.)

The flow of the novel slows considerably at some points, and then picks up again so that I found myself whipping through pages, and then setting the book down to digest what I had read. It's an incredibly complex view of Oz, but it felt true in that: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a child's view of the world, as Dorothy wanders through a strange and magical (but, notably, uncivilized) land, running into characters who are caught up in the adult realities of a strange, magical, and uncivilized land. It's no surprise that a child would pick up on the danger of the land without understanding the political complexities.

Therefore, in Wicked, all those complicated adult interactions and motives and understandings are brought into the light, and Oz is still Dorothy's Oz, but with all the detail of differing factions and prejudice and policy.

I really did love it, in the end. And it's not until the last quarter of the book that Dorothy comes into the story at all, but I love. love. LOVE her scene with Elphaba.

But if you picked up the book and absolutely couldn't get through it--you still might love the musical!

I think the musical goes very well as a companion to the Judy Garland musical, as much as Wicked the book goes with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book. The musical Wicked ties the ends together much more neatly, slaps a (not unearned) happy ending into place, and alludes both musically and thematically to the 1939 musical. Characters are conglomerated for an altogether tidier story (such as Boq being the Tin Woodman, separate characters in both books).

The musical focuses much more on Elphaba's friendship with Glinda (in the book they only see each other once in the second half of the story), with more emphasis on the love triangle, which is only mentioned as a possibility in the book.

For all their differences--and I am usually one to gripe about changes in adaptations--I love both versions. There is nothing careless in the Musical treatment; the changes feel justified. The book is like a complex person, or a country: nothing simple, but absolutely worthwhile.

I hope you'll take a chance on both of them.

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