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Literature / The Wicked Years

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The Wicked Years is a tetralogy by Gregory Maguire. It is a Twice-Told Tale on L. Frank Baum's classic Land of Oz books. Unlike its source material, The Wicked Years are certainly not a children's tale.

The series starts with 1995's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch, which tells the story of Elphaba Thropp, better known as the Wicked Witch of the West, from birth to death. Its sequel, Son of a Witch, revolves around Elphaba's (possible) son Liir, the third novel A Lion Among Men is about the Cowardly Lion, and the fourth and final book Out of Oz is about Liir's daughter Rain. It later spun-off into a side trilogy of books called "Another Day" that centered around Rain in the land of Maracoor, a country outside of Oz.

The Wicked Years is one of the most well-known and commercially successful Oz derivative works. It's been praised for its dark take on the franchise. The series takes elements from both the 1939 MGM film and the original books, making it easy to grasp whether you prefer Baum's books or know nothing of them. The first book has been adapted into a hit Broadway musical and a film adaptation has been in the works for many years with it finally being confirmed that the film will be split into two parts, to be released Thanksgiving weekends of 2024 and 2025 respectively.


This series provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Amalgamation: It uses many elements from the MGM film (most noticeably, the Wicked Witch's design) but also features numerous references from the books. It even takes a bit from Return to Oz.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job:
    • Glinda is redheaded in the original books but is blonde in The Wicked Years.
    • Dorothy is described as having dark hair, going with the original illustrations rather than her blonde interpretation from most of the books.
  • Adaptation Species Change: Glinda is a normal human woman rather than of The Fair Folk.
  • Age Lift:
    • In the original book, the Wicked Witch of the West is so old that all the blood has dried up in her body long ago. In The Wicked Years, Elphaba is 38 when she dies.
    • Glinda is a normal human instead a fairy of unknown age. She's 17 at the start of Wicked and roughly 38 by the end of the first book.
    • Dorothy has a vague age in the books and MGM film. She looks no older than 11 in most illustrations, was played by a 16-year old actress (with the role originally intended for 11-year old Shirley Temple), and some sources pin the MGM Dorothy as 12. Dorothy is 10 in Wicked.
  • Alternate Universe:
    • The series is set in an alternate universe of both the Wizard of Oz movie and books series, which in themselves are alternate universes of each other. The musical for Wicked is also an alternate universe of the Wicked books.
    • It's implied that Oz is an alternate universe version of America.
  • Ambiguously Bi/Ambiguously Gay:
    • Glinda has a Pseudo-Romantic Friendship with Elphaba that is so strong that even decades later she's distraught at the memory of Elphaba's death. Word of God later confirmed that Glinda loved Elphaba romantically. Glinda's in a Sexless Marriage that's for money and show more than anything. She has passing mentions that she might be attracted to Fiyero, but that never goes anywhere.
    • Elphaba's relationship with Glinda is more ambiguous. It's never clarified if her feelings were as strong as Glinda's were for her.
  • Animal Anthropomorphism Tropes: The Animals of Oz are a unique case. They can go between walking on all fours or on their hind legs and wear clothes, but they don't have anthropomorphic hands - in the first book Dillamond has to ask Glinda to give his ticket lying in the overhead to the conductor since he can't do it himself. Dr. Dillamond laments that other animals with cloven hooves are excluded from Shiz since they can't hold pencils; he only got his university position because his grandmothers paid for a teacher to privately tutor him and take dictation for him at his exams - the Wizard's Animal Bans stop other Animals from following Dillamond's example.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": This is used occasionally. Examples include "tsebras" instead of zebras and "crocodrilos" (which is similar to the Spanish "cocodrilo") instead of crocodiles. Robots are also referred to as "tiktok creatures".
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Unionism is is an Ozian equivalent of Christianity. It's the main religion in Oz and has supplanted the traditionan pagan worship of the fairy goddess Lurline (Lurlinism). Unionists worship the Unnamed God and their religious text is The Oziad. Elphaba's father Frexspar is a minister and her fundamentalist sister Nessarose becomes a sort-of faith healer. Unionist chapels have even appropriated Lurlinemas (which traditionally celebrates Lurline's birth). There are a few differences from Christianity, such as Unionists being less conservative about sex (for example, Frex is bisexual and was in a triad with his wife when she was alive).
  • Darker and Edgier: It's an adult-aimed derivative work of Land of Oz. While the original series has a lot of Family-Unfriendly Violence, The Wicked Years takes all the whimsical escapism out of Oz and warps it into a realistic world full of political strife, racism, and murder.
  • Decomposite Character;
    • Ozma is now a title passed down from mother to daughter instead of being an immortal fairy goddess, though some Lurline worshippers believe she passes her soul with her title.
    • Tiktok is the name for robots in general rather than just one character.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Most of the series takes place in the late 1800s and it shows. It's scandalous for young women to go outside without a chaperone, the Fantastic Racism concerning Animals emulates the racism of the period, and Fiyero receives mixed-reactions because he's from Vinkus (with Avaric outright mocking his dark skin-tone).
  • Dystopian Oz: The Trope Codifier. All the whimsy and escapism is taken out of the series. Oz is instead a more realistic, late 1800s country going through a period of change and intense political strife. Much of the series parallels American history of the late 19th century and it's heavily implied that Oz is a literal Alternate Universe version of America.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The Land of Oz is clean with nary even any romance. The Wicked Years has a lot of innuendo and sexual situations from the very first chapter.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Many of the characters are implied, or outright shown, to feel attraction to both men and women. It helps that there doesn't seem to be much, if any, problem with same-gender attraction in Oz.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • There's a lot, with the series especially focusing on discrimination towards Talking Animals. For years, sapient Animals have been discriminated by the majority of Ozians. Even in contemporary times, there are bans attempting to heavily restrict Animals lives so that they're barely any better off than animals.
    • Many Ozians look down upon those from the Quadling country. They're seen as low class as low class can be and are stereotyped as disgusting people who live in nothing but muck.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: Elphaba lampshades the weirdness in many Animals, including Dr. Dillamond, being Unionist. The religion has never been subtle in its bias against Animals, though modern text tries to scrub away the more obvious speciesism.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Winkies" is one for people of the Vinkus.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Vinkus are implied to be the Ozian equivalent of Native Americans.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Characters either swear to Lurline or the Unnamed God, depending on their religious beliefs.
  • Talking Animal: Unlike in the original books where all animals in Oz can talk, The Wicked Years separates talking Animals from normal animals. Animals (capitalized) can be born from animals but are sentient and can talk like humans. Many Ozians don't consider Animals to be any different than animals and they suffer from a lot of Fantastic Racism.
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Nome King, the Big Bad from Baum's Oz books is little more than a "legendary menace" in Maguire's Oz.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The topic of whether there's any biological difference between Animals and humans, and whether it matters in the first place, is a reoccuring topic.