Wicked: The life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West – Gregory Maguire

(This is an essay based on a question Magiuire asked on his website, my answer is neither foolproof or definitivly representational of my opinions, since every time I read the novel I change my mind, or get new ideas etc.)

Wicked flips the Oz we knew from the classic movie on its head. To what extent does Maguire’s version of Oz contradict the Oz we’re familiar with? How have Dorothy and the other characters changed or remained the same? Has Wicked changed your conception of the original? If so, how?

Maguire’s novel Wicked: The life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) is a gloriously multi-faceted and epic piece of fiction, offering an alternative account for a story we think we already know in its entirety. He takes, as his basis, and builds upon; L F Baum’s 1900 novel The Wizard of Oz, upon which MGM (Metro Gold Meyer) made the infamous, cult classic movie of the same title (starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, Billie Burke as Glinda and Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West (otherwise unnamed, evil didn’t warrant a name apparently)/ Miss Gulch). However, Maguire’s Oz is almost wholly unrecognisable from the MGM Technicolor musical spectacular, he has fleshed it out until it is “complete”, if a work of fiction can ever be considered “complete” in this sense.

Maguire’s version of the Land of Oz soon proves itself to be far removed from the sheer splendour and opulence afforded the make-believe land of the film. His is a land that seems whole and more fully realised, exhibiting a level of coherency not particularly evident in the film or the original novel (series) by Baum. Maguire has created a working map of the Land of Oz (included in the front cover of the book) and made the country gel as a whole, or at least made all the areas workable and realistic; as compared to the somewhat piecemeal effect of the original material.

Maguire’s is an Oz one can believe might truly exist. Each area/country has; people, history, culture and individuality, and not just the simplified vague and stereotypical view afforded them by the originals. They don’t just merge undifferentiated into one another, there are genuine connections and links between the lands and their people, including; prejudices, societal roles/standings and preconceptions about a person based upon their background and where they are from. In short, just like the real world, with both the negative and positive elements.

In creating his own “individual” version of Oz and the lands it is made up of, he has introduced both political and theological ideas and opinions into the people, places, events and ways of life, along with a corresponding range of ethics and racial tensions. All of which formulate to actualise a ‘real’ place, in opposition to the rather rudimentary and fragmentary efforts of the original novel and of the movie.

The Oz of Maguire’s imaginings is a far harsher and thus more realistic place than Baum’s or MGM’s. In particular this comparison renders MGM’s efforts somewhat fake, over simplified and insipid, and Baum’s so innocent that you can clearly see why MGM made a film of it. That is not to say that the originals cannot be appreciated, they are very separate entities and, in part, due to being very much of their time and that context needs to be taken into consideration.

In addition to the many things Maguire has infused this scenario with, he has sexualised Oz. Munchkinland after all, cannot be expected to be all “lollipop men” and singing. His vision creates a land lacking the pristine, innocent and perfect sterility of the MGM 1939 reproduction, and in doing so has created a fantastical world that is for adults who have outgrown the vagaries of Baum and the 30’s era innocence of MGM, without entirely obliterating the original concept. He has fleshed out and offered a different viewpoint to a story that already existed.

He has both hetero- and homosexual characters, but he doesn’t make every character sexualised or involved with someone. Interestingly, characters such as the WoO or Madame Morrible are never seen as having, or having had relationships. Also, some relationships are more graphic than others. Tibbett and Crope seem only to be implied as having a relationship, as to a certain extent are Glinda and Elphaba, though they, for those readers who see their relationship in that way, they are by far more obvious and explicit than Tibbett and Crope. Elphaba and Fiyero are the only two who are ‘graphically’ suggested. Partly because Elphaba is the main character, partly their age by that point perhaps, but also Maguire implies that it is with the death of Fiyero (a character not seen in either the original book or film), that Elphaba’s demise really starts to come about and as I mention later in regards to Glinda and Elphaba’s relationship, for Fiyero’s death to be of such great an impact and influence upon Elphaba, the reader needs to ‘see it’ for it to have any great meaning. Additionally, of all the relationships referenced within the text, only the hetero-normative one between Elphaba and Fiyero is the most ‘acceptable’ to a wider audience. Indeed, Maguire pointed out on his website[1] that he was surprised that only the UK readership picked up on the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba en masse that, as a general rule, the US audience did not pick up upon it’s subtleties.

