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Literature / Wicked

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Rick: What are you reading?
Kirsten: It's a queer-revisionist telling of The Wizard of Oz.
Rick: There already was a queer revision of The Wizard of Oz. It was called Wicked, and it was even gayer than the original!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, a 1995 novel by Gregory Maguire, is the story of Elphaba, who will one day become that Wicked Witch of the West. The original novel was expanded into a four book series entitled The Wicked Years. Son of a Witch revolves around Elphaba's possible son Liir, A Lion Among Men around the Cowardly Lion, and the fourth and final book Out of Oz around Liir's daughter Rain.

Wicked describes how Elphaba is born with green skin after her mother had an encounter with a travelling businessman. Her mother gives birth to an armless child, Nessarose, and then later dies giving birth to Elphaba's third sibling, her brother, Shell. When Elphaba is older, she goes to school at Shiz, and is roomed with the pretty, popular Galinda. At first, Galinda is not happy about this.

Things change, however, when Professor Dillamond, their Talking Animal teacher, is found dead, soon after Animal hate speech started being promoted by faculty members, prompting Galinda to change her name to Glinda in honour of him. Elphaba and Glinda become close compatriots and the former rescues a Lion cub brought in by his replacement, and gains a passion for fighting for Animal rights. Elphaba goes to the Emerald City to speak to the wizard of this, and her life changes forever. Events push the two friends along their paths towards becoming the Good Witch of the North and the Wicked Witch of the West.

The book inspired a Lighter and Softer musical adaptation in 2003, which became one of Broadway's biggest hits. The musical version will receive a film adaptation from Universal.

Wicked contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Villainy: The Wizard. Rather than a mere conman a la the original stories, here he's the main antagonist.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Several, including Glinda to some extent (see Homoerotic Subtext).
  • An Ice Person: Elphaba subconsciously freezes a river in order to rescue Chistery.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Elphaba's skepticism towards her father's religious beliefs isn't arbitrary because Maguire deliberately wrote it with a cynical eye on Christianity, but insisting that the Kumbric witch couldn't be possible when she herself was born unable to touch pure water without it feeling like acid? Why does Nor need to demonstrate that the broom can fly when Elphaba has already seen magic at work...and magically killed a couple of people? Why isn't it possible that Dorothy and the Wizard are from another world?
  • Arranged Marriage: Fiyero was married this way before entering Shiz. Not that this mattered too much.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: Elphaba keeps bees, and like in the original story she ends up sending them after Dorothy.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: Played straight. Tibbet has sex with a male Tiger at the Philosopher's Club and is described as having 'never been the same.' He dies later of an unspecified illness.
    • In the fourth book, Brrr (The Cowardly Lion) and Nor refer to themselves as a married couple, although their relationship is obviously a celibate one for several reasons.
  • Big Bad: The Wizard.
  • Body Horror: Nor has her vagina sewn shut. Dear god.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': Elphaba murders Madame Morrible and then goes to a dinner party and talks about it. The guests refuse to judge or call the police—they're too entertained by the novelty of the situation and the opportunity to debate the meaning of good and evil. Slightly subverted; the reason nobody calls the authorities is because they think it is a novelty; none of them believe she really killed her.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: There is an important distinction between common animals and sentient Animals, and you must pronounce the difference. Towards the beginning of the first book, Madam Morrible shares a poem which ends with the line "Animals should be seen and not heard", which causes a stir because people can't tell if she means "animals" or "Animals", and it might be a strong political statement.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Munchkinlanders try to invoke this with Dorothy. Glinda sent her to the Wizard to prevent the whole mess this would create. Some Oz citizens believe this will happen with their previous ruler - Ozma and Elphaba show her hatred to this trope a few times.
  • Church Militant: Nessarose, in the book; in the musical she's just an Obstructive Bureaucrat.
  • Cliffhanger Copout: The first book ends with a quote from a fairy tale told by Sarima earlier in the book: “And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time.” “And did she ever come out?” “Not yet.” This seems to imply that Elphaba will, somehow, return in a future installment. But ultimately, three sequels later and even a seemingly foreshadowing remark from Word of God that "a witch will always come back," Elphaba is apparently gone for good.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: As much as Dorothy might like to hand Nessarose's ruby slippers over to Elphaba, they won't come off, thinking that Galinda might have put a spell on them so they'd stay stuck to her feet.
  • Convenient Coma: It is implied that Elphaba carried Liir to term through this.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Dillamond's death.
  • Crapsack World: This book takes every political interpretation of "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" and makes them canon, with a spin and adds one hundred pounds of misery on everyone that means anything.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Unionism seems to be Christianity. They even practice baptism.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than the original story, and especially the musical.
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Death by Cameo: Jack Pumpkinhead with his head rotted due mice nesting in his brain and a broken Tik-Tok appear in a junk shop.
