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Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

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WickedLifeandTimes
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Written by  Gregory Maguire
Illustrator  Douglas Smith
Published  1995
Publisher  Regan Books

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is a popular non-canonical prequel to the Oz series. The novel was written by Gregory Maguire and it tells the story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. It has been turned into a very successful Broadway musical called simply Wicked. When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale (from his novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the 1939 MGM film The Wizard of Oz), we heard only her side of the story. This is the story about how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West and Galinda became Glinda the Good Witch of the North.

Wicked is the first book in a series of books titled The Wicked Years by Gregory Maguire.


Plot summary

Munchkinlanders

The novel is a political, social, and ethical commentary on the nature of good and evil and takes place in The Land of Oz, in the years leading to Dorothy's arrival. The story centers on Elphaba, the misunderstood green-skinned girl who grows up to become the notorious Wicked Witch of the West. Gregory Maguire fashioned the name of Elphaba ( /ˈɛlfəbə/) from the initials of L. Frank Baum, L-F-B. The story is divided into five different sections based on the plot location. It starts with Elphaba spying on Dorothy and hearing them gossip about her. A storm comes and Dorothy leaves to look for shelter. Elphaba hides in a dry hollow of the tree for the night and the novel starts.

Elphaba is born to Melena Thropp, the granddaughter of the Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland, and Frexspar, an itinerant minister. Frex is the seventh son of a seventh son, and the third pastor in his family. Because Melena married lower than her family's social standing she seems unhappy in her marriage and is known to have previously had many other men in her life. Though it does not become clear until much later, Melena is at some point approached by a mysterious stranger, who gives her a potion called "Miracle Elixir" from a green bottle. He seduces her and nine months later she gives birth to a child, Elphaba.

Elphaba is born with green skin, sharp teeth, is seemingly savage, biting at anyone and anything forcing her parents to fashion a muzzle, so she cannot hurt herself or others and is terrified of water, even as a newborn. Frex believes the baby is punishment from the Unnamed god for failing to protect his parishioners while Melena has trouble bonding with and caring for Elphaba, calling on her childhood nanny for help. With Nanny there to help, Frex decides to leave home to travel spreading the word of the Unnamed God. To dull the pain of raising a difficult child and loneliness while Frex is away, Melena chews pinlobble leaves (a type of Munchkinlander drug) and drinks heavily.

About a year and a half later, a traveling Quadling glassblower named Turtle Heart visits the home of Melena and Frex. Melena offers him food and drink, and Turtle Heart blows a beautiful glass reflecting ball for Elphaba. With Frex absent for extended periods, preaching to the Munchkinlanders, Turtle Heart and Melena begin a secret affair. When Frex returns, he befriends Turtle Heart (seemingly ignorant of the relationship between the Quadling and his wife), out of unionist charity (Quadlings, after all, "ranked about as low on the social ladder as it was possible to get and still be human"), religious zeal (Quadlings have no concept of religion, so Frex sees Turtle Heart as a potential convert), and an attraction to Turtle Heart of his own.

At the end of the first part, Melena is pregnant with Elphaba's younger sister Nessarose or "Nessa" for short. It is unknown whether the father is Frex or Turtle Heart. Melena orders Nanny to ensure her second child will not be born green like her firstborn, but it has unforeseen consequences. Nessarose is born as pink as Elphaba is green, but more importantly, she is disabled (she has no arms), she requires constant supervision and care. Nessarose eventually embraces Frex's zealotry and, thus, she is her father's favorite, to Elphaba's lasting angst.

Gillikin

On a steam train enroute to Shiz, a city in southwestern Gillikin two of the train's passengers, Doctor Dillamond and Galinda, are bound for Shiz University. Upon arrival, Doctor Dillamond retreats to his professors' quarters and Galinda heads off to Crage Hall, the women's college.

Having lost her chaperone, Ama Clutch, during the train ride to Shiz (Ama Clutch stepped on a rusty nail and stayed behind for medical treatment), Galinda has no one to represent her in her roommate negotiations. Refusing to bunk with the common girls in the group dormitory (the Pink Dormitory), Galinda is forced to room with seventeen year old Elphaba with whom she does not get along very well at first. Elphaba, being green, is not interested in socializing, and Galinda, who descends from the noble Arduenna Clan of Gillikin on her mother's side, is more interested in climbing the social ladder than becoming friends with her outcast roommate. Later, Galinda (after having a fight with her new friends) decides to mock Elphaba by making her wear a hat that she was sure Elphaba would look hideous in. When Elphaba looks pretty in the hat, Galinda says so, partly horrified that she talked to the "green girl." They start talking about evil and Elphaba teaches Galinda how to think and they start attending Doctor Dillamond's biology lectures together.