This is not to say that Baum’s original or MGM’s version have in any way lost their appeal to a modern audience, don’t have anything left to offer or have become defunct due to Maguire’s modernising creations, far from it. There is still a strong need, a desire, for that type of simple fantasy tale. Popular film making culture has ‘disneyfied’ the modern fairytales into something more palatable and comforting for their audience, than perhaps the vicious and certainly questionably disgusting original fairytales such as Perrault’s or the Brother’s Grimm, to such an extent that they have been forgotten or are unknown by a large proportion of society, we have been desensitised to the horrors of the originals. Disney’s fairytale/fantasy films’ popularity, even in 2009, has not waned too dramatically.

Maguire has turned our view of Oz on its head (from the both the film and the original book). Ironically, this has also been done to Maguire’s novel with the emergence of the stage show/musical Wicked. The musical has taken Maguire’s book and made it even more accessible to an audience, especially the younger teen audience, who probably should never have even read the book in the first place. His novel is by no means for children, despite the fact that it is about Oz.

Overall, I think Maguire has completed and expounded upon our (and indeed Baum’s) view of Oz, as an English reader/viewer we have not been especially exposed to the entirety of the Oz phenomenon. Baum’s books never really made it across the ‘pond’ as it were, apart from The Wizard of Oz which has garnered the accolade of Children’s Classics (joining the ranks of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Louisa M. Alcott’s Little Women and Susan Coolidge’s What Katy Did among a multitude of others). As a British child the only other exposure was MGM’s film and the 80’s film Return to Oz. Oz never reached the cult status it appear to have achieved in the USA (though both films and the 20+ series of Baum’s books) though it remains known and popular enough. To that extent, Wicked was only largely published in the UK ten years after it’s original publication in 1995, only relatively recently, nationwide, has it garnered such a cult following resulting in the reissue of the novel and the musical version being created.

As far as my limited experience allows for, Maguire has taken the popular Oz mythos and ‘run with it’, creating an Oz that is almost entirely his own and should be taken as a separate entity from the originals, though without forgetting them, for they are just as worthy in their own rights. But, to constantly compare them or hold them up against each other would be inappropriate as they are each very much a product of the ideals, thoughts and acceptable moral inclusions of their time.  Maguire trusts his audience to think for themselves when reading his novel, to formulate opinions and views for ourselves and indeed, by introducing a variety of thought provoking issues within a familiar world and openly invites us to do so, by challenging us when reading. He introduces philosophical questions such as; what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’? What gives some people/beings more or less rights than others? By placing his novel in a fantasy world, he is better placed to introduce political/cultural/moral commentary, all of which, whilst being in the guise of being solely related to Oz, is entirely pertinent to our World too.

In addition to the overall world and tone of Maguire’s Oz has created, he has taken the existing characters- along with the multitude he has wholesale created, such as Dr Dillamond and Madame Morrible- and fleshed them out until they can be easily visualised as- potentially- existing in the real world. Each, familiar from the source material, character is easily recognised from the original, but have now been allowed to take on a life of their own, to become more than 2-D shadows. Maguire has created backgrounds, thought, ideals and emotions for these, and his original, characters, in an attempt to clarify and explain the impetus and reasoning behind actions, uncharacteristically explained, made in the original.

Dorothy

To start with; Dorothy Gale – portrayed by a 16 year old Judy Garland in the original, was supposed to be a 10/11 year old child. Even stretching the imagination to accommodate for the fantasy genre, the audience is somewhat hard pushed to accept that this is indeed the case. Despite ‘modifications’ to Miss Garland, that she was evidently older cannot be missed, merely wilfully ignored.

The above point is made in order to emphasise the fact that Maguire appears to have shown similar inability to suspend any such disbelief in accepting Garland in the role of Dorothy. Indeed he describes her as Garland appeared i.e. large and very un-child-like, ungainly almost and certainly adult in our eyes. The people of Oz, who encounter her, appear to act as a mouthpiece for the author in expressing their disbelief at her appearance and proportions by having them rationalise the situation as due to the fact that she is of an ‘other’ world, i.e. not Ozian and that maybe the young there are of such proportions.