  • Downer Ending: Just for starters, Elphaba and Fiyero die.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Again, mostly certainly subverted.
  • Deconstruction Fic. Of The Wizard of Oz.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Glinda. Elphaba even refers to her as "Miss Galinda the Ice Queen" at one point.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Aside from people literally wanting to assassinate The Wizard, the books retcon a lot of the fantasy elements into religious beliefs or legends that are implied not to be true.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Gender-flipped with Liir, who was raped by Candle while comatose.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: It's mentioned that oceans are just a mythology idea. This is because Oz is surrounded by desert.
  • Everyone Is Bi: In the book Oz seems to be a pretty sexually liberated world, and it's usually safe to assume any character is bisexual until proven otherwise.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Both Wicked Witches, Glinda, and Boq all went to university together.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Elphaba, sort of. Teaching monkeys to speak was probably good for them, but sewing on wings For Science!? That's rather morally gray.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Both against Elphaba and the sapient Animals.
    • The area Elphaba comes to preside over in the West as the "Wicked Witch" is properly known as "The Vinkus". "Winkies" and "Winkie Country" are rather insensitive slurs for the yellow-loving folk.
    • "But the Quadlings, oh the Quadlings, / Slimy, stupid, curse-at-godlings, / Eat their young, and bury their old, / A day before their bodies get cold."
    • Fiyero, and the people of the Vinkus, seem to be victims of racism as well. One of the first things one of the characters mention about Fiyero is that he has skin "the color of shit." Furthermore, upon hearing the suggestion that she once conducted an affair with Fiyero, Glinda states one of the reasons the rumor is nonsense is because he was "dark skinned," implying that she would never sleep with a man of color. Fiyero's ethnicity is never actually mentioned, he is simply referred to being dark, or ochre in colour, which could mean yellow-brown (olive) skin, right through to reddish-brown skin - like Nor who was turned into a sex slave and was abused so much that she sewed her vagina shut.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The culture surrounding the inhabitants of the Vinkus is a mix-and-match of Romani, Middle Eastern, Indian and possibly African influences. The Arjiki tribe are mentioned as have ochre skin and wear blue tattoos, possibly henna, on their faces and bodies (Middle Eastern). The Vinkuns, more notably the Scrow are mentioned to worship animals, in fact the Scrow Princess Nastotya is mentioned to be an Elephant Goddess (Indian). The nomadic lifestyles of the Vinkuns link to Indian/Romani (Gypsy) and Middle Eastern influences, as well as the prejudice that comes with it.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Elphaba will become the Wicked Witch of the West, her sister will become the Wicked Witch of the East and get squashed by a house, Elphaba will melt, the Wizard will leave,...
  • Freudian Slip: At the end of the book, Elphaba is talking with Liir about wishes. She doesn't want to say her true wish aloud, so instead she goes for "a soldier", but it just comes out as "a soul—". This surprises both of them.
  • Furry Confusion: Only the Animals (note the capital "A") are fully sapient, while the regular animals are just...well, animals. Further confused when Elphaba starts experimenting on animals to see if she can teach them to become Animals. Her monkeys seem to become nothing more than talking parrots, but the second book shows that Chistory became genuinely intelligent.
  • Heel Realization: The death of Doctor Dillamond in the book was a wake up call for Galinda to re-evaluate what's important in life and stop being obsessed with popularity and being such a dumb blond.
  • "Just Joking" Justification: Madame Morrible attemps to defend the egregiously anti-Animal quell she recited (without any criticism) by proclaiming it to be "satire". (after the Animals on staff, as well as Elphaba, have complained) Elphaba is not amused.
  • King in the Mountain: Sarima heard rumors that The Wizard couldn't bring himself to kill Ozma and sealed her in stasis in a cave somewhere, implying that she could come back and rule Oz again someday.
  • Language of Magic: The Grimmerie is full of this. Elphaba can somehow read it without trying, but others find it trickier. She does have to look hard to understand, as the words seem to move about the pages. It is implied that the book is simply a standard (though magical) book to people from Earth. To Ozians, it is not just reading in a different language, but in a different dimension, which Elphaba's real father aided her in.
  • Law of Conservation of Detail : Obviously, Liir is Elphaba's son, otherwise why would he be in the book at all?
  • Little People Are Surreal;
    • Mr Boss, the dwarf guardian of The Grimmerie.
    • Dorothy strongly suspects that the short people working in the Chinese restaurant in San Francisco are munchkins in disguise.
  • The Lost Lenore: Undoubtedly Fiyero, for Elphaba, for a good chunk of the first book.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father:
    • Elphaba and the Wizard.
    • Liir to Elphaba, but much less of a surprise, since it's a main theme of the second book.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane;
    • Some magical elements from the original Oz books are now legends which may or may not be true.
