Tag Archive: Gregory Maguire


November 2005

15 year old G is taking part in a compilation show with the town’s theatre society. I am compering and introduce two of my friends singing a song from ‘the prequel to the Wizard of Oz.’  It’s the first time I’ve ever heard Defying Gravity and those opening bars certainly grab my attention.

‘I didn’t even know there was a prequel…’, I say to my co-host after the show. One of my friends plays a couple of songs from the soundtrack at the after party and I start to feel nauseated. ‘Oh, no, I don’t like it. They all sound like they’re on helium.’ Poor Kristin Chenoweth.

January 2006

I am obsessed. Caught in a twister of witches, flying monkeys and dramatic riffs. I have my own copy of the soundtrack and it is permanently in my portable CD player. I’m working in the evenings at my Grandad’s shop and, during quiet periods, I sneak into the back room, pinch a can of vimto and listen to more Wicked. The build-up of Defying Gravity sends tingles down my arms and I can’t get my head around how magical it sounds. I am actually in love with a song.

May 2006

I’m getting ready to leave high school and in between revisingImage result for Glinda and Elphaba catfight for exams, my close friends and I are listening to Wicked at whatever chance we can get. In the art room at lunch time. On the steps to the main hall at break. We weren’t very popular (‘-lar’) and at one point a particularly gobby girl accused us of listening to ‘goth music’.  If only she knew. (and if only I took a GSCE in Wicked)

October 2006

Wicked is coming to the UK and after months of failed pestering to family members (I even told my mum I would never expect a birthday present again.  It didn’t go down well), one of my grandparents caves and reveals she has bought tickets for me and my cousin. I have to wait 2 weeks which feels like two years. We travel down to London and I am almost sick with excitement when the cab turns the corner and the Apollo Victoria is revealed, all lit up in green. The show is amazing and, aside from a man who most definitely wasn’t Munchkin-height sitting in front of me, it’s everything I hoped it would be. Plus, I saw Idina Menzel. Bonus awesome points. A week later, I am still so hyped that I write to the cast and they reply with personalised, signed autographs.

October 2009

3 years after my first viewing, I see Wicked again, this time taking my Grandma. When the stage lights up during Dancing Through Life she looks at me with big eyes and says ‘Oh, it’s beautiful.’ Defying Gravity continues to give me chills.

October 2012

I take my mum to see the Wicked tour in Manchester. She is a life-long fan of Oz, and spots Nessarose’s stripey socks before I do. Wicked is the show that keeps on giving – there is always something new to see.

Image result for galinda gifA few weeks later, I go again with my friends from the theatre group. They’re fellow fanatics and some of them are seeing the show for the first time. We rock up wearing witches hats and sing Defying Gravity on the street outside the theatre.

October 2016

So, it’s been ten years since I first saw Wicked live. I don’t know where the time has gone, but Wicked still has the power to make me laugh, cry and send tingles down my arms
. The music is the closest I have ever heard to perfection. It can sound magically whimsical one minute, poignantly moving the next, and end up dark and bleak. It bounces from joyful to devastating in minutes and you’ll never watch that famous melting scene in the same way again. There is always another nugget of awesomeness to spot in the stage show or the soundtrack. (This weekend I noticed the opening bars of No One Mourns the Wicked and As Long As You’re Mine are almost identical! It’s taken me 11 years to spot that.)

I was never really a big fan of The Wizard of Oz but Wicked sparked my interest in a darker, twisted Oz. It was from here that I became familiar with Wicked’s source material, Gregory Maguire’s book, which I have read and written about countless times. I love the way the story links with its predecessor – from subtle nods (‘lemons and Image result for elphaba gifsmelons and pears’ ‘Oh my!’) to more obvious references, like plonking a big old farmhouse in the middle of the stage. It’s a masterclass in storytelling. One of my favourite moments is when Elphaba, wearing her pointed hat from the Ozdust Ballroom, picks up the broom she has used to barricade a door and is shielded from the cold in a black cloak by Glinda. Suddenly, in the middle of the show, everything has come together and Elphaba is the Wicked Witch of the West. My favourite scene though has to be just before ‘No Good Deed’, where Elphaba and Glinda square-off following Nessarose’s death. (‘Well, we can’t all come and go by bubble!’. Bitchy! Elphie is fierce!)

In many aspects Wicked is beautiful but visually it’s stunning. The set design is genius, with everything from the grandeur and greenery of the Emerald City to the shadowy corridors of Kiamo Ko being strikingly atmospheric. Any show that has both its leading ladies flying (via broomstick or bubble) plus a giant mechanical dragon looming over the audience is alright by me.

Wicked is not just a