|Written by||Gregory Maguire|
Son of a Witch is a 2005 sequel to Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and as such the second volume in his The Wicked Years series.
The book's protagonist is Liir, the son of Elphaba; the story portrays him as he struggles to live up to his legacy. Liir is not a conventional storybook hero, being filled with self-doubt. The Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, Dorothy Gale, and Toto appear in the second novel of The Wicked Years.
Gregory Maguire returns to the land of Oz to follow the story of Liir, an adolescent boy left hiding in the shadows of Kiamo Ko after the death of the Witch.
Oatsie Manglehand, a woman who leads the Grasstrail Train, discovers the body of a young man, badly bruised and near death, by the side of a road in the Vinkus. The Vinkus has lately become dangerous due to "scrapings", mysterious killings that involve the removal of the head's facial features, but this man's face has not been scraped. Oatsie brings the man to the Cloister of Saint Glinda in the Shale Shallows. The Superior Maunt recognizes the young man and identifies him as Liir, the young boy who left the Cloister with Elphaba a decade or so ago. The novel follows Liir's dreams as he lies unconscious in the mauntery.
After Elphaba's death in Wicked, Liir accompanies Dorothy Gale, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Toto back to the Emerald City. While traveling, they meet Princess Nastoya, the leader of the Scrow, a Vinkus tribe. Nastoya is an Elephant who, because of the Wizard's pogrom against Animals, availed herself of a witch's charm that enabled her to transform into a human. Nastoya is slowly dying, and she asks Liir to find a way to enable her return to Elephant form before she dies. In return, she promises that she will try to learn about the fate of Nor, Fiyero's daughter, who, with her family, was taken by the Wizard's forces. When they reach the Emerald City, the others go off to receive what they were promised by the Wizard, leaving Liir alone.
Liir becomes convinced that Nor is in Southstairs, a subterranean city that operates as a maximum-security political prison, and seeks the aid of Glinda, appointed acting ruler of Oz after the Wizard's departure. She enables Liir to access Southstairs by arranging a meeting with Shell, Elphaba's younger brother. Shell, who undertakes 'missions of mercy' in Southstairs, which involves 'comforting' female prisoners by injecting them with extract of poppy flower and taking sex as payment, brings him to the Under-Mayor, Chyde. When Chyde takes Liir to find Nor, they learn that Nor has recently escaped, by hiding in the carcasses of some slaughtered Horned Hogs. Liir leaves Southstairs by flying out (via the "original geological bucket" at the middle of Southstairs) on Elphaba's broom.
After living on the streets of the Emerald City for a time, Liir manages to enlist in the Home Guard. After a number of years in the service, his and three other companies (known as the "Seventh Spear"), led by Commander Cherrystone, are deployed to Qhoyre in Quadling Country, ostensibly to find those responsible for the kidnapping of the Viceroy and his wife and to maintain order, but imperatively to show some strength against the Quadlings for their lack of interest in the disappearance of the Viceroy. Their quietism and general deferential nature, however, prevent the Seventh Spear from needing to display any force. Over time, the unit comes to absorb the laid-back nature of the inhabitants, and the authorities in Emerald City become critical about their laxness, ordering them to get back on mission immediately. To adopt an appearance of keeping the Quadlings in line, and in desperation, Commander Cherrystone provokes the village of Bengda into refusing to pay an exorbitant fine and orders Liir to lead a secret operation to burn the village. In the operation, many of the villagers including women and children are burned to death or drowned, and Liir, having witnessed this, deserts. Liir learns later that the Quadlings attacked and killed most of the Seventh Spear, and that dragons were then sent to punish the Quadlings.
Liir returns to Kiamo Ko, where Chistery, Elphaba's Flying Snow Monkey, and her elderly Nanny are still living. While there, a badly injured Princess of the Swans lands, having been attacked by a predator she does not know the name of. Before she dies, she asks Chistery to take her place at a Conference of the Birds she has called. Although Chistery says he cannot go, Liir decides that since Elphaba would have attended the Conference, he will go in her stead. While flying on Elphaba's broom to reach the Conference, however, Liir is attacked by dragons and falls to earth, where he is found by Oatsie Manglehand.
