Gather around the fire, kiddies. Make yourselves comfortable. Old Uncle J has a story he wants to tell you. Now, this here story ain’t one of them make-believe stories. No sir, this story is a true story. It’s called: “Holy Shit, I’ve Been Really Damn Busy During These Last Few Months”…Okay, so I’m not really going to tell you a campfire-style story about how busy I’ve been. I’ll just sketch a quick little picture to give you the basic idea.
On August 5th, I went to see a stage production of Wicked with my buddy Kristian, his girlfriend Jessica, and my friend Lyla (pictured below) in Seoul.
To get myself in the right frame of mind for it, I decided to read the book again. Now remember, this was at the beginning of August. It is now October 27th, and I just now finished reading it. That’s how busy I’ve been.
My Thoughts on the Play
Moving right along, dear readers, I’m sure at least a few of you are wondering what I thought of the play. Well, my natural inclination is to say that the book is a lot better. But, I don’t think that’s really fair in this case. After all, no reasonable person goes to see a musical and says “This isn’t what happened in the book.” (Really? You mean the characters in the book didn’t spontaneously break out into song every few minutes? You don’t say.)
So, taking Wicked: The Musical on its own merits I’d say that it was okay and give it 2 out of 5 stars. A lot of the songs were great, and the actresses playing Elphaba and Glinda (the witches) were amazing. But for me it lost a lot of points when all the familiar Oz characters (the Tin Man, Lion, etc.) started making forced cameo appearances. And I’ll just say this honestly: the ending was terrible in every way that storytelling can be terrible. I found myself staring at the stage in confusion, thinking “What?”
Ah well. It was better than sitting at home writing report cards. 🙂
But the Book on the Other Hand, Well, That’s a Whole Other Story
My disappointment with the play’s ending didn’t discourage me from re-reading the novel, however. I remembered liking it when I read it a few years ago, but a lot of the details had gotten a little fuzzy in my mind and I wanted to give it another go. (Funny how that works, isn’t it? When you’re reading a good book, your mind explodes with energy as it opens itself up to new ideas, images, points of view, and possibilities. But once you’re fnished with it, the only thing you can really say is, “Oh yeah, I’ve read that. It’s good.”)
If you haven’t read Wicked, you might be tempted to think of it as a cute little novelty story: The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s point of view; something along the lines of “The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs“. Or anyway, that’s what I was expecting when I first started reading it. After the first page and a half, though, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case. Wicked is actually a somewhat complicated, multi-layered book that puts the character of the Wicked Witch into context. It doesn’t try to save her reputation, only to explain exactly who she was and what was going on around her.
Consider the familiar events in The Wizard of Oz:
(1) When Dorothy Gale first arrives in Munchkinland, her house falls out of the sky and lands on the Wicked Witch’s sister, killing her instantly. So the first thought that might come to mind is: “Well of course the Witch was mean and wicked! Dorothy just killed her sister!” But now take that thought in another direction and ask: isn’t it interesting that the Wicked Witch has a sister? Doesn’t that imply that she must also have parents and a family background somewhere? Witches are usually depicted as hermits, living alone in forests or caves with no past and no friends. Not so with this one. Hmmm…
(2) When Dorothy’s house falls on the witch’s sister and kills her, the Munchkins all rejoice. Why? What was their reason for hating her? Did she make their lives miserable? Was she in a position of authority where she could terrorize them?
(3) When Dorothy and her friends first ask the Wizard to grant their requests (a brain, a heart, courage, a trip home) he tells them that they must first do him a favor. Quoth the Wizard:
“Well,” said the Head, “I will give you my answer. You have no right to expect me to send you back to Kansas unless you do something for me in return. In this country everyone must pay for everything he gets. If you wish me to use my magic power to send you home again you must do something for me first. Help me and I will help you.”
“What must I do?” asked the girl.
“Kill the Wicked Witch of the West,” answered Oz.
– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Alarm bells should start ringing inside your head when you read this. Why does the Wizard want the Witch dead? Isn’t it obvious from his request that he and the Witch have some sort of history with each other? What is that history? Clearly, Dorothy dropped into the story when a lot of other things were already going on. But what were those other things? These are the sorts of questions that Wicked attempts to answer.
There are a lot of things I could say about this book. I almost want to go back into student mode and just start cranking out essays about it. But first, let me hear from you, dear readers. Have any of you read this book or seen the play? Did you enjoy it? Why or why not? And most importantly: do you think the witch lives up to her title?