    • Nanny can't work out if Grommetik is technology, magical or a combination of both.
    • Despite Uncle Henry's protests, Dorothy suspects the staff in the Chinese restaurant are munchkins and the fortune cookie they give her seems to predict her return to Oz.
    • The Ozites handwave the Narnia Time as themselves measuring time differently and keeping shorter years than Kansas residents.
    • Tip isn't sure if he didn't notice that his childhood lasted over a century because he was stupid or Mombey charmed him.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Elphaba's name is a tribute to L. Frank Baum.
    • Similarly, the Cowardly Lion's name, Brr, seems to a tribute to the actor who portrayed the character in the 1939 film: Bert Lahr. It also references (being the sound one makes while shivering) how he shivered as a cub, and became a coward as an adult.
  • Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Dorothy has no idea about the problem with water. Elphaba accidentally gets her dress caught on fire, and the last words she hears are Dorothy saying "I'll save you!"
  • Mirror Character: In the final section of the book, Elphaba realizes that Dorothy reminds her of her younger self.
  • Mobile-Suit Human: When Nanny asks how the clockwork robot Grommetik works, Elphaba says she likes to pretend he has a dwarf inside him or a family of elves with each working a limb.
  • My Life Flashed Before My Eyes: As Elphaba dies after being splashed by Dorothy, she sees visions of all the major people from her life.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Elphaba sings a song about an imaginary land where there are no hardships, reducing her college friends nearly to tears.
    • Another reference to both the film AND the book is that when Elphaba dreams of the 'other world', which is suggested to be our United States, it is described as "Grey". It is described the same in the original book, and even visualized in the movie in that all the scenes in Kansas are in black and white, while the scenes taking place in Oz are all in glorious technicolor.
    • When Elphaba meets the Wizard after Nessa's funeral, she, horrified, calls him "a very bad wizard", to which he dismisses her as only "a caricature of a witch". In the film The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy calls the Wizard "a very bad man" to which he shamefacedly defends "I'm a very good man, just a very bad wizard."
  • Narnia Time: Six years passed for Dorothy between her visits to Oz but 18 years passed in Oz.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Elphaba, "The Wicked Witch of the West", actually isn't any of those things. She isn't evil (she's a Well-Intentioned Extremist), she isn't a witch (she's a political activist with no interest in sorcery and no formal magic training), and she isn't from the West (she's a native of Munchkinland, the Easternmost region of Oz).
  • Patchwork Fic: For copyright reasons, Wicked is supposed to be based on the original Oz books, but both the book and musical draw heavily from the MGM Wizard of Oz film. Most glaring example? In the original book, the Wicked Witch of the West is not green.
  • Perspective Flip: Of The Wizard Of Oz and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The terrorists/resistance group never seem to do anything. Elphaba is foiled by her humanitarian instincts when a bunch of children unexpectedly surround her target, but we never find out about anyone else in the group ever doing anything either. It may be justified in-universe if Fiyero's fears were right and their campaign was actually Resistance as Planned by the Wizard.
  • Progressively Prettier: In the book, Elphaba's described as having a long nose, gangly limbs, a mannishly strong jaw, and if it weren't for her being green, she wouldn't be much to look at. But in the musical, along with most book illustrations, and fan art, she's a generically cute girl whose only flaw is being green. Though to be fair, Elphaba is also compared to her mother a few times, as far as appearance; and Glinda at least at one point does describe her as beautiful (hat, dormitory). That's probably in part because Fiyero says she's beautiful in her own way, both in the musical and the book. But still, she's not written as conventionally beautiful...
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The Gale Force has no issue killing innocents when ordered to do so, but apparently when one suggests they rape Dorothy when she arrives, the other guards castrate him, and hang him on post so that crows can pick at what remains of the area. Elphaba bestows mercy upon ordering the guards to put him out of his misery.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Elphaba starts out sympathetic, but turns batshit insane.
  • Reading Tea Leaves: Nanny goes to Old Yackle to get medicine that will supposedly stop Melena's unborn baby from being born green like her sister (the pills actually lead Nessarose to be born armless). When there, Yackle reads Nanny using leaves and herbs, but it's noted her vision is poor and Nanny doesn't buy her fortune-telling.
  • Resistance as Planned: Possibly. Upon learning that Elphaba doesn't even know the identities of her resistance group's leaders, Fiyero cites this very trope in-story. There's a good chance the Wizard's actually running the resistance against himself as a means of keeping his enemies under observation and as an excuse to consolidate more power. Elphaba stubbornly insists she'd know if she was being manipulated, but whether or not the Wizard was running the resistance at this point in his reign is never definitively settled.
  • Santa Clausmas: Lurlinemas comes from an old pagan religion. The Unionist government of the Emerald City only celebrates it because it brings in money.