After the Cloister, the Superior Maunt of the Cloister of Saint Glinda decides to appoint Candle, a young Quadling girl, to watch over Liir and soothe him by playing on her domingon, a Quadling guitar-like instrument. When Sister Doctor and Sister Apothecaire object, she informs them that she is sending them into the Vinkus to investigate the perpetrators of the scrapings of some novice maunts who were doing missionary work there. They encounter the Yunamata tribe and Princess Nastoya and the Scrow, who each accuse the other of perpetrating the scrapings. It becomes evident to the Sisters that neither tribe is responsible.
When Candle believes that Liir is dying and is about to get help, an old maunt, Mother Yackle, stops her and locks her in the room with Liir. In a desperate attempt to save him, she performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the boy, wraps him in her clothes and ultimately ends up sleeping with him. Mother Yackle later unlocks the door, and, when the Superior Maunt and the newly returned Sisters Doctor and Apothecaire enter the sickroom, Candle and Liir are gone.
The pair take up residence in a deserted farmhouse, which Candle names "Apple Press Farm." When he is fully recovered, Liir goes to the Conference of the Birds. As the Princess of the Swans had told Chistery, the Birds had until now been little concerned with the fate of other Animals under the Wizard's anti-Animal laws because, being flying creatures, they were relatively safe. However, the Birds were a potential threat to the Emerald City's efforts to divide those groups who might oppose them, like the tribes of the Vinkus and the Munchkinlanders, because they can see and report on what is going on throughout Oz. This is why the dragons are attacking Birds, and why the Conference is huddled up in Kumbricia's Pass, afraid to fly. The Conference wants Liir to destroy the dragons and recover the broom (taken by the dragons) in order to become their human ambassador, a request that Liir reluctantly agrees to fulfill.
Returning to Apple Press Farm, Candle tells him she is pregnant. Liir insists he never had sex with her, so he cannot be the father, but Candle insists that he did and he is, and explains that she had sex with him while he was unconscious, although Liir remains unconvinced. Arriving back in the Emerald City, he meets Trism bon Cavalish, the soldier who had told him how to get into the Home Guard, who, he remembers, was a Minor Menacier involved in dragon husbandry. To Liir's disgust, Trism informs him that the Emperor Apostle, the current ruler of Oz, is none other than a born-again Shell. Trism is psychologically shattered because of his responsibility for training the dragons to perform their killing missions (including the scrapings), but, as chief dragon master, feels trapped, fearing for his and his family's life if he resists. Trism reveals the dragons are sent out to terrorize the population of Oz and ensure submission to the Emperor's authority. Liir convinces Trism to help him destroy the dragons, and after poisoning their food, they recover Elphaba's broom and cloak and flee the City. Liir leaves a note saying he has kidnapped Trism, signing himself "Liir, son of Elphaba."
During their flight, Liir and Trism become lovers. They eventually end up at the Cloister of Saint Glinda, where Commander Cherrystone and the Home Guard besiege them. The mauntery is spared from attack because Glinda is staying there on retreat. With her help, they come up with a plan for the pair's escape: Liir will fly away on his broom, while Trism will leave with Glinda, disguised as her servant. Returning to the Conference of Birds, Liir flies about Oz, collecting a huge flock of Birds, which he leads to the Emerald City. Over the City, they fly in formation as a huge representation of the Witch, with Liir as "the keen black eye of the Witch."
Returning to Apple Press Farm, Liir finds that Princess Nastoya and the Scrow have come. Candle informs him that Trism had earlier come to the farm and left, having unsuccessfully tried to persuade her to flee with him, telling her he was afraid Commander Cherrystone and the Home Guard would come looking for him. Liir comes up with the idea that Candle's music might release Nastoya from her human form, and he is correct: he has hung around Nastoya the preserved faces of scraping victims that he and Trism stole after poisoning the dragons (which were going to be displayed as an example of what would happen to those who defied the Emperor), and with Candle playing accompaniment, the faces sing about their lives. Somehow, this allows Nastoya to return to her Elephant form and she dies.
