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Wicked | Context


Use of The Wizard of Oz

Wicked is based on the popular American novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum—after whom Wicked's protagonist, Elphaba (L-F-Ba), was named—and its film adaptation The Wizard of Oz (1939). In a 2006 interview with Powell's Books, Maguire explained his decision to reimagine the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz and the character of the Wicked Witch of the West as the basis for an exploration of human perspective and good and evil. Referring to the Wicked Witch's interest in the ruby slippers, he remarked, "Why? There's a complication there."

However, only the fifth and final book of Wicked, "The Murder and Its Aftermath" conforms closely to the familiar Wizard of Oz story. As in Baum's novel, Dorothy lands in Oz via a hurricane that drops a house on the Wicked Witch of the East. Glinda the Good Witch gives Dorothy the Witch of the East's shoes—silver in the novel, ruby in the film, but ambiguous in color in Wicked. Dorothy proceeds in her quest to return to Kansas with the friends she meets along the way—Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion—in tow. The Wizard sends them to kill the Wicked Witch of the West, who wants her sister's magical footwear. Elphaba dies in Wicked as she does in the film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, doused in water meant to extinguish a fire, and even this point gets a backstory. Elphaba has a lifelong aversion to water, often described as an allergy.

Character Motivations

While Baum's novel and the film it inspired are classics, they provide few clues about their characters' motivations. As a departure from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wicked is a study in human motivation that pushes readers to reevaluate their preconceptions and how those preconceptions influence their understanding of good and evil. Maguire focuses most of his attention on the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, but the other key characters' motivations are much clearer than in Baum's text.

In Maguire's Oz, there are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in the traditional sense. Elphaba, regarded as a source of terror and pure evil in Baum's work, is a deeply lonely woman whose early idealism leads her to unintended outcomes, but she is also honest to a fault. Her sister, Nessarose, the Wicked Witch of the East largely undeveloped by Baum, overcomes the limitations of being born without arms and loses sight of her sweeter nature when she gets drunk on her newfound power. Ozian society calls Glinda "the Good Witch" because she is socially adept, but she is also dishonest and vain, even though she knows better. The Wizard's habitual lying carries over from the source material, but in Wicked his lies cover up and justify incredibly sinister activities, even though he has been rejected in his own world and is later regretful about the things he has done in Oz. The Cowardly Lion is cowardly because he was traumatized as a cub. The Tin Woodman is thwarted in love and cursed. Even Dorothy, the most innocent of Baum's characters, suffers agonizing guilt for actions beyond her control.

To flesh out the three core witches, Elphaba, Nessarose, and Glinda, Maguire also presents a host of new characters who interact with each of them. The Wicked Witch of the West has parents, a Nanny, college friends, a lost love, a surrogate family—all of whom influence who and what she becomes. For the first three sections of the novel, the reader sees Elphaba largely through the eyes of other characters. Her childhood is rendered through her parents' and Nanny's point of view. Her college days are described by Glinda, Elphaba's roommate, and her friend Boq, a minor figure from Baum's Munchkinland, who is a major player in Maguire's retelling. The reader experiences Elphaba's time in Oz through the perspective of her lover, the newly introduced Fiyero.

Only in the last two sections does Elphaba's own perspective become the focal point. She has resisted the "punishing political climate" of Oz, as described in Wicked's prologue, and become an outcast, painted as evil because she does not fit in, while Glinda is good because she adheres to social expectations.

Geography and Social Hierarchy

Maguire expands the geography of Oz, taking Elphaba through all four quadrants of the magical land and delving deeply into locations that may have only brief references in Baum's novel. She is born in Munchkinland to the east, grows up in Quadling Country to the south, goes to college in the heart of Gillikin to the north, becomes a rebel in the Emerald City, and forges a new life for herself in the arid and mountainous Vinkus to the west. The Quadlings are mentioned in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but Maguire provides vivid detail of their swamplike country to the south and the ways their rights are violated. Baum's references to the Winkies from the West bloom into a detailed picture of the open plains and forbidding mountains of the Vinkus region.

As he explores the Ozian landscape, Maguire sets up the social hierarchy of Oz. Like most social hierarchies, Oz's is based primarily on economics. The generally wealthy residents of Gillikin in the north sit at the top. The residents of farming country in Munchkinland to the east—not all of whom are short—are lower on the scale than the Gillikinese, but they outrank the mysterious Winkies, who tend to keep to themselves. While Fiyero is a Winkie, his status as a prince brings him some prestige outside the Vinkus. Below the Winkies are the poorer citizens of the mountainous Glikkus, mining country to the northeast. Near the bottom of the hierarchy are the deeply impoverished Quadlings from the south, scorned outside their own land, killed and exploited within it. Even lower than the Quadlings are the Animals, defined as animals who have developed self-awareness and language, pushed out of society and forced to live like their less sentient counterparts. The presence of this hierarchy allows the novel to explore how those with wealth and status neglect or victimize those who lack either.


In another notable departure from Baum's work, Maguire introduces sexual content in Wicked. Some of this content is necessary to the plot, such as Elphaba's affair with Fiyero, which is described in some detail but never in lurid terms. The affair provides an explanation for Elphaba's withdrawal from society and for the guilt that drives her through the second half of her life. The Wizard's rape of Elphaba's mother, Melena, provides a connection between Elphaba and her archenemy. While Melena and Frex, Elphaba and Nessarose's parents, engage in a polyamorous relationship with the Quadling Turtle Heart, the affair raises necessary questions about Nessarose's parentage that drive Frex to indulge his younger daughter and enable her later tyranny.

Other sexual content in the novel includes the depraved shows presented by the Clock of the Time Dragon and the interspecies show portrayed near the end of Elphaba's university days at Shiz. Neither Elphaba, Nessarose, nor Glinda are in attendance, but their friends—including Fiyero—are there, and one is scarred for life by his participation.

These varying depictions of sexuality in the novel fall within Maguire's stated purpose of challenging readers' preconceptions—in this case, about morality. Such depictions also firmly delineate Wicked as an adult novel and definitively show the reader they are not in Baum's Oz anymore.

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