The last revisionist novel that I read was Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty series, which of course is not the Sleeping Beauty of Disney charm. I read those novels a million years ago in high school and I haven’t really read any revisionist look other than occasional fan fictions of various pop culture stories.
I would say, Gregory Maguire’s parallel novel to our familiar The Wonderful Wizard of Oz provides an adult perspective to Dorothy’s story. Yes, the book itself was somewhat hard to read. I have had at least 5 people who have told me they quit the book, and these are people who don’t normally quit novels. The novel is heavy in the storyline, heavy in the points it wants to make, with one disturbing scene – think puppet sex. Anyway, for me, the fact that all these were happening before (and while) Dorothy paraded on the Yellow Brick Road was interesting to me. This novel is definitely a lot heavier than the musical Wicked, which was of course based on the novel. Nope, the musical was indeed was another revision to this revision because the musical was actually relatively happy compared to the novel. I love the musical, I have seen it a couple of times. Some friends said to me because the musical was different from the novel, that disinterested them. For me, it was the opposite. For me, I thought of the novel as “what really happened.”
There are five parts to the book, which essentially are the five stages of the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba. In part one, Munchkinlanders, we learn about Elphaba’s beginnings, her dysfunctional family, and of course, that she is different – she is green. Her father, Frex, is a unionist minister; her mother, Melena, was of higher social standing as she was the granddaughter of the Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland. Melena had affairs with strangers as Frex traveled for his ministry. One affair was with a stranger who gave her the Miracle Elixir potion in a green bottle, bringing forth a green Elphaba. Another affair was with Turtle Heart, a glassblower from the Quadling country. Elphaba has a sister, Nessarose, whose paternity is uncertain between Frex and Turtle Heart. Nessa, who of course becomes the Wicked Witch of the East, and owner of those famous ruby shoes that was given to Dorothy, was actually disabled – she had no arms, thus completely dependent. They had Nanny to help her out.
The second part, Gillikin, is probably my favorite part of the novel. This describes Elphaba’s life at Shiz University, where she essentially befriends her roommate Galinda, who’s main concern was to climb the social ladder higher than she already has, thus initially avoiding being associated with the peculiar green girl. They befriend other students, including a Munchkinlander Boq, and an Arjiki prince, Fiyero. Soon after, Nessarose also joins the university. In this part are many discussions about good and evil, on what the root of evil was. We also see Animals (sentient animals), one of which is their professor, a Goat named Dr. Dillamond. The second part shows how the Wizard of Oz has started to take action in diminishing the civil rights of Animals. Elphaba becomes Dr. Dillamond’s lab assistant in biological sciences wherein they find causes for the Animal rights movement. Here we see Maguire tackle political issues and social injustices that we encounter today. What I love about this part is how “normal” Elphaba has become, that she had friends, that they had dreams and beliefs, and they were becoming adults. Also, that their beliefs are formed with principles of goodness. We see here how her belief in what is good starts to become her downfall as the part ends with her seeking for the Wizard’s help, but is dismissed. This is when she takes matters in her own hands because we see what the Wizard is really capable of.
In part three, City of Emeralds, Elphaba already lives in Emerald City and is involved in secret Animal rights movements and to also overthrow the Wizard. She’s an adult here now, and actually starts an affair with Fiyero, who was already married with three kids. I actually enjoyed this part because Elphaba is with somebody, and she is happy and in love. With how cliche wickedness has fallen upon Elphaba pretty much the entire novel, the cliche feeling of being in love was pretty much welcomed for me. As Elphaba continues her cause and fails, Fiyero is assumed to be murdered by the Wizard’s army, which brings us to the fourth part, In the Vinkus. Elphaba seeks the forgiveness of Fiyero’s wife, Sarima, who resides with family in Kiamo Ko. Here, Elphaba becomes a witch as she learns about the book of spells, the Grimmerie, a magicked broomstick, combined with her general angst for life already. The fourth and final part, The Murder and Its Afterlife, are the parts that we have seen in the original Wizard of Oz story, that Dorothy comes in, Nessarose dies because Dorothy’s Auntie and Uncle’s house fall on her because of a tornado, that Elphaba sends her a bunch of obstacles, and that Elphaba melts when Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her. This is of course where the big twists are, but for me, with the rest of the book being thoroughly detailed and explained already, these couple of parts seemed hurried. Maybe it was to add mystery, and maybe because the book really dwelled on Elphaba’s life rather than her death. It mentioned that the Wizard came to Oz to find the Grimmerie but not really why. His departure was also quickly described, which to me, with all his true wickedness being apparent, it would have been nice to see his downfall described too. It was generally fine, but I guess to me, it all happened and ended too quick (even if the last parts happened in a span of at least 15 years).
I liked having familiar characters in this revised novel, I think that made it interesting to me. This novel changed my conception of the original story because in the end, this was the story I wanted to believe in. A lot of times we are compelled to side with the underdog, and come on, being green instantly made Elphaba one. Of course in our old Wizard of Oz story, she was just green and wicked. There are good discussions about good and evil in the novel (which was also what I missed in the last part of the book as that wasn’t discussed at length anymore). Basically the question is a line from the musical: Are people born wicked, or is wickedness thrust upon them? I, myself, have not completely decided on this, but there is a great amount of the latter that I witness from people I know whom I consider somewhat wicked (sorry). But then again, I also know people who are just that way.