Whilst Dorothy is very much the central focal point in the film,, in Maguire’s novel she is very much an incidental character, who doesn’t appear until very late on in the novel, barring the prologue, a catalyst for the inevitable and known demise of Elphaba the so called ‘Wicked Witch of the West’.

Interestingly, even though Dorothy, who readers probably thought they knew all about her and could therefore learn nothing more, is portrayed as seen through the eyes and opinions of the Witch, which is how Elphaba is initially referred to in the prologue, lulling readers into a temporary sense of security about the direction the story is taking. All of which is very quickly abolished as it becomes clear that this will not be the case, a clever act on Maguire’s part, making it so that she is viewed through the eyes of someone who we later come to know and trust the opinions of. Or do we? Whilst Elphaba can be somewhat blinkered to events and opinions of others, her established outsider status, both real and perceived, makes her attention and observations unguarded and honest, after all she has very little to lose by making them, and few people of Oz listen to her anyway, at least until the band of friends she has whilst at Shiz.

The Dorothy Maguire creates is a largely unlikeable character, even when seen by others and not viewed entirely through the Witch, not in the least like her MGM counterpart who we are invited to sympathise with, and indeed do for the most part. However, it should be noted that by and large she is a pawn of the Wizards desires[2]; her desperation to get home makes her resort to actions that are somewhat out of character for the Kansas farm girl, or at least so we are led to believe. However, Dorothy does have some endearing qualities and the reader is never encouraged to actively dislike her. She, like Elphaba, is somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place in this situation.

In comparison to the film it is hard to dredge up an overly large quantity of sympathy for her, she is not innately ‘likeable’ as she is, or at least is portrayed with that intention, in the film. Predominantly this is because, by the time Dorothy and cohorts really come on the scene, we have spent so much time with the Witch, seeing her through; childhood, college and well into independent adult life, as well as, eventually, her death, indeed almost her entire life, that we, as audience, are so embroiled with her story that you are already mourning her loss. For we know, as soon as Dorothy meets the Witch it is the beginning of the end for Elphaba and in the case of the book, this is by far a greater loss than it was in the film.

In the film, you’re invited to feel for Dorothy more, for her plight and her innate innocent naivety, but it’s all told from her point of view, in her favour, it’s very one sided, but then, Baum’s novel and MGM’s film are Dorothy’s story, the Witch could never be allowed to be seen as sympathetic or feel any emotion for her barring hatred and fear, for she is classed as, if not ‘evil’, then at the very least ‘wicked’. Wicked makes amends for this by being Elphaba’s story, and thus showing the other side of the coin.

Toto

Dorothy’s long-suffering and faithful hound Toto is similarly to be found within Wicked. It is evident (or at least inferred from Maguire’s portrayal) that the author was never overly fond of the ‘little dog’ nor does he seem to see the purpose of his being involved within the original narrative. Therefore Toto is described as a yappy, annoying and pointless animal[3] (in relation to the story), with several characters along the way commenting on this supposedly useless or needless character, and in doing so, Maguire has managed to make a caricature of the ‘little dog’.

The Companions

Dorothy’s companions, accompanying her in the travels and ‘mission’ to vanquish the Witch; The Tin Woodsman (Tin Man), the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow are as two dimensional in Maguire’s novel as they were in Baum’s. To Maguire’s story they are simply of little consequence, almost as if they just ‘have to be there’ for the sake of completion, for Dorothy’s story, more than for any direct impact they might have upon Elphaba’s.

