Promising novel “Wicked” falls short on execution

By: Chloë Williams, Columnist

I picked “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire off of the shelves by a fascination with this story that has circulated from book to musical to spin-off book, to “Wicked” the movie which is set to release in 2021. 

I had never seen the musical “Wicked,” and I had only a vague idea of the storyline, but I was extremely excited to pick it up and try it out. It was later that I learned “Wicked” is a novel that needs to be read without expectation. 

Yes, it is a fantasy novel with faraway places, magic, and otherworldly conflicts, but it is not in the slightest bit whimsical. In fact, this novel tends to take itself fairly seriously. It’s only bits of humor lie in the ridiculousness of the characters’ situations and tidbits of wit along the way. In short, don’t expect it to be gumdrops and lollipops.

The novel starts off in Munchkinland with the origin of the inexplicably green Elphaba. The audience is then whisked off to part two, where Elphaba begins her college years at the somewhat-prestigious Shiz University, where she is roomed with the image-conscious Glinda

For the next hundred pages or so, the reader is swept up in the excitement of college life- crushes, self-discovery, and new friendships. Elphaba also finds herself championing the rights of animals, a more human-like version of animals that can speak, think, and even teach at the university. Elphaba seems to be one of the only supporters of animal rights, and works to solve a heinous crime against one of her animal professors while forging a tough but true friendship with Glinda along the way.

Part two ends abruptly with Elphaba being sent on a secret mission to Emerald City with her sister and Glinda on behalf of her headmistress. 

We are then cast into part three, which takes place five years later. Elphaba is in hiding and practicing magic. She engages in a love affair that seems to drag on endlessly, providing no real substance to the plot but for a handful of distastefully described romantic scenes. 

Part four of the novel takes place in the Vinkus. At this point in the story, it begins to feel as if the plotline has begun to derail. Maguire has introduced us to a number of likeable characters during Elphaba’s college years that have all but disappeared by this point in the novel. 

Now, we have a whole new set of characters, none of which are well-described. The audience is left hanging in abandonment from the loss of seemingly every supporting character. Instead, the reader is presented with another jump ahead of around seven years to a household of people that hold no real significance to Elphaba or her evolution as a character. 

In the final part of the book, the reader jumps ahead yet another seven years to the arrival of Dorothy and Elphaba’s supposed fall from grace and acceptance of the title, “Wicked Witch of the West.” This is, however, ineffective because we are never really able to connect to Elphaba on a human level to understand whether or not she could “fall,” or whether she was always “bad.” 

Due to the jumpy nature of the novel, the audience is never able to linger on the characters long enough to form significant attachments to them. In my experience, this meant being unconcerned with the fate of the characters. I had begun to connect with and understand several characters during Elphaba’s time at university, but they were prematurely erased from the story in favor of glorified sex scenes, and years of meeting several seemingly unnecessary others.

There was a lot of promise in the “Wicked’s” story concept, but it is severely lacking in execution. Perhaps this story might have worked better if it were elongated. 

Elphaba needed more time at Shiz University for the audience to understand her as a person as well as her motives, desires, and friendships. I never really felt like I knew Elphaba, so I was not invested in her fate. She needed more time to explore her secret mission to Emerald City and to work for animal rights against the opinions of everyone in Oz. 

There was so much to her in theory, but those moments that would have really brought Elphaba to life were either skimmed over or missing entirely. The writing style is also domineering and self-important, using unrealistic dialogue for the sole purpose of flexing blatant philosophy. Instead of attempting such seriousness, this book needed subtlety and fun.

2/5 stars.

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