The new ruler of the Scrow insists Liir accompany the Scrow and the Princess's body back into the Vinkus, in case they encounter the Yunamata. They do, but the Yunamata only pay their respects to the dead Nastoya and leave. When returning home, it suddenly dawns on Liir that the 'ELPHABA LIVES!" graffiti he has seen in the Emerald City is in Nor's handwriting. When he arrives at Apple Press Farm, Candle is gone, but he finds wrapped in Elphaba's cloak a newborn baby who he initially thinks is dead but revives under his care. Holding the baby up to the rain to wash away the birth blood, she "cleans up green."
Characters who appeared in Wicked
Liir: The protagonist of the story, Liir is not a conventional storybook hero, being filled with self-doubt. Although the facts of his parentage are obscure (even to himself), it becomes clear that he is the son of Elphaba and Fiyero. One piece of evidence of this is that he can fly Elphaba's broom, which others (like Trism) cannot. Liir is described as handsome, tall with black hair and pale skin. He is fourteen at the start of the novel, which spans a period of over ten years. His primary, if often interrupted, quest throughout the novel is to find Nor, his childhood playmate at Kiamo Ko (and half-sister). While he does not actually end up finding her, he finds evidence that she is still alive. The story also reveals that Liir may be bisexual, having romantic relationships with both Trism and Candle (in Wicked, he was briefly infatuated with Dorothy).
Oatsie Manglehand: A woman who runs a horse-and-coach caravan that transports passengers along the Grassland Trail through the Vinkus. Her driver is named Nubb. She finds the injured Liir and brings him to the Cloister of Saint Glinda. The Superior Maunt reminds her that she transported Liir and Elphaba to Kiamo Ko years ago.
The Superior Maunt of the Cloister of Saint Glinda: The Superior Maunt during Elphaba's seven-year stay at the Cloister. She is originally from the Pertha Hills in Gillikin. During the siege of the Cloister, she abdicates as sole authority of the mauntery and establishes a triumvirate consisting of herself, Sister Doctor, and the absent Candle.
Yackle: A mysterious crone who comforts Elphaba when she arrives at the motherchapel in Emerald City after the death of Fiyero in Wicked. In Son of a Witch, she appears much the same, although, as Mother Yackle, she is now resident at the Cloister. The other maunts think she is a senile old biddy, but she plays an important role in bringing Candle and Liir together: she was the maunt who admitted Candle into the Cloister and she locks Candle in the sickroom with Liir (telling her, "There's no one else here to do what needs to be done"), which leads to Candle becoming impregnated by Liir (for this act, Mother Yackle calls Candle "a daughter of Lurlina"). She tells Candle that Liir is in danger if he stays at the Cloister and helps drag Liir to the cart in which Candle transports him to Apple Press Farm. Of Elphaba, she remarks, "I seem to have been placed on the sidelines of her life, as you might say, as a witness."
Chistery: The snow monkey Elphaba taught to speak and gave wings (making him a Winged monkey). He remains at Kiamo Ko, looking after Nanny.
Nanny: A devout Lurlinist who raised Elphaba and her siblings (as well as their mother Melena). She remains in her bed in Kiamo Ko throughout the novel. She is senile, but does have moments of lucidity. She is a bit confused and seems to think that the "witch" is still alive and living in the upper tower of Kiamo Ko.
Nor: The daughter of Fiyero, Prince of the Arjikis, and Sarima. In Wicked, she is last seen at the meeting between Elphaba and The Wizard, when he displays Nor in chains to Elphaba. Although she never actually appears in Son of a Witch, news is heard of her: she escapes from Southstairs by hiding under the carcasses of two Horned Hogs, slaughtered for a feast, and she is responsible for the graffiti (like ELPHABA LIVES) seen around the Emerald City.
Commander Cherrystone: The officer leading the Gale Forces that abducted Nor and her family in Wicked. Liir meets him again at the Palace when Glinda arranges to have Shell take Liir into Southstairs, although he does not remember Liir, and is unperturbed about Liir's blaming him for his role in the fate of Nor and the rest of her family. He leads the Seventh Spear in the Qhoyre operation, and while there, develops a mentor-protégé relationship with Liir, which leads to Liir being put in charge of the operation to burn Bengda. He later besieges the Cloister of Saint Glinda after Liir and Trism have taken refuge there.
