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Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Wicked Years

Gregory Maguire's Wicked and Son of a Witch are the first of three books set in Oz that tell the story of familiar characters in a most unfamiliar way.

Wicked tells the story of Elphaba Thropp and how she grows up and gradually into the familiar character of the Wicked Witch of the West.

In this Oz, Elphaba is born under mysterious circumstances to a a promiscuous mother and a preacher, as are her strange sister (possessed of no arms for whom the sparkling slippers are entranced to help her stay upright and move about), and a somewhat charming, nefarious brother, whose story is a central part of the second novel. Elphaba becomes friends of a sort with Galinda, of money and frou frou-dom, a union of opposites united in defense of intelligent animals, and she falls in love with Fiyero, a man who is ultimately murdered by the Wizard's forces, thus setting an embittered and possibly pregnant Elphaba on the road to witchyhood. And we all know how that ended.

In the second book, Son of a Witch, 10 years have passed and Liir, a young man who grew up in Elphaba's shadow and may be her son, but she never said, and possibly never knew, is found unconscious and badly injured at the side of the road. As he struggles on what may be his deathbed, we travel back and follow his journey as he leaves the witch's castle after her meltdown and goes off to search for his possibly-half-sister, Nor, who was last seen being abducted by the Wizard's men, but may still be alive somewhere in Oz.

This is a coming of age novel (aren't they all?). He travels with Dorothy to Oz, is later aided somewhat by the Scarecrow, Glinda and an odd old Maunt (the Oz version of a nun) named Yackle in his quest. He possesses the witch's cape and broom and intelligence, but is innocent of the ways of men and the ways of Oz, where above all, everyone seems to be out for him or herself, and there doesn't seem to be much compassion to go around. He survives through a combination of dumb luck and instinct. The further he travels, the more is asked of him by others who assume that he is the witch's son and must have some of her powers. When he finally makes the attempt to be all that others are asking of him, he saves some, but neglects others, and suffers loss and gain in equal measure.

As in the first two books, we are left with loose ends that need to be tied up. Hopefully, the third book, titled A Lion Among Men will tell us whether Liir will ever find Nor or be reunited with Candle, and what happened to the Grimmerie, the book of magic that disappeared from the witch's castle. As with the first two books, I expect this one will deal with the bigger questions of destiny, justice, and the struggle for power versus the struggle for equality that plays out in every society.

These books are amazing in their complexity, but also for how Gregory Maguire ties all of the disparate characters with their different motivations who all seem to be struggling against each other into a coherent whole, which serves as the background for the stories of the main characters from Baum's original Oz.

The novel Wicked is the basis of the popular Broadway musical and there is a movie in the works. Gregory Maguire has written a number of other novels and books for children as well. Click on the title of this post to visit the author's website.

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