23 – Wicked

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I am disappointed.

It’s sort of interesting, really, because I came into this book without any expectations. I do like revisionist versions of well-loved tales, and I thought, well that’s worth a read at least. I’m not a fan of The Wizard of Oz though I do know the story, so it’s not like I’m pissed because Maguire “got it wrong”.

He didn’t. In fact, this is a well-written novel, with very interesting spins on the classic tale. If anything, I admire how he managed to create a tome discussing philosophy and the nature of good and evil with just the framework of a children’s story to work with.

No, my issue is with his protagonist, Elphaba. As the novel neared its end, it became much clearer that Maguire intended to present the slow descent of Elphaba into madness. Apparently, it was an attempt to answer the age old question: “why is the villain evil?”

Because no matter how entertaining it is to see Bruce Lee beat up Chuck Norris without assigning any sort of character/personality/motivation to the latter, people do like to understand the complexity that is a human being. Why else would we spend hours chronicling the world’s most frightening murderers in documentary after documentary, trying to understand what made them snap?

Maguire attempts to give us more; he seeks to give readers a reason to sympathise with the Wicked Witch of the West.

But my issue lies solely in the fact that its a major letdown. We follow Elphaba through one trial after another, see her as she attempts to make sense of the world around her, sympathise as she suffers failure after failure. And then in the end nothing.

Nothing.

She was no villain, not even in the end. She was hollow, confused, broken. She never achieved anything she set out to do, never figure doubt anything worth knowing, never got any sort of emotional release after all those years of torment.

She was, from start to end, nothing.

I read novels because I only have one life, and a rather boring one that. Reading gives you adventures of lives way beyond your own. It opens new worlds. It gives you suspense, joy, misery. I read and I expect a character to develop – to change and to grow. Elphaba is static, and she doesn’t know any more in the hours before her death than in her days as a naive college girl.

I want catharsis, dammit, and this novel doesn’t have it.

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