Princess Nastoya: An Elephant who availed herself of a witch's charm to disguise herself in human form. While she used to be able to shift between Elephant and human form, she is finding it increasingly difficult to do this, which leads her to believe she is dying. For giving her protection and a home, she agreed to become the leader of the Scrow. When she meets Liir, she explains that when Elphaba, besieged at Kiamo Ko by the Wizard's Gale Forces, sent out her Crows to ask for Nastoya's help, the Crows were attacked and devoured by nocturnal rocs, a circumstance of which Nastoya learned only later. Nastoya has been unsuccessfully trying to unite the tribes of the Vinkus—the Scrow, Yunamata and Arjikis—against the Wizard.
Lord Shem Ottokos: An old Scrow who acts as Princess Nastoya's chief translator and major domo. He studied at Shiz University, which gives him a facility with other Ozian languages. After Nastoya's death, he becomes the leader of the Scrow.
Shell Thropp/The Emperor Apostle: Elphaba's half brother, Shell is a fop and gigolo (and perhaps a sex addict). He is heavily mentioned in Wicked and makes a tiny appearance towards the end of the tale. In Son Of A Witch Nanny tells Liir that Shell used to be involved in espionage, "[s]nooping, settling scores out of the public eye, selling information," which Liir suspects explains Shell's activities in Southstairs. He later has "the Awakening," where "he heard the voice of the Unnamed God, telling him to lead," and becomes the Emperor Apostle. Trism, who has had an audience with him, believes he is sincere in his faith, but Liir is convinced he is a charlatan. His rise to power is somewhat mysterious: for example, Liir's army company, when deployed to Qhoyre, is called the "Seventh Spear," which is later explained by the Emperor Apostle being titled the "First Spear." However, Shell only becomes Emperor and "First Spear" while the Seventh Spear is in Qhoyre. This would appear to suggest that Shell's rise was due to a secret, complex and slowly evolving plan, rather than a sudden "Awakening."
Dorothy Gale: The heroine of the original Oz books. From Liir's perspective, Dorothy is (like Glinda) nice, but self-centered and somewhat insincere. When she leaves to see the Wizard, he thinks: "She hadn't been much, that Dorothy. Priggish, in a way, proud of her wide-eyed charity. Her kindness, at first magnificent, had come to seem a bit—well, cheap. [...] [H]er solicitousness to Liir seemed nothing more than the Next Good Deed."
The Scarecrow: This character has a more substantial role in Son of a Witch than the Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion. He searches out Liir after having seen the Wizard to warn him that Dirt Boulevard, the slum he is living in, is about to be 'cleaned up' by the authorities, and helps him escape from the purge. He brings Elphaba's broom to Liir, which Palace officials were going to throw out. Before he and Liir part ways, he tells Liir that he is not planning to remain in the Emerald City, explaining: "One day you're a celebrity, the next day you're hauled off to jail." The Scarecrow that later appears at Glinda's induction into the Order of the Right, is, according to Liir, "an obvious impostor." This impostor has an "unfortunate accident involving a beaker of lighter fluid," which leads to Shell becoming the Emperor Apostle.
Lady Glinda Chuffrey, née Arduenna of the Uplands: Glinda is appointed interim ruler of Oz after the overthrow of the Wizard, but abdicates in favor of the Scarecrow. Her husband Lord Chuffrey is rich, old and infirm (he is a wheelchair user and drools). When he dies, Glinda, goes on retreat at the Cloister of Saint Glinda, to which she gives a generous bequest.
Candle: A Quadling girl who rarely speaks, and only in her native tongue, Qua'ati (though she understands other speech). Raised in Ovvels, she and some relatives became itinerants. She is left at the Cloister of Saint Glinda by her uncle, and ends up working in the kitchen under Sister Cook. She becomes a skilled player on the domingon, a Quadling musical instrument (pictured by Douglas Smith on the title page of the first section of the book, "Under the Jackal Moon") – at one point, she has a trio of farm animals singing to her accompaniment. She also has a "talent for reading the present." After leaving the Cloister with Liir, she remains at Apple Press Farm until the end of the novel. Liir believes that Candle fled the farm to lead away the army from her newborn, knowing that Liir would return to take care of the baby.
