“Wicked,” Gregory Maguire

Wicked” is a cultural phenomenon, and with a few exceptions (Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter), I am terrible at keeping up with cultural phenomena. I tried to read it a few years ago and found the early chapters too… let’s call it “earthy”… for my comfort.

I don’t know the musical, either, despite being a huge Broadway fan and–now–knowing Idina Menzel very, very well, because I also have a teenage daughter who remains obsessed with Anna and Elsa. (Case in point: as I wrote this, she was upstairs playing the video of Disney Harmonious, hosted by Menzel, at top volume.) But when you have 4 kids and they’re small, you have neither the time nor the money to drive two hours to see the Broadway shows when they come through.

However, this spring my family is getting older and I decided to go see “Wicked” with some friends. And so I decided it was time to take another whack at the book, so I’d be able to compare the two.

This time around, the earthiness was still hard to get through, but when Elphaba transitioned to college and met Glinda, I caught my stride.

I liked the reimagining of a familiar story. Glinda as a ditzy, shallow socialite; the Wizard as a toxic influence; the magical setting shown to have a dark underbelly. Every so often, a glimpse of The Wizard of Oz would peek through–the first being the lion cub destined to become the Cowardly Lion. Speaking of capital-L Lion, the through line about the treatment of Animals was among the most interesting innovations Maguire came up with, in my eyes. I would have liked to have seen it explored more thoroughly, but maybe he does that in the rest of the series.

It was interesting to see how Elphaba’s sensitivity to water was simply taken for granted, never explained, simply part of the landscape. Elphaba’s lack of curiosity about herself, her outwardly dispassionate approach to life, which conceals a deep passion she never really acknowledges–commitment to loved ones, even when she thinks they’re totally off base; a commitment to justice–even though she doesn’t emote, she Emotes.

I’ve been juggling many books at once lately, and it came to a point where this was the one that had the least urgency, but the most desire to see where it was going. I almost expected a different ending to the Witch’s life than the one L. Frank Baum gave us.

Have you read Wicked? How about its sequels? What’s your take?