  • Seven League Boots: Mr Boss asks Little Daffy if she can make him a pair to get them into the quadling jungle more quickly. Brrr says he'd need two pairs but would settle for a seven league settee.
  • The Scrappy: In-universe, nobody besides Dorothy can stand Toto. Not even the narrator.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The book ending. Every single sympathetic character is dead or no longer sympathetic, and the Wizard leaves for reasons mostly unrelated to their struggle. Elphaba fails at every single major initiative she attempts during her lifetime.
  • Shout-Out: There are plenty of shout outs to the movie and the original book, as well - like when Nessa gets the slippers.
    'First they were silver — now blue — now red.'
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The much more cynical version.
  • Start of Darkness: For the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • Time Skip: Multiple throughout the series. Wicked alone has four, jumping from Elphaba's birth and infancy straight to Elphaba's time at university, through to the university crowd in their mid-to-late twenties, and finally to Elphaba in her mid-thirties.
  • Too Much Information:
    • Dorothy explains to Elphaba that she's been trying to remove Nessarose's slippers for days. Fair enough. But did she really have to mention how sweaty her socks had gotten from wearing the slippers for so long?
    • At one point in time, Fiyero thinks that one of his tattoos has rubbed off on Elphaba ...down there. Which means he has tattoos there as well. Fiyero is attractive, yes, but still: TMI...
    • In the same section, the narrator helpfully describes what Elphaba's pubes look like. Apparently they look different from Fiyero's wife.
  • Token Minority:
    • The culture surrounding the inhabitants of the Vinkus is a mix-and-match of Romani, Middle Eastern, Indian and possibly African influences. However the POC are “uncivilised” in these books (even if said Savages have a society that seems more palatable than the cruelty of the Emerald City). Fiyero's ethnicity is never actually mentioned, he is simply referred to being dark, or ochre in colour, which could mean yellow-brown (Olive) skin, right through to reddish brown skin. The problem is that most of them end up dead (Fiyero, Sarima, Manek, Irji, Sarima's Sisters, Nor, Nastotya) or end up having extremely difficult lives, like Nor who was turned into a sex slave and was abused so much that she sewed her vagina shut; and while they are alive they are viewed as savages and barbarians – and prejudice against them is regarded mildly as “snobbery.” The flip side is that, in a book full of rather unpleasant characters, the POC tend to be some of the very few that are genuinely decent people.
    • Talking about Fiyero:
    Avaric: What's he wearing such silly paint for? He only draws attention to himself. And that skin. I wouldn't want to have skin the color of shit.
    Elphaba: What a thing to say, if you ask me, that's a shitty opinion.
    • And later...
    Glinda: My dear, I was fond of Fiyero and he was a good man and a fine statesman. But among other things, you will remember he was dark-skinned. Even if I took up dalliances-an inclination I believe rarely benefits anyone-you are once again being suspicious and cranky to suspect me and Fiyero! The idea!
  • Twice-Told Tale: The book will be difficult to understand for anyone who hasn't read or seen The Wizard of Oz.
  • Unable to Cry: One of the reasons why she grew up to be such a distant, cold, and antisocial person was because of water burning her skin, causing her to be unable to cry without her tears painfully burning her face like acid.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • The unnamed sorcerer from our world who hid the Grimmerie in Oz in the past. The search for the long-missing tome is what brings the Wizard to Oz and sets off decades of political tyranny and Elphana's ascension (let alone her very birth).
    • Elphaba having a torn-out page from the Grimmerie on her person during her audience with the Wizard late in the book (and which he confiscates). In the larger context of the Wicked Cycle, this ends up having massive long-term repercussions for Oz, Liir, and others over the remaining three books.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: The story documents Elphaba's journey from her beginnings as a friendly, sensitive young girl, to, well, the Wicked Witch of the West.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Wizard.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Elphaba
  • What Is Evil?: A major theme in the book. After Elphaba bashes Madame Morrible's head in she attends a dinner party where all the guests sit around discussing the nature of evil, all of them having different opinions on exactly what evil is.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Underlined in heavy red crayon in the novel. It's hard out here for an Intellectual Animal.
  • Window Watcher: Boq is able to see the windows of one of the girls' dormitories from his room at Shiz, but it's too far away for him to make out any details. When his roommates leave for a night on the town, Boq takes the chance to climb atop a nearby roof and get a better view. At least until Elphaba spots him.
  • You Mean "Xmas": The Ozites celebrate Lurlinemas, a winter holiday celebrating the birth of the goddess Lurline. Included are mentions of gift-giving, gingerbread, snowball fights, and even the phrase "happy holidays." Just about the only thing that differs from Christmas is that the designated holiday colors are green and gold rather than green and red. (And even that isn't too far off, as gold is often associated with Christmas as well.)

Alternative Title(s): The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West