However, there is strong insinuation/evidence as to who they may have been originally; that they may not always have been in the form they now take. Tin Man was Nick Chopper, a man Nessarose cursed on behalf of a woman who approached her to do so, Cowardly Lion is quite likely Brrr, the lion cub from Dr Nikidik’s lecture at Shiz University[4] about identifying ‘Animals’ and ‘animals’[5] when they are young, before speech and without their parents present to aid in their identification, who was rescued by two students and spirited away from harm. Scarecrow has no specific affiliation with a past character, though Elphaba remains convinced, to the point where we, the reader, also start to believe, despite potential evidence to the country, that he is Fiyero. It’s not until the birds (under Elphaba’s direction) attack the quintet that this illusion is finally dispelled and seen for what it is, a delusion on her part, as the Scarecrow is revealed to be exactly what he is, a Scarecrow, though one that has possibly been imbued with Dr Nikidik’s animation spell, or some form of that.

The Wizard (WoO)

The Wizard of Oz (WOO) in Maguire’s novel is even more conniving and manipulative than he is in the film, his love for technically aided appearances (i.e. the rain and the skeleton when Elphaba and G(a)linda go to see him) however, remains. He is also far more obviously a despot from another World than he is in the film, it almost seems like he is trying to enforce that Worlds or his own, ideals upon Oz, and to a greater extent he is succeeding.

Maguire gives the WOO a real role in the novel, he is the creator of social ‘reforms’ such as the ‘Animal’ bans restricting their movement and civil rights to those of ‘animals’ rather than people, racial tensions; in the systematic and unfounded prejudices against the Quadlings and the resultant genocide of their people. He is a dictator in the guise of moral leader, and thus, if one was to speculate, is likely to be from the ‘real’ world, or at least one very similar to it, after all he is being portrayed as someone somewhat akin to Hitler, yet obviously not quite like our world given the propensity of magic. There is nothing about him to indicate that he has any compassion or even a soul or moral standing.

The idea of a ‘soul’ in this instance is particularly interesting. The WOO simply assumes that he has a soul, yet displays few, if any, qualities to support such an assumption, whereas Elphaba, the strongest vocalist of her own lack of soul, has more empathy and other qualities akin to being imbued with one than any other person in Oz we come across, though probably not a literal claim.

Elphaba, and possibly, eventually, Glinda, is the only one to see him as he really is, (though even Elphaba is initially blind to his manipulations out of a desire to be accepted), a weak man who has somehow gained power over a people who are not his own, and is doing everything he can to keep his stranglehold over Oz. Elphaba knows, or at least suspects, that he is a political usurper who has somehow overthrown the reign of the Ozma’s in an obscure claim on legitimacy.

Nessarose (The wicked witch of the West)

“The Wicked Witch of the East” in Maguire’s novel is allowed a name, an identity beyond the ruby slippers and being felled by a house (MGM evidently took a harsh view on ‘loose women’ with too much power and ‘inherent’ evilness). In a way she is mainly there to be a foil to Elphaba and to represent some semblance of reckoning for her resultant character and the reasons for who she ends up being; why she fights the causes she does and what fuels the public consensus that she is indeed a ‘witch’. This, if it weren’t so sad, would be ironic; for, of the two, Nessa is by far the more deserving of the title. Elphaba rescinded the title of Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland and as Nessa was the next in line, the title goes down the female line; she took on the mantle and becomes a relentless, fanatically religious, ruler. Another despot to pit against the WOO? Perhaps that is why he feels so threatened by her.

Maguire never truly incites a great deal of sympathy for Nessa (just as he didn’t with Dorothy). From the outset, even before we have really come across her, when Elphaba talks about her she appears to be a ruling force in Elphaba’s life. When Nessa is around everything, including Elphaba revolves around her. She had the most of their father and he saw fit to give her everything, including those fateful shoes, and Elphaba nothing of any value or consequence. Perhaps readers would be forgiven for thinking that this gives Elphaba a reason for becoming the Wicked Witch of the West, but if they do, then they haven’t been paying attention to her character development away from Nessa and her family. The shoes and her familial background are by no means the sole root cause. The shoes are almost figuratively a representation of her family issues.

However, short as Nessa’s part in the book is, it is still a larger part than in the film, where you never actually see her, just her legs and shoes disappearing under Dorothy’s fallen farm house. Her inclusion here is a fairly insightful one in relation to Elphaba and her development. The inequality within their family (the Thropp’s) goes some way in explaining aspects of Elphaba’s character and how and, in part, why she is who she is, greenness aside.

