What makes a villain a villain? In Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, the iconic story by Frank L. Baum of Dorothy Gale and her adventures through Oz is brilliantly retold from a new perspective. The most notorious character in Baum’s book, the Wicked Witch of the West, is given a colorful back story explaining how exactly she became, well, wicked. The story is no longer about a misplaced farm girl blown away to a strange land, but of a misunderstood, emerald-skinned girl named Elphaba who searches for acceptance and forgiveness in the face of adversity.
This book touches upon religious themes: the concept of a higher power (mentioned in the book as The Unnamed God), the forgiveness of sin, the idea of karma, the triumph of good over evil, and the existence of a human soul and an afterlife. It is brilliantly written in this sense and makes the reader think about whether Elphaba could have sought forgiveness or if she was just born wicked.
The characters are a perfect mix of old and new, with some of Baum’s iconic creations – the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, flying monkeys, Dorothy, and even the Wizard himself – intermingled perfectly with characters of Maguire’s own creation, such as Prince Fiyero of the Vinkus (Elphaba’s love interest).
Throughout Wicked, Elphaba struggles with being different from her peers. As she uses her newfound magical abilities to fight the Wizard’s oppressive schemes, she becomes even more of a social outcast, spurring more rumors of her wickedness. By the time Dorothy appears, Elphaba has embraced the role of the Wicked Witch of the West.
There are many unexpected twists and turns, and with each page Maguire has his readers at the edge of their seats. I would strongly recommend Wicked to those in high school who enjoy a challenging (and slightly dark) read that makes you question your opinions about the nature of good and evil. As for the ending? Come on, do you really think I’d spoil that? All I can say is that there’s more to this witch’s story than meets the eye.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.