I’ve just finished Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. I decided to read it immediately after seeing the musical which was surprisingly good, even though I had to see it in Dutch.
It’s a revisionist look at the characters and the land of Oz from L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequels. In the book I get to know the Wicked Witch of the West as the passionate and scarred Elphaba fighting against the Wizard who is portrayed as a ruthless dictator of Oz.
I love to read revisionist retellings of famous stories. For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia defines it as:
“In fiction, revisionism is the retelling of a story or type of story with substantial alterations in character or environment, to “revise” the view shown in the original work.”
For me it’s essential that the retelling gives a new perspective on the story and should even address different issues. In Wicked this is the misperception and the essence of good versus evil. A good retelling shouldn’t just take the main character and continue his/her story as these kinds of retelling are usually a disappointment.
But this is definitely not the case for Wicked. And what most of the reviews claim is true; you can never look at the Wicked Witch of the West in the same way again. I’m sure that if I ever watch the popular 1939 movie adaptation again then I’ll see Elphaba.
Without giving away the plot, I simply want to recommend reading Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. And don’t let the musical fool you, the book has so much more depth to it and is much darker.
And while we’re on the topic, other retellings to read if you haven’t already:
- Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which tells the story of Rochester’s mad wife Bertha from Jane Eyre. Whenever I watch Jane Eyre, I can’t help feeling pity for Bertha who was torn from her home and then treated as a captive instead of being helped.
- The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Also a retelling of Jane Eyre. Mind you, don’t take this one too seriously, it’s just great fun and gives a humorous explaination for how Jane Eyre could hear Rochester’s scream for help all those miles away.
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman which can be seen as a retelling of Paradise Lost. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the epic poem by John Milton you can still appreciate this trilogy.
Do you have books in this genre that you’d recommend?