Nessa’s accidental death, at the hands (or rather, house) of Dorothy is seen as being a benefit to the Munchkins, she rules with such deeply religious fervour (a strong argument for keeping Church and State separate) and firm handedness that ending her rule by any means available could only be a reprieve from their subjugation.

Nessa’s death is also one of the major beginning implications in the signalling of the end for Elphaba, though the end of her relationship with Glinda is probably more of a turning point, albeit more subtly yet still the more important of the two. For Glinda’s ‘betrayal’ is the ultimate one for Elphaba, if there was ever one person entirely on her side (eventually) it was Glinda. To have that taken away albeit inadvertently by Glinda doing a good deed on her behalf by removing both Dorothy and Nessa’s shoes from Munchkinland, she infuriates Elphaba to such a degree that ‘they never spoke again’[6]

Which brings us, finally, to the two main characters of Maguire’s novel and how they are or aren’t different from MGM’s renditions of them.

G(a)linda (the Good witch of the North)

G(a)linda (she changed her name after the death/murder of Dr Dillamond, who couldn’t pronounce her name correctly, and becomes like her namesake Saint Glinda) the so-called ‘Good Witch of the North’, or rather “Upland of the Arduenna’s”  is by far, less vapid, ‘blond’,( in the characteristic sense as opposed to necessarily the literal) though she certainly does have her moments in the beginning, and is generally more fully fleshed out as a character. She is portrayed as ‘human’ (for a given value of ‘human’, since Oz isn’t our world) and entirely fallible. She has thoughts, albeit perhaps, not many when we first come across her, at least not many that revolve around anything other than herself and her vanity, and she is by far, less scary than Billie Burke’s rendering of her in the film (entirely ‘blond’ and somewhat haughtily uninspiring). Indeed, after a few viewings in adult life, I always considered her to be almost as scary as the WWoW was supposed to be, which was never intended I am sure, I certainly never though of her as someone I particularly wanted to trust or thought Dorothy should trust, for like the Wizard, Glinda had her own agenda.

In Maguire’s novel, Glinda is friends with Elphaba, that is, after a good deal of animosity and annoyance between the two roommates. Indeed she is probably her only ‘real’ friend and the same could be argued for the other way around. Glinda might say she is friends with Pfannee and Shenshen, but it’s more for reasons of social standing and popularity than genuine friendship.

It is also possible to infer a romantic slant to the relationship between the two[7], though that does not mean that it was necessarily a sexual relationship, which would also go a long way in explaining why Elphaba feels so utterly betrayed by Glinda’s actions over the shoes. The possibility of such a relationship is most telling by the fact that of all the memories between the two of them, and indeed the thing that Glinda appears to recall the most vividly, is sharing a bed on the way to the Emerald City. She continues to think about Elphaba even after they are no longer speaking to each other. It is the aftermath of their argument that could convince a sceptic that they, were involved with each other, in what ever way that was, for nobody feels that strongly about something merely for the sake of it.

When we first meet Glinda in the novel she is as we expect her to be if we judge her character as simply being a younger representation synonymous with the film version, she is unthinking and shallow in her views and in her friendships. The way she dresses could act as a perfect metaphor for the way she appears; for we eventually learn that it is an ‘appearance’ rather than wholly reality. Her dress and general frippery is, in a way, a shield for Glinda, a show which she hides behind so she doesn’t have to have opinions or feel bad for the actions she takes, especially in relation to Elphaba, to whom she is, initially, incredibly cruel, spurred on by her ‘friends’ Pfannee and Shenshen.

Her character evolves and grows to the extent it does, partly due to Elphaba’s influence(s) and general encouragement to think outside her sheltered and isolated little box, to question her actions and those of her surroundings, thus formulating an unlikely friendship/relationship between the two. That they became friends isn’t debateable, that much is obvious, as for a romantic relationship or sexual relationship that seems to be open to interpretation.

