Author: Gregory Maguire
Genres: Fantasy, Adult, Fiction, Fairy Tales
Release Date: September 28, 1996
After seeing the musical (which I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE) and realizing it was based off a book, I naturally wanted to read the book and check out its differences. I can tell you now – do not expect the book and the musical to be the same. At all. Is this a bad thing? No, unless you go into either one expecting the story to have the same tone and same storyline. Then you will probably hate either the musical or the book. I had actually begun reading this book a couple years ago when I was much younger and I never really finished it because I think I was expecting them to be similar. However, I recently picked it up again knowing these differences.
The book has a very dark tone to it, in my opinion, whereas the musical focuses on a more light, uppity tone. There are definitely some adult themes to the book, like sex, and the author briefly mentions that Elphaba was actually born a hermaphrodite, though it appears she was castrated at birth. The whole scene is very vague, however. Her sister, Nessarose, while only confined to a wheelchair and unable to walk in the musical, is actually born without arms in the book. Didn’t I say this was a little dark?
Truthfully, my feelings are mixed on this book. I enjoyed the read, but at the same time I found it somewhat difficult to keep reading at certain parts of the book. I always like creative takes on an existing story and I love that Elphaba truly did want to do good in the world and appeared the take the stance of an Animal activist. However, her personality often left a not-so-lovely impression on most people around her and everything she seemed to do often backfired. Both of these things, coupled with the Wizard’s secret agenda, resulted in her watery death in the end. I do like that the Wizard is actually perceived to be the bad guy in this version of the land of Oz and that Galinda/Glinda (who was always named the Good Witch) turned out to be selfish and full of herself. The takes on all of the characters were interesting and I loved the spin on all of them.
However, the story itself jumped around a lot, in my opinion. Sometimes it was a little hard to follow the direction Maguire was taking and there were definitely a few spots in the book I found slow and slightly boring, for lack of better word. I also felt as though some elements were missing and some details such as the Scarecrow’s backstory and the reason for his feelings toward Elphaba. I know his backstory in the musical, though the ending to that vastly differed from the book, but I wonder if that was the intended backstory for the character or if Maguire had something else in mind. I also would have loved if he had clarified just why Elphaba could not touch water or why she was born green. He alludes to the “Magical Elixir” that Nanny had found in her mother, Melena’s, home at the beginning of the book, but is that truly what turned her green or was it something much deeper than magic and sorcery. Could her green skin, and Nessa’s deformed body, have been due to Melena’s drug use and adultery or is this much deeper? Perhaps it was to represent the sins that Melena committed and this has a more “religious” theme to it than what is explained?
I also felt the way that Elphaba had given birth to a son without even realizing it was a little farfetched and I wasn’t completely convinced. The only confirmation we had of who’s son Liir actually was was Fiyero’s and there was no doubt that Fiyero and Elphaba had relations many times throughout the book. Elphaba’s theory of being unaware she had given birth to a child while in a drug haze for 9+ months just didn’t seem to sit right with me considering there would still have been changes to her body that she likely would have noticed had she gone through a pregnancy and given birth.
There were a lot of themes to the book such as religion, animal rights, good vs evil, and gender. But in the end, I felt that some of the problems and themes did not have any conclusion. I ended the book having more questions than I would have liked. But in all, I honestly still enjoyed the book to an extent. It left me thinking a little bit, as you could see, about some of the theories posed by the characters and I would like to see what happened to Liir and the other existing characters. It might be some time, but I think I will still finish out this series out of curiosity.
Now I want to know. Have you read the book? What do you think of it? Perhaps someone caught something that I missed and will be able to answer some of my questions that I had at the end of the book!
Also, somewhat unrelated, did you know the musical will be made into a movie? I am secretly hoping Idina Menzel will reprise her role as Elphaba in the movie version like she did in Rent! 😀