Trism bon Cavalish: Trism comes from a Gillikinese farming family, and attended St. Prowd's school. He is Petty Fife in the Home Guard's musical corps when he first meets Liir and tells him how to enlist in the army. When Liir encounters him again, just before the deployment to Qhoyre, he is a Minor Menacier, involved in animal husbandry in the Development of Defense, later becoming Prime Menacier. The animals turn out to be dragons, which Trism has great skill at training (becoming chief dragon master), although he is extremely distressed at the tasks for which he trains them. He eventually helps Liir to destroy the dragons, and while fleeing from the enraged Home Guard, the two engage in a romantic relationship.
Sisters Doctor and Apothecaire: Maunts in the Cloister of Saint Glinda, and professional rivals who do not think highly of the other's medical skills. Sister Doctor is described as beefy, with questionable credentials, but is an excellent diagnostician. Sister Apothecaire is a Munchkin who previously acted as Matron's Assistant at the Respite of Incurables in the Emerald City. Both sisters give Liir small chance of recovery when he arrives at the Cloister. The Superior Maunt sends them on their mission in the Vinkus partly to stop them fussing over the injured Liir.
Chyde: The under-mayor of Southstairs. He is described as sallow and has a fondness for jewels—all his fingers and both thumbs are loaded with rings. His assistant Jibbidee, an elf, later escapes from Southstairs and ends up serving drinks at a tavern in Strumpet Square.
Ansonby and Burny: Two soldiers in the Seventh Spear. Liir conscripts them into the operation to burn Bengda.
General Kynot: The short-tempered Cliff Eagle who is the President of the Conference of Birds.
Dosey: A motherly Wren at the Conference whose arguments persuade Liir to help the Birds.
Sillipede: An old cabaret performer who Liir and Trism see perform at the "Cherry and Cucumber." She performs a risqué (and potentially treasonous) monologue that satirizes the Emperor Apostle, to her audience's discomfort. (Sillipede is referred to in Wicked, in the City of Emeralds section, when Glinda recounts to Fiyero her recent spotting of Nessarose and Nanny in the Emerald City, at Sillipede's fourth comeback tour concert).
Iskinaary: A Grey Goose who follows Liir back to Apple Press Farm after the Witch formation over the Emerald City. He is beautiful, vain and, by his own estimation, intelligent. At one point, he refers to himself as Liir's "Familiar."
Tip: This character appears in Baum's The Marvelous Land of Oz, where his full named is given as "Tippetarius." Maguire refers to this in both novels when he refers to the ruler "Ozma Tippetarius."
Rain: Liir and Candle's daughter. Liir is not, at first, convinced that he is the child's father. But after returning to Apple Press Farm, he soon discovers that Candle was telling the truth. After "cleaning up green", the baby is revealed to be emerald green of color, a trait that was passed down from Liir's mother, Elphaba. While the child's name is not stated in the novel, the upcoming fourth installment Out of Oz has Rain as a central character.
Places and Objects
The Jackal Moon: A lunar event which appears roughly every generation. It occurs when "a smear of celestial flotsam converged behind the crescent moon of early autumn. The impact was creepy, a look of a brow and snout. As the moon rounded out over a period of weeks, the starveling would turn into a successful hunter, its cheeks bulging." Liir is found by Oatsie Manglehand during the Jackal Moon and he and Candle leave the Cloister at its waning. Assorted superstitions are associated with the season of the Jackal: while generally considered dangerous in Oz, the Yunamata believe that a child born in this season is lucky. When he appears to be dying, Candle bleeds Liir and throws the blood out the window as an offering to the Jackal Moon.
The Cloister of Saint Glinda: A unionist mauntery in the Shale Shallows. The Cloister also functions as a hostelry for travelers between the Emerald City and the Vinkus. It is a fortified house (with a moat and drawbridge) on a slight wooded rise. Some parts of the Cloister are hundreds of years old.
Southstairs (also Southstairs Academy): An underground city and high-security prison. Two access points are mentioned: via a secret staircase within the Palace, and via a cage lowered down into a geological shaft open to the sky in the middle of Southstairs, which is surrounded by battlements. Southstairs incarcerates common criminals and political prisoners, including a large number of Animals. It is Southstairs that provides the human flesh fed to the dragons.