When they leave Shiz University it is evident that some elements of the shallow, original, Glinda are still in play, though whether this is a shield or reality is at times unclear. She marries into money, for the money, not out of any semblance of love or romantic affection, if that were the case, then chances are she would have stayed with Elphaba, if she had been allowed that choice. She is fulfilling her self proclaimed destiny and role in life, as if she has no choice in the matter, that she has succumbed to some form of ‘fate’ such as that ‘predicted’ by Madame Morrible. It could simply be that she’d chosen Elphaba and was essentially rejected, though she continues to think of, and search for, her. In which case any choice of partner, if she had not ‘moved on’ could be considered as Glinda settling.

At the ‘end’ of their relationship she manages to unintentionally, but brutally, wound Elphaba and in doing so, ruins any chances of their reconciliation. Through her misguided generosity and political intelligence she removes the shoes from Munchkinland and thus exacerbates Elphaba’s obsessive need for them, resulting in them never seeing each other again. During this final meeting she reverts almost directly back to type, though it remains clear to the reader that this certainly wasn’t her intention, she was trying to save Elphaba, not alienate her further. By this time she has buried the person she has become beneath the weight of pretence and dress, which Elphaba, also reverting to type, mocks piteously. Glinda has forsaken her opinions and the issues she believed in for the sake and believability of rule, as if she has forgotten who she was when she was with Elphaba (in whichever definition of ‘with’ the reader so chooses), that she is now somehow lesser than she was before.

In a way, Glinda’s life path is sadder than Elphaba’s. Elphaba’s was inevitable, we already knew where her life was going from the moment we picked up the book; its how she got there that was new to us. With Glinda, there is a greater sense of loss of self, she has become a character deserving of our sympathy and empathy, and you wish neither of them were so pigheaded, for what they had was evidently the best thing that had ever happened to either of them, they were both just too proud to admit it, or back down from their prospective positions. Pride truly does come before a fall it would seem.

Elphaba (The wicked Witch of the West)

Finally, then, we have the Witch; Elphaba, so named by Maguire from the initials of L F Baum, in a clever homage to the original author. During the novel she goes by many names, though all with the central theme of Elphaba. To her father Frex she is ‘Fabala’, ‘Fae’ when she is with Fiyero and the resistance and Sister ‘Aelphaba’ when she is with the Maunts in the ‘nunnery’. Interestingly it is only with Nanny and Glinda, the only two people who ever seemed to truly love her for who she is/was that she is herself, both by name and character, going by both Elphaba and Elphie.

However, more importantly than which name she chooses to go by in any given situation, is the fact that she is named at all. She is finally given a persona that is separate from the end result. Indeed she is given an entire life and reasoning behind, and separate, to the end result, as opposed to Baum and MGM’s simplified and non-clarified assertion that she simply ‘is’. Is ‘evil’, is green, is the inherent baddy of the piece as opposed to being another possible victim as Maguire shows her to be.

Right from the outset, before you even open the book, you know that she’s going to be involved, the sub-title is after all, the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West, she is expected to appear. Even so, it comes as a surprise, when reading the prologue, to come across her so explicitly and so immediately in the way that we do. It is surprising, because; given the sub-title, you almost expect to see a different side of her straight a way, this, after all, is her version of the known events, so to see her portrayed as she is in the film is both reassuring in reaffirming our, deceptive and simplified, MGM view of her, and unsettling, because so far, little about her seems to have changed. If that’s the case, then what does Maguire have 512 pages to write about?

Maguire makes Elphaba a sympathetic character, one who is proud, whole and thoroughly misunderstood someone who is capable of love and of being loved, despite her stringent assertions to the contrary, by both Glinda and Fiyero. She is portrayed as inherently HUMAN, making the film version a mere shadow of her characterisation in Maguire’s novel.

Maguire gives the reader a reason and a focus to understanding Elphaba; she is no longer the scary caricature who scared us as children because she was menacing and her motivations unknown and uncared about. In fact he creates entirely the opposite reaction to her in the book from the film. By the end, specifically the last 100 pages or so she has become so resigned to her fate, yet somehow heart wrenchingly desperate to avoid it at the same time, that we end up sympathising with her over the child Dorothy in their individual fights for survival. It is due to her being portrayed this way, with such sympathy, care and evident love of his character, that the end becomes even more of a shock, even though, before opening the book, you already know what is going to happen, that it is entirely inevitable and her reprieve non-negotiable. Maybe we, as reader, are responding to her desperation and resignation? You wish she would fight it, rather than just accept it as done, despite the fact that in this instance Maguire’s hands are essentially tied by the film and Baum’s ending of the ‘Witch’.

