Saturday, 30 July 2011

'Wicked' by Gregory Maguire (1995)

Synopsis: Wicked is a prequel to L. Frank Baum's novel The Wizard of Oz and its famous film adaptation. It takes place in the land of Oz and in the years leading up to Dorothy's arrival. The main character is Elphaba, a misunderstood girl with green skin who eventually becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. 

I really wanted to like this book because I really love the musical. Instead I was extremely disappointed. OK, it is an imaginative and mostly well-written book. Maguire takes a story that most of us are familiar with and writes a fresh take on it about the Wicked Witch of the West. It is a great idea and I'm grateful that Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman recognised that - otherwise we would never have had the musical. Yet despite the excellent premise I just couldn't bring myself to like the book.

Maguire's Wicked isn't very well-paced at all and the story often drags. None of the characters are particularly well-developed in this book either and they all came across as being flat and very unlikeable - even Elphaba left me cold. She's irrational, moody, bad-tempered, sometimes spiteful and petulant, and I wasn't convinced of her supposed affection for some of the other characters. Wasn't the whole point of this book to make the Witch a more sympathetic character?! : S I wanted far more action and character development in this book.

Another problem that I have with this book is because I get the impression that it's trying to be a profound study of the nature of good and evil. But the book is nowhere as "deep" or intellectual as it clearly thinks it is and it's far too preoccupied with sex. The book is packed with sexual innuendo and sexual references. Some of it occurs in some fairly bizarre places! I especially hated The Philosophy Club scene. It was unpleasant to read as it's very, very creepy and disturbing. I doubt many people would enjoy reading about a man and a Tiger engaged in some weird sex act! It was also completely pointless. Yes it's implied that a character picked up an STD at that sex club but they were a very minor character anyway and it didn't have a significant impact on the story. I got the impression that that scene was included purely for shock value. 

I didn't enjoy this book at all and I know I won't read it again or bother with its sequels. However I really love the musical and would happily see that again. It's brilliant and I'd recommend it even to people who hated this book. The novel and musical have almost nothing in common and are VERY different. They share the same title, the names of the characters, and a couple of the same plot points but that's pretty much it. The musical also improves upon the book's faults. The plot is much tighter and more focused. The characters are better fleshed out: Elphaba, G(a)linda, Fiyero, Nessarose and even the Wizard are better-rounded, more likeable and more sympathetic. I can actually relate to the musical's Elphaba (to a point) and I really like the fact that she and Glinda have a much closer friendship than they do in Maguire's book. I prefer Elphaba's romance with Fiyero in the musical as well. The musical is more family-friendly than the book too so there are no pointless and unnecessary sexual references. The musical also throws in some clever twists and the songs are brilliant.

The only reason that I'm glad I read Wicked is because I now realise what an amazing job Stephen Schwartz and Winnie Holzman did in adapting it. Quite frankly I'm amazed that they were able to get such a great story out of it! To sum up: skip the book, see the musical instead.

Rating: 1/5

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