Apple Press Farm: An abandoned farmstead where Candle and Liir live after leaving the Cloister. There is an apple press and a printing press on the premises. The printing press has been attacked and damaged, and has been used to print tracts critical of the (Emperor) Apostle. Because the maunts at the Cloister know about the farm, they may have had a role in the printing of these tracts.
Bengda: A small village southwest of Qhoyre on the Waterslip River. Most of the village resides on a bridge that spans the river, and its chief income is derived from charging a toll on the water traffic that passes through. A Seventh Spear team led by Liir burns it down.
Elphaba's Broomstick and Cloak: Liir takes these items with him when he travels with Dorothy to the Emerald City. The Scarecrow returns the broom to Liir, after Dorothy presented it to the Wizard. The dragons take the broom and cloak when they attack Liir, and Liir recovers them after he and Trism poison the dragons. The broom apparently cannot be consumed by fire (although it can be charred by it). It is also still alive, as some new growth on it testifies. Mother Yackle reminds the other maunts that she gave the broom to Elphaba when she left the Cloister.
The Grimmerie: The book of magic that was in Elphaba's possession. Before he leaves Kiamo Ko, Liir looks for it in the Witch's room, but cannot find it. When resting on his trek back to Kiamo Ko after deserting the Seventh Spear, Liir, in a "waking dream" similar to an out-of-body experience, sees "a man in a cloak of purple-rose velveteen, holding a staff and a book of some sort. He was emerging in the air as one seen coming through a fog. He seemed to be off balance at first, and tested the ground with his staff until he found his feet. Setting his funny hat straight on his brow, he pulled at his eyebrows as if they bothered him...” Upon waking, Liir realizes that the book the man had was Elphaba's Grimmerie. Trism tells Liir that the Emperor Apostle showed him a page torn out of a book that was indecipherable, but that had been translated by the Wizard: "On the Administration of Dragons." This is the page that Elphaba had torn from the Grimmerie to show the Wizard in Wicked.
Dragons: These animals are considered rare and docile according to conventional Ozian wisdom, which considers the belief that they are menacing a myth. A dragon is roughly the size of a horse and its wingspan is the length of a bed sheet. It is unclear where the stock used by the Emperor Apostle came from. Ansonby tells Liir their training program started a few years before the Qhoyre operation. They are housed in the basement of a basilica on the Home Guard's training grounds in the Emerald City, which is blown up when Liir and Trism poison the dragons, dragons being combustible.
Allusions/references to other works
Son of a Witch elaborates significantly on the history of Oz as established in Baum's books, but in a way very different from its predecessor. The second Oz novel by Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz, recounts the dethronement of the ruler of Oz, the Scarecrow, by General Jinjur and her all-female army, and reveals that the boy Tip is in actuality the enchanted Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz. The only connection Son of a Witch has to the established Oz history is that the Scarecrow (although not Dorothy's Scarecrow) briefly rules Oz as a puppet (or 'straw man') of a cabal of bankers, and that Liir, on one of his journeys, crosses paths with Tip. Despite this, Son of a Witch does not explicitly contradict the official history, but instead recounts history that has been left out of the official history. Since the Scarecrow that becomes the ruler of Oz is not Dorothy's Scarecrow and since, when Liir meets Tip and Mombi, they are driving home a newly acquired four-horned cow (which is mentioned at the opening of The Marvelous Land of Oz as Mombi's "especial pride"), it is likely that Son of a Witch takes place between The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. Out of Oz, the fourth and final volume in "The Wicked Years", includes elements from The Marvelous Land of Oz and depicts an somewhat altered version of the events of that story.
Allusions to the Musical "Wicked"
The use of Glinda's last name Upland comes directly from the musical; in the previous book Glinda refers to herself as "Glinda of the Arduenna Clan". When Glinda throws Elphaba's broom in the fire and it refuses to burn she says "Sweet Oz"; she uses the same exact phrase in the musical when she sees the broom levitate for the first time. When Glinda and Liir meet again towards the end of the book Glinda claims that people remember the legend of Elphaba and in a way that nearly breaks the fourth wall she says: "No Liir. She lives. People sing of her. … There's a musical noise around her name; there are things people remember, and pass on."
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