Doctor Dillamond is a sentient Goat, and part of a minority of talking Animals (distinguished from non-sentient animals throughout the book through capitalization of the 'A' at the beginning of the word) that hold civil rights equal to humans. Doctor Dillamond informs the class that, under the despotic reign of the Wizard of Oz, Animals are being discriminated against, treated like regular (non-sentient) animals and, in some cases, forced to return to the fields (it should be noted that, as mentioned on the train ride to Shiz, Doctor Dillamond's ancient mother at this time cannot afford to travel first class, and will have to ride in a pen if she wants to visit Doctor Dillamond at Shiz). Doctor Dillamond's fears that Animal discrimination is becoming widespread are seemingly confirmed by Madame Morrible (whom Elphaba nicknames "Horrible Morrible"), the Headmistress of Crage Hall at Shiz University, who holds a soiree that turns out to be nothing more than a forum for her propagandizing through use of quells, one of which ends with the following phrase:Animals should be seen and not heard.

Elphaba is drawn to the Animal rights movement early on and she later becomes Doctor Dillamond's secretary and lab assistant.

Elphaba becomes friends with a Munchkin boy named Boq (son of Bfee, the Mayor of Rush Margins, which was the town in which Elphaba was born), who develops a crush on Galinda. As she is a tall Gillikinese, and he is a short Munchkinlander, she rebuffs him. He hopes his friendship with Elphaba will bring him closer to Galinda; however, he ends up becoming wrapped up in Elphaba and Doctor Dillamond's cause. However, their friendship is shaken when Doctor Dillamond is murdered while on the verge of a great discovery about the genetic similarities between humans and Animals; Galinda's chaperone Ama Clutch witnesses Madame Morrible's wind-up servant Grommetik kill Dillamond, but she is magicked into a false stupor to keep her quiet. Galinda is wracked with guilt over what has happened to Ama Clutch, but it is the murder of Doctor Dillamond that has the most profound impact on her. In his memory, Galinda adopts Dr. Dillamond's mispronunciation of her name, Glinda, and throws herself into her studies, having settled on a course of study in Sorcery, at Madame Morrible's insistence. Glinda and Elphaba become close friends. Boq's crush on Glinda eventually subsides, and they all become friends with a Vinkus Prince named Fiyero, a quiet boy who speaks little of the Oz-language, but draws attention by his strange customs and pattern of blue diamond tattoos all across his body and who is new to Shiz, and Elphaba's sister Nessarose, who is called up to Shiz, ostensibly to bring a new chaperone for Glinda and Elphaba, Nanny. Frex sends his favorite child a "back-to-school" gift, a pair of shoes covered with hand-blown glass beads, a technique taught to him by Turtle Heart. Meanwhile, Elphaba carries on the research of deceased Doctor Dillamond in secret.

Over time, Ama Clutch's condition gradually deteriorates and, when it is clear that she is about to die, Glinda tries to use magic to bring her out of her stupor. Her lucidity briefly restored, Ama Clutch tells Glinda that she witnessed Grommetik kill Doctor Dillamond, which he could only have done on the order of Madame Morrible. After Ama Clutch's funeral, Elphaba, Glinda and Nessarose are almost convinced by Madame Morrible to become silent pawns of the Wizard, so-called "ambassadors of peace": Elphaba will go east, to Munchkinland; Glinda will go further north in Gillikin; Nessarose will go south, to Quadling Country, with no one going west because few people live there. While Elphaba is reluctant to accept this position, Glinda is entranced. When they try to discuss the situation with one another, they find they cannot, because they are bound by a spell that prevents them from discussing Morrible's proposition. Unwilling to remain silent, Elphaba decides that something must be done.

She and Glinda travel to the Emerald City, where they meet the Wizard of Oz and plead the case of the Animals. However, the Wizard of Oz dismisses their concerns out of hand, and Glinda and Elphaba have no choice but to return to Shiz. However, Elphaba stays behind and sends Glinda back alone, after saying that she cannot see her again. She has decided to take matters into her own hands.

City of Emeralds

Almost five years have passed since Elphaba has seen Glinda, Boq, or any of her other friends from college and she now lives in the Emerald City, secretly involved in the movement to help free the Animals and get rid of the Wizard of Oz. Fiyero, now a Prince with 3 children, comes to the Emerald City to settle business with politicians where he sees Elphaba praying to a likeness of St. Glinda. At first Elphaba denies being the girl he once knew from Shiz and evades Fiyero, but eventually she gives in when he follows her home.

After this, they start to reconnect. He discovers she has started to take up magic, and tells her that Nessa has taken a class in sorcery, Glinda is now a sorceress and that they miss Elphaba. She and Fiyero begin to have an illicit love affair, and he neglects his wife Sarima and his children, Irji, Manek, and Nor. The two lovers are at peace, and despite their occasionally conflicting personalities, Elphaba is actually happy with her life for once.

Her life changes one night, when she can finally fulfill her task: kill Madame Morrible. Fiyero follows her, but she cannot complete her task due to a group of children interfering with Elphaba's line of fire. He returns to her apartment to wait for her, where the Gale Force, the Wizard's secret police force who are looking for Elphaba, attack him. He is kidnapped, hauled away and assumed murdered. Elphaba escapes from the City, and runs to a mauntery, where she meets an elderly woman named Yackle, formerly the dame of the Philosophy Club. Yackle takes the now homeless Elphaba, turned mute from grief after Fiyero's murder, under her wing...

