Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Subtle Spell

Gregory Maguire wrote “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” in 1995, which is the basis for the hit Broadway musical in 2004. I knew about the latter first; in fact, before I stumbled upon a hardbound copy at a bookstore in Greenbelt 2 last month, I never knew there was a book! Because I liked the musical (my friend let me listen to his copy), I decided to buy the book.

In an interview Maguire insisted that “Wicked” is not a “retelling of The Wizard of Oz” and I can understand why. Dorothy and her irritating dog Toto only serve as bookends; most of the story is about how Elphaba became the titular character. The classic movie was a Technicolor feast for the eyes and ears; Maguire also paints a colorful picture of Oz, but in shades that are darker and more troubling. Oz is a land ripe for uprising; the Wizard is not just fake, he’s an inept despot. The Good Witch Glinda isn’t all that good, and Elphaba is a victim of labels and misconceptions.

Maguire isn’t a Stephen King or John Grisham page-turner type of writer; he likes to muse a lot. Philosophical ponderings slow down the pace of the plot. Maguire’s musings, while interesting, may bore those who aren’t the reflecting kind, or those looking for a straightforward, plot-heavy story. What kept me plodding through the slow spots was the wicked re-imagining of Oz that contrasts with our collective memories of the classic movie. It’s irony that resists following the easy yellow-brick road of camp.

After reading the book I watched The Wizard of Oz on DVD. “Wicked” doesn’t diminish or change the way I saw Wizard—the movie remains a classic wistful fairy tale of innocence and wonder of a past era. What improved, though, was my appreciation of the book. Using a classic fairy tale as a take-off point, Maguire mounts a twisted tale full of modern anxieties and flies with it. If you want a queasy ride, grab hold of Maguire’s broom.

I’ve watched the movie, read the book and heard the soundtrack; now I want to watch the musical. “Wicked” casts a sly, subtle magic and now I’m under its wicked spell.

Maguire's work is what you would call the un-fairy tale. Hmm, sige bili na rin ako.
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