Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Not So Wicked

My book group book this time around is reading Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. In spite of its popularity when it came out way back in 1995, none of us had read it. We thought it would be fun given the buzz about Wicked the musical, and we decided that if the musical came to Minneapolis we'd all go see it together. The notion of retelling a fairy tale from a different point of view is not new. I've read Angela Carter's Saints and Strangers and plenty of feminist revisions of misunderstood "evil" women. I expected a lot from Maguire since Wicked and his subsequent fairy tale themed books are so popular. I expected that since he was taking on the Wicked Witch of the West the story would be a careful and meticulous rendering to keep the story in line with the Wizard of Oz. I have not read L. Frank Baum's book. I had it when I was a kid and tried to read it but it was very different from the movie and felt harsher and I couldn't get far in it. But then the movie terrified me too--those darn flying monkeys! Anyway, Wicked ended up being a disappointment. Maguire apparently conceived the book as a sort of meditation on evil. About halfway through the book he concludes that evil is "at the very least a question of definitions" since we never know why the witch is wicked or if the devil ever tries to do good. Later he tells us

People who claim that they're evil are usually no worse than the rest of us....It's people who claim that they're good, or anyway better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.
These two ideas dominate the book, the good characters are the bad ones and the Wicked Witch was trying to do good--all she wanted was Animal Liberation and forgiveness for a murder she did not commit but felt guilty of. But I didn't buy it. The conversations that would crop up regarding evil all seemed contrived and the final confrontation between the Witch and Dorothy was flat and anticlimactic. The Characters were unconvincing and their motivation fuzzy. I am at a loss to figure out why the book was so popular and I can't imagine what the play could be like. The book was just an okay read and even boring at times. The book group hasn't met yet, but tinLizzy has finished it and was disappointed as well. But, I have learned that sometimes the least liked books are the best ones to discuss. It's always easier to pick out what was bad about a book. They will be quite a bit to say about this one.