In the Vinkus

Having been unconscious for almost a year, and then a mute for six more years, Elphaba goes to the Vinkus, the land where Fiyero was prince, and meets his wife and children. Elphaba brings along a boy named Liir, to whom she claims no relation, and stays at the castle Kiamo Ko for a year and a half or so. She attempts to tell Sarima, Fiyero's wife, of their affair, but Sarima refuses, saying she does not want to talk about her late husband. Fiyero's family, Elphaba, and Liir unexpectedly become a family unit, and are joined by Nanny after some time. While staying at the castle, Elphaba also discovers a mysterious book of spells that she calls a 'Grimmerie', and begins to study its contents and it turns out that Elphaba is the only one in Oz who can read its contents. However, when Manek, one of Sarima's sons, convinces Liir during a game of hide and seek to hide in a well and leaves him there, Liir nearly dies, and Elphaba's anger at Manek makes an icicle fall on him and it kills him. The experience makes Elphaba realize that she has motherly feelings, and that she feels that she is Liir's mother, but she finds that her new found warmth is not reciprocated. Liir claims that while in the well a Fish told him he was Fiyero's son and therefore cannot be her son.

Sarima becomes upset and grieves, and the family starts to fall apart. Elphaba gets a letter from her father Frex, asking her to come help him with Nessarose, who has taken Elphaba's position of Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland. When she arrives, he asks her to help him talk to Nessa, whom Elphaba discovers has become a witch, called the Wicked Witch of the East. Elphaba leaves after Nessa promises to give Elphaba the infamous silver shoes after she dies (Glinda enchanted them to allow her to walk without help). When she returns, she finds everyone gone except Nanny. Nanny explains that the soldiers who were staying in the house made everyone in the town leave except for her, all of them under the hopes that Elphaba can save them. Elphaba vows to do everything in her power to get everyone back.

The Murder and Its Afterlife

Seven years later, a storm visits Munchkinland, dropping a farmhouse on Nessa, killing her. The farmhouse's passengers are a little girl named Dorothy Gale and her puppy, Toto. Glinda, who was nearby, sent Dorothy off with Nessa's shoes for fear of potential civil war in Munchkinland and also for Dorothy's safety. She sent her to the Wizard in hopes that he could send her back to Kansas. Elphaba comes to the funeral for Nessa. The two women are rejoiced at seeing each other after a decade and some years. The two talk of their titles all Oz knows, and catch up. When Glinda tells Elphaba that she gave Nessa's shoes to Dorothy, Elphaba becomes furious with Glinda for giving Dorothy the shoes, which were rightfully hers. She later has a meeting with the Wizard to bargain for the release of Nor, which Elphaba learns is the last survivor of Fiyero's family. The Wizard, however, refuses to make any agreements.

On her way back to Kiamo Ko, Elphaba stops at Shiz to kill Madame Morrible, by bashing a trophy on her skull. However, it is revealed that Madame Morrible had died only minutes before Elphaba came to murder her. Regardless, Elphaba decides to claim to have committed the murder and confesses to Avaric, an old schoolmate, so that she will get the credit when the news spreads. She comes upon the Clock of the Time Dragon, which puts on a special show for her. It shows the Wizard, and not Frex, to be her father.

Some time after returning to Kiamo Ko, Elphaba finds out that Dorothy and a few friends are headed to Kiamo Ko, presumably to kill her under the Wizard's orders. When the friends are almost at the castle, Elphaba (who believed that the Scarecrow was her beloved Fiyero) sends her dog Killyjoy out to lead the friends to the castle. They misunderstand the group of dogs howling toward them and the Tin Woodman kills the dogs. The Scarecrow scares away the crows Elphaba sends next. Elphaba sends her bees, which are killed as well, and Elphaba is forced to believe the Scarecrow is what he seems: just a scarecrow. With all her pets gone, the shock of this revelation only serves to further unhinge her.

When Dorothy arrives, she tells Elphaba that the Wizard did indeed send her to kill the witch, but Dorothy herself came to apologize for killing her sister. Furious that Dorothy is asking for the forgiveness that she (Elphaba) has never received for her own perceived sins, Elphaba waves her now burning broom in the air and inadvertently sets her skirt on fire. Innocently, Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her to save her, but instead the water melts her, leaving nothing but her clothes, and the infamous hat on the floor where she once stood. Dorothy returns to the Wizard with the green potion bottle he used to subdue Elphaba's mother during her conception, upsetting him when he realizes Elphaba was his daughter. Dorothy does not bring back the Grimmerie because it was too heavy. Rumors abound through Oz about the whereabouts of Dorothy (and her dog), few actually believing that she returned to Kansas. The Wizard plans his departure from Oz and his ensuing suicide.

The last lines of the book seem to imply that Elphaba will rise from the ashes some day:

"And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time." "And did she ever come out?" "Not yet."

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