In the novel her death seems even more pointless and unnecessary than it did in the film (and that always, after the age of 8 or so, struck me as unnecessary and cruel), is she really that big a threat to the WOO? Or is it all perceived? She seems to just want to be left alone by this point; she’s lost everything that ever meant anything to her; Glinda, Fiyero, whose death at the hands of the Gale Force she feels responsible for, and those ridiculous shoes she had an abnormal obsession with. Her reactions to Dorothy and her friends show her desperate desire not to die, despite the fact that she asserts the contrary view, rather than simple outright cruelty and wickedness. Is she truly such a threat to his ‘regime’ to his politics and his teachings? It’s evident from quite early on that she would like to be, but whether or not that is actually the case remains somewhat unclear.

She is an outsider, in family and societal ways, a political dissenter with socialist/liberalist leanings compared to Oz and the WOO’s conservative leanings. She made a very conscious decision early on to stand up to the injustice of things like the Animal bans and thus, by association to the WOO. She acts on behalf of those who can’t act for themselves, indeed as someone should have been doing for her all along, though admittedly Glinda does kind of take on that role, whilst they are at Shiz and visiting the WOO in the Emerald City.

She is honest, sarcastic and quietly witty, she is a thinker rather than a woman of action, at least initially (later perhaps, that turns around), and who admits her own weaknesses even purely self-perceived ones. It is evident that she has never wholly believed in herself or what she is capable of, does she even have a sense of self in that way? She argues that she has a lack of soul, yet she illustrates more evidence to the contrary than most in Oz.

Initially she is also the epitome of the idealistically militant and naïve student who wants to fight for a better world, believing she can make a difference. Her first meeting with the WOO somewhat squashes this view, and she ends up feeling somewhat defeated and outfaced by the results of that meeting. Interestingly, it is this meeting that turns the roles of Glinda and Elphaba around. Now Elphaba is the blind insecure and needy of reassurance, whilst Glinda becomes, temporarily, the voice of reason and understanding, seeing the WOO and his influences over Oz and Elphaba. This could be construed as another argument for their romantic attachment to each other could be made from the resulting character reversal during this meeting. They both have a great deal to offer each other in terms of understanding, acceptance and support.

All in all she is by far, more than the Wicked Witch of the West could ever been seen as being in the film, she is an entire character, in her own right, in the novel. In fact there is a distinct turn around, for in the film the roles between her and Dorothy are reversed compared to the book, but then, the film is Dorothy’s story and the book is Elphaba’s, so that is, perhaps, only to be expected.

The novel Wicked can only change your conception of the film, I’m not sure it is possible for it not to have, unless you wilfully choose to ignore the elements contradicting the representations in the film. However, I also think that it is very important not to compare the two, but to accept them as very separate entities, just as you should do with Maguire’s and Baum’s books. They are both products of their time, and represent views and opinions of those times that cannot truly be equated with each other, not with any realistic amount of success anyway.

In truth, despite what I have mentioned above, about taking them as separate things and ideas, I find that I am no longer able to watch the original film, at least not and enjoy it as I used to. I find it obscene in its inane/vacuous Technicolor glory and the way ‘good versus evil’ are simplified, quantified and then treated. I accept the film as it is, and from when it is, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to stomach. I am however hard pushed to say whether of not it was entirely Wicked that changed my viewpoint since I didn’t re-watch it until after I had read the novel twice, or if my change in perception should be additionally attributed to my age, general development and increased knowledge of the world and its issues.

In general I find the film unjust and innately cruel and far too simplified in its views. I find Dorothy with her weak attitude and easy manipulability vaguely unsettling and I find the more I see the film, the harder I find it in me to feel any true sympathy for her or her fellow companions, compared to how I feel about the Witch.

