Recently (just this year, even) I really got into the musical Wicked. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a prequel to L.Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz which focuses on that story’s main antagonist, The Wicked Witch of the West (or, as she’s named in this story, Elphaba). If you haven’t heard it before, then go pick it up and listen to the entire thing. Because it is BRILLIANT. The music, the lyrics, the story, the characters, the plot. All of it is stunningly dramatic and fantastically memorable. After listening to it about forty thousand times, I decided to pick up the book on which it based and give it a read.
In short, the novel was… supremely disappointing, especially when compared to it’s musical adaptation.
The story deals with the struggles of Elphaba, who is born with green skin, ferocious teeth, and an aversion to water. Throughout the story she is treated like a monster because of the fear associated with her strange condition. She goes to school with Galinda (later renamed to who we know as Glinda), a higher-class student who initially doesn’t want to be even seen with Elphaba. Eventually, though, they become friends, and begin to help each other out in difficult circumstances. The rest of the plot connects periods through Elphaba’s life as she meets others, helps a revolution in Oz, and learns how to approach a world that hates her.
The main theme of the book is the nature of evil. Throughout the entire story questions are asked of the characters (and by extension, the readers), such as
“Are we born good or evil?”
“Do we have the ability to choose our own morality?”
“Do good intentions with bad results equal good or bad?”
While any of these questions could most definitely fuel a story, this book fails to marry the concepts to the narrative. No matter how many different answers or viewpoints are provided, Elphaba never changes as a base character. There are no monumental turning points or arcs for her. Even the musical, which marked it’s very act breaks with pivotal character moments (Think “Defying Gravity” and “No Good Deed”) was able to nail this down.
Besides the lack of character arc, the book is just far too lengthy to really provoke any emotional moments that it might have been able to show. There are some shining parts of the story, I swear, but they’re buried between many layers of wordy and pulpy drivel that they really doesn’t lend itself to being very memorable.
To sum up my opinion, there are far too many books out there to waste time reading this. I certainly didn’t hate Wicked, (Hating anything really is just not a good idea), but there was so much potential here that didn’t amount to anything. I wholeheartedly attempt to dissuade you from reading this.Instead, go listen to the musical!