“Horrors,” murmured Elphaba.

Turtle Heart tumbled to his knees. “She sees him coming,” he said thickly, “she sees him to come; he is to come from the air; is arriving. A balloon from the sky, the color of a bubble of blood: a huge crimson globe, a ruby globe: he falls from the sky. The Regent is fallen. The House of Ozma is fallen. The Clock was right. A minute to judgment.”

When I reviewed The Wonderful World of Oz a few months ago, gosh I have been doing this for some time, I mentioned in the comments thread that I have always been curious about the phenomenon of Oz fanfic. One of those undying fandom based forms of amateur literature that has long predated popular use of the internet – well Oz and Star Trek – subsisting through fanzines.

Gregory Maguire‘s book has since become a Broadway musical phenomenon (which introduced Kristin Chenoweth into our lives and consequently the amazing Pushing Daisies) and I have only now gotten round to reading it.

The story begins with Elphaba, known throughout the land of Oz as the Wicked Witch of the West, spying on the homely Dorothy and her three companions – a cowardly Lion, a Tin woodsman and an animated Scarecrow – while hiding in a tree-top. As it happens she is the main topic of conversation, the girl discussing just how angry the witch must be, what with her sister Nessarose having been killed by the Kansas farmhouse that mysteriously dropped out of the sky. Elphaba feels annoyed at this. It is irritating enough to be regarded with such fear by the people of Oz, but for them to try and theorise as to her motivations, what she thinks, how she feels – well that is an indignity too far. After all, no one but she knows the real truth.

Elphaba’s father was a preacher, violently rejected by the people of Munchkinland in favour of their ancient pagan idolatry. Her noble a woman of noble blood named Melena, who had hoped her husband Frex would become a bishop, or rise to a far more suitable position in keeping with her former lifestyle. Instead she found herself bored and lonely in the Munchkinland wilderness and took to drink, waking after an encounter with an itinerant peddlar to find herself pregnant. She could never tell if Frex was in fact the father of Elphaba, but as it happened the child’s bright green skin he took to signify punishment for some deep sin he had supposedly committed.

As such she grew up to become isolated and defensive, conscious of how others saw her as a freak. Melena would give birth to too more children, with Nessa the younger sister also physically deformed, having no arms, but welcomed by Frex as a gift from heaven (his sin it appeared had been expunged). Elphaba is sent to a private college, with Nessa to join her after some years, and there she meets the future ‘Good Witch’, Glinda, a pompous and stuck-up provincial aristocrat who takes an instant dislike to the emerald-skinned room-mate she was assigned.

Despite their mutual reservations Elphaba and Glinda become friends, their relationship based on a grudging admiration for each other’s intelligence. Oz is enduring turbulent times. The tyrant Wizard who occupies the Emerald City has demanded that all intelligent Animals be segregated from humans and treated like beasts. His spies are everywhere spreading propaganda, even the headmistress of Elphaba’s school, Madame Morrible, indoctrinates the girls under her charge to feel contempt for Animals and worship the Wizard. The injustices and suffering meted out against the ordinary people of Oz force Elphaba’s hand. Where her fellow students would prefer to discuss ‘what is evil’ in their clubs, or ignore the growing oppression against the peoples of neighbouring kingdoms, she decides that it is time to do something.

What impresses the most about Maguire’s book is how he retains so much of the spirit of Baum’s fiction, while expanding upon it, creating this epic work of Oz-fic. I truly regret choosing this book for the blog – I want to read it over a few days. There are lots of little touches I enjoyed – ‘tiktokism’; a sarcastic Cow’s comment “What’s your beef?”; and Elphaba’s two encounters with the Wizard, as well as the tragedy underpinning their relationship.

This is simply gorgeous stuff, a childhood classic infused with a genuine sense of adult despair and flashes of horror. I want to go back to Oz!

 

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