Interestingly my view of Glinda has changed, Billie Burke acts as I imagine Maguire’s Glinda to do when hiding behind pretence of character, represented by dress. Of all MGM’s characters, I now find it easier to watch Glinda than I ever did originally, due to this added facet suggested by Maguire’s portrayal of her that perhaps this view is a front, a shield behind which she hides to protect herself.

Elphaba has become a shadow character, both literally and metaphorically, who is rather misunderstood, though perhaps not entirely blameless and innocent  . As a reader and a viewer you know as soon as Elphaba comes on the page or screen that she has to and will, die, though not necessarily at the hands of Dorothy, simply by being a ‘witch’.

In the film she is green to show a marked difference from the ‘good’ characters, and possibly an inherent link to the Emerald City, also she is clothed as a culturally traditional witch, all in black, long black hair, hooked nose, a cruel and harsh character, though whether the stereotype existed before the film or whether it was a result of it I cannot be sure, however, her entire appearance is an evident indication as to her demise. That she is typified as a ‘witch’, a non-beauty, who cannot be allowed to survive (nor was Nessa) simply by dint of title is easily apparent. It is said that when Margaret Hamilton originally filmed her scenes, she was so scary that they had to reshoot them and was twice as long on set as originally intended.

The main difference between the film and the book, barring the characterisation of Elphaba, is the predictability of the film and the entirely lack of such predictability of the book. The film is obvious in its ending from the very beginning; the WOO will be usurped, the Witch will die, Dorothy will triumph over evil and returned to Kansas and her companions will be ‘fixed’. It should be said however, that the films inherent predictably has significantly increased the older the film gets and the more our culture, especially film-wise, changes, it was probably the complete opposite when it was first released.

The book is unpredictable, barring Elphaba’s demise, because it turns on its head everything you thought you knew about the Witch and Oz, which can only be a good thing. It also acts as a suitable commentator on issues such as civil liberties and ethics within the guise of a story you think you know, but without ramming the ideas down your throat or enforcing Maguire’s opinions upon the reader. He appears to be encouraging the reader to think about these issues, by giving no definitive answer to some of the questions he raises, such as good versus evil, and indeed what constitutes as either of those premises. In the film; Elphaba is ‘evil’, a ‘witch’ and as such is painted (literally) as such a character, by being green, whereas Glinda is inherently good, despite being called a ‘witch’ she is the ‘good witch’. In the book, however, Elphaba is still green, it’s unavoidable really, but is she ever considered to be inherently ‘evil’? Whereas Glinda is portrayed, when a student, as cruel and selfish, how then, can this indicate her infallible ‘goodness’?

Wicked, the novel, is intrinsically, not a children’s book, despite what it is about, there are no themes within it’s covers that are meant for anything other than an adult or older teen audience, whereas the film is very child friendly, with that added dose of good healthy ‘fear’ (the type that thrills more than scares) thrown into the mix for good measure.

In conclusion; in essence these two representations of Baum’s original story, whilst complementing each other with their differing view points, need to be considered as very separate entities, you should not infer the opinions or representations of one upon the other, as they will not stand up to such scrutiny, and it is not a simple case of debating which is the better or most realistic of the two, for in the end they are both fictional. In Maguire’s novel the reader is invited to view all sides of Elphaba, whereas the MGM green witch is EVIL simply and implicitly and thus must face the consequences.


[1] http://www.gregorymaguire.com

[2] Both in the book and in the film, but in this instance I am referencing the book.

[3] Wicked p437

[4] Wicked p170-173 Animals vs animals lecture.

[5] Definition of Animals vs animals : Animals are anthropomorphic, or displaying human characteristics, such as language etc and are sophisticated, animals do not, they are simply animals, wild or doesticated.

[6] Wicked p413-431 (for the exchange in it’s entirety)

[7] Wicked p206



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About Nerdsbian

I am a nerd for ALL seasons. I am a genderqueer Librarian who unsurprisingly likes reading...a lot But I love being outside too...sometimes even reading at the same time. Also animals, any and all of them. Never yet met one that didn't get on with me and vice versa. I do a couple of different voluntary jobs (animal charity related) and have recently completed my MA.
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