The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

// 26 January 2009

wickedwitch.jpgI’d so far managed to miss out on Gregory Maguire’s revisionist fiction, but I was given an audiobook of The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West this Christmas, and I’ve got to say I was impressed.

It sketches out the biography of the cardboard cutout “evil witch” in The Wizard of Oz*, following her through babyhood, via university and a stint as an Animal rights activist, up to her famous death scene. The Wizard is reimagined as a brutal dictator, responsible for genocide upon genocide in the subjugation of Oz.

It’s a project which has certain, obvious feminist-sympathies about it; simply in gifting the “wicked witch of the west” with a credible backstory. The concept that accepted history can stamp its own version of women’s history into the books, as well, is a familiar one.

I found certain things about it problematic, mostly, but not completely, relating to the ending.

But has anyone else read the book? What did you think?

*Disclaimer: I’m basing this on the famous film version, as I’ve never read the original books.

Comments From You

Mephit // Posted 27 January 2009 at 12:29 am

I really didn’t like it. Apparently the musical is great, but I found the book tedious and the characterisation flat.

Amy // Posted 27 January 2009 at 1:02 am

Sounds awesome! Know what’s on my amazon list :P I remember finding her an interesting character as a kid!

What did you find problematic about it?

v // Posted 27 January 2009 at 1:22 am

love it. the sequel isnt as good but still worth a look to find out a bit more about elphabas history, although it takes a while to get round to it.

Louise // Posted 27 January 2009 at 8:47 am

I saw the musical first and read the book later. The relationship between the two is complex – the musical has a much simpler story and a much more traditional happier ending. I found the musical both uplifting and difficult though – yes it’s about strong female characters and the real focus is the friendship between Elphaba (the Wicked Witch) and Glinda (the Good Witch). But it also relied on tired notions of the bitchiness of popular women and the bitterness and asexuality of disabled women etc. That said I do love the music and the stereotypes are obvious enough to dismiss as lazy by the writers.

The book is far more complex and is written in a purposefully alienated way which can make it seem unfriendly. It does add depth to the characture in the film however. But Elphaba in the book is riven by not being able to *do* anything and that frustrates me.

Of the Maguire’s I’ve read so far I found Confessions of an Ugly Step-Sister most interesting and well rounded. Mind I got Son of a Witch for Christmas so maybe that’ll change!

Leigh // Posted 27 January 2009 at 9:16 am

I loved this book, especially how it was sympathetic to different configuration of feminine. I didn’t find the characterisation flat, although all of the characters had times when they were hard to like- and also times when they were nearly redeemed.

In terms of examining how women can be written out of history, or have their image recast in a masculinist mold, I thought Margaret Forster’s ‘Keeping the World Away’ was equally informative.

Jess McCabe // Posted 27 January 2009 at 9:39 am

Louise touches on some of the things I found problematic – to be honest, it’s difficult to go into them all without completely spoiling the book for you, and it’s only relatively minor things, really, in the context of the book as a whole.

Mephit // Posted 27 January 2009 at 11:39 am

To expand a bit on my initial comment: what I didn’t like about the characterisation is that it was almost entirely created through dialogue, told from outside in, if you like. Rather than being shown or induced to feel characters’ motivations or emotions with them, you were told them. Which is a writing style I really don’t enjoy.

And as Louise says, the relationships between the women leaned heavily on stereotyping: the passive good wife sitting at home with the children deliberating choosing “not to know”, the catty Glinda and Elphaba herself.

It probably doesn’t help that I recently read “Wide Sargasso Sea”, (an excellent post-colonial reimagining of Jane Eyre’s mad-woman in the attic), which I was sad was so short, while this one could’ve done with a severe trimming. :D

Cassandra // Posted 27 January 2009 at 1:12 pm

I read this book a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Reading this stemed from my love of the musical and now, when I listen to the lyrics, I can’t help but think ‘that’s not right’. I should have known better. When I get the chance, I plan on reading ‘Son of A Witch’. but that might be awhile.

frau sally benz // Posted 27 January 2009 at 4:03 pm

I really love this book. I look at some of the problems I had with it (probably the same as everyone else’s), but overall, I think it’s a great story. I find the writing style different and not as bothersome as others seem to. It took a bit to get into it, but I liked it once I got used to it.

The musical is only fun b/c of the music and over-the-topness of it all. The things I loved about the book were completely changed for the show, and that annoys me.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds