Monday, December 23, 2002


It's been a few days, and I'm sorry. I'd been spending so much time at the computer that I came to hate the sight of it for a while there.

Besides which I've been reading! Yesterday I finished reading Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by world-traveling author Gregory Maguire, and... well. What a completely wonderful book. I don't suppose that before this book was written, anyone thought about how hard it would be to grow up with green skin, or about the crippling taxes the Oz Regent raised in the construction of the Yellow Brick Road.

He calls the Witch Elphaba, a name taken from the initials of L. Frank Baum, and follows her life from birth to death. Familiar characters pop up throughout: Maguire's Glinda, for example, is a sort of latter-day sorority snob, unwillingly roomed with Elphaba during their college years. Elphaba herself, predictably, is never truly evil or wicked, but neither does she have immediately likeable qualities - ultimately she is frank, loyal and steadfast (not to mention a genius), but next to Glinda's glamorous debutante, Elphaba is a reclusive academic, driven on one hand by her passion for the natural sciences (she breeds the flying monkeys herself), and on the other by a pathological (but well-grounded) fear of water.

What I found most interesting about this book is that in making Elphaba the hero, Maguire didn't find it necessary to vilify Dorothy, either by giving her evil intentions or by simply turning her into a brat. In fact, Dorothy's... I don't know - cameo seems to be the best word - is almost disappointing because it indicates nothing about her character beyond that which was formed by Baum's original story.

Maguire says that the germ of the book was a curiosity about the nature of evil, rather than a specific desire to exonerate the Wicked Witch of the West, but the reader doesn't really learn much about evil other than the age-old axiom - admittedly often ignored - that things aren't always what they seem.

I read Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Maguire's other attempt to turn a classic story on its head, a few months ago. It's equally good, if not better, and I would recommend it to anyone. But I found Wicked to be somewhat more engaging, probably because the Wicked Witch of the West is, on her face (as it were), a more exciting and likely heroine. Maguire opens Wicked with this quotation from War and Peace:

In historical events great men - so called - are but the labels that serve to give a name to an event, and like labels, they have the last possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity.

And that's all I have to say for the moment. My keeping regular hours has been somewhat bad for this weblog, because I tended before to write my entries in a fog of sleeplessness, and I haven't experienced the coupling of wanting to sleep with not being able to for several days now. But don't worry: I'll always be back.

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