The life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West
I have been to see the stage version of Wicked four times now and would consider myself a big fan. And seeing as the last time I went I ended up proposing to my girlfriend in the lobby and getting engaged I felt it was time to read the book that inspired the musical.
Sitting down with it I was surprised to find out how little of the stage show is evident in the book, in fact apart from the characters themselves (and even then, mostly in name only) little to none of the book is remotely similar to what takes place on the stage. Sadly though, I wasn’t convinced that, of the two versions of the story, the book was the better.
For those who don’t know, Wicked tells the story of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the west. In it we learn that the popular image of her is a fallacy and that she is the victim of a negative smear campaign set forth by the Wizard himself, the actual villain of the piece.
This premise, while interesting, is a little troubled however. Anyone who has actually read the book of the Wizard of Oz knows that the witch is hardly in it at all and is in fact a fairly minor character, also so looks nothing like the black clad, green skinned monster of the film. The book tries to be the best of both worlds, including the films green skinned witch but also taking many elements from the book series, the most obvious of which is the Silver slippers of the book (ruby in the film).
This means that although it tries to tell us the true story of Oz, it tells the story of an oz that doesn’t exist in either canon. Perhaps not too big of a deal to a casual reader but I couldn’t help but feel it clouded the intention of the book somewhat.
That was not my main issue with the novel however, put simply, it was far too long. I’m no stranger to a long novel but here, it felt that the length was unjustified, minor details were poured over with such lengthy prose that in the end whole chapters could have been lifted from the book without denting the narrative.
This problem is mainly kept to the first half of the book, the second half suddenly picks up the pace and moves in a much more enjoyable way but it is perhaps too little too late. By the time you manage to get to the enjoyable part of the book you have had to drag yourself through two hundred pages kicking and screaming and your opinion of the text may already by engraved in your mind.
The second half, as I say is far more enjoyable if still a little overly wordy, you have to remember that this is intended to be a response to a fairly simple children’s book and frankly, it comes off as more than a little self indulgent at times.
You might think then, that given this dense writing style, that there would be no questions as to the quality of the story itself. In actual fact however, the plot is at times entirely threadbare. Large parts of the novel see the witch doing little to nothing whatsoever, often at the expense of other aspects of the novel. In the end, I finished the novel with a dozen questions about what I had read. Perhaps the answers to these are to be found in the following three novels in the series but frankly the book left me with no intention to read them and find out.
Despite all this, I did enjoy parts of this novel. The second half is very entertaining and the dialogue is superb throughout. But I find it hard to recommend.
More than anything, I just found myself thinking of how much better the musical handles the concept of the story. Giving the audience a version that is superior in almost every way, in a format that takes two hours to digest rather than a month.