Rating: ★ ★ ★
Wicked is my favourite musical. I love the story, I long the characters, I love the songs – in short, I love everything about it. So it seemed like a no-brainer that I absolutely had to read the book. I enjoyed reading Wicked in order to read the story in more detail, and revisit the characters in another format, but I wouldn’t recommend it to people merely because they enjoyed the musical. Wicked is an okay/good book, as a standalone book, but it isn’t a chance to revisit the musical in literary form.
Wicked is a retelling of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, the villain from the Wizard of Oz. In the original story, she is green-skinned, definitely witchy-looking, dresses all in black, has a broom and pointed hat etc. etc. In this retelling, this character is fleshed out more, as Elphaba Thropp. We follow her life from odd baby, surprising her parents by being green-skinned among other strange characteristics, through to her years at university where she makes friends with ‘Galinda’ (Glinda the Good Witch), on to her time as an activist/terrorist/reluctant heiress. It is an interesting story, but it wasn’t everything that I hoped it would be, and was unfortunately a little boring at times.
An interesting central component of Wicked was the political commentary on the land of Oz, with the issues surrounding Animals, the divisions between different groups of people in Oz, conspiracies, and divisions according to religion. However, this also turned out to be the book’s most damning feature at times, as it sometimes felt like a mission to read about so many issues and not see a clear storyline. One of my favourite parts of the book concerned Elphaba being a member of a secret underground terrorist organisation, however it felt like it was told from too far a distance. The story moved on after her failed campaign and it felt like a whole part of her life was left behind for much of the book. It wasn’t until the end when Elphaba revisited her old research into Animals. This meant that what felt like it should be a significant storyline was merely left as a background plot point, making the story feel muddled and confused.
Another aspect of the book which felt like it wasn’t explored enough was Elphaba’s relationships. Perhaps this is my fault for approaching this book which precise expectation from the musical, but I always loved the unlikely relationships Elphaba struck with Galinda, Fiyero, and Boq in the musical. They showed a much more human side to Elphaba that isn’t present in the book. Instead, Elphaba is separated from G(a)linda in the Emerald City, and for much of the book there is no mention of her. Then they meet again for a brief, bland period of time only to separate again. As for Fiyero, the part of the book where they are at university together, there are few scenes between them, followed by an affair later, and then by his mysterious death – which is never fully explained. This meant that central relationships in Elphaba’s life felt unexplored and unexplained. I feel like Maguire didn’t take advantage of an opportunity to really pull on reader’s heartstrings and make us root for Elphaba – or against her – just to feel anything for her.
I was at first surprised by the book’s ending and how the story unravelled. The final chapters were tense and exciting – making up for a large period beforehand where the story felt muddled. The scenes with Dorothy were interesting, but also felt a little rushed for such a climatic event. On the one hand – I was upset that the clever ending that I love from the musical, where various characters are transformed into Dorothy’s friends – the scarecrow being Fiyero, Boq being the Tin Man – the only one which is the same in the book is the lion being a cub which Elphaba helped to escape. On the other hand, I somewhat liked the element of tragedy in Elphaba’s story. Still, it would have been nice for Elphaba’s story regarding other characters in the book, like Boq and Fiyero, to have been revisited and closed off a bit nicer, as they are in the musical. After all, that ending still has an element of tragedy about it, without it being so final and feeling like something is missing.
Overall, Wicked is not a bad book. In fact, the story of Elphaba’s life story as told by Gregory Maguire is very interesting. I just think that there was something missing about it, an emotional aspect to the story. For all of Elphaba’s strength, it is clear that she is a more complex character and I don’t think that this is really addressed. As many book-lovers say, the book is better than the movie – but in this case, I would not hesitate to say that the musical (soon to be movie, hopefully) is better than the book. The changes made to the plot flesh Elphaba out more and make us feel something for the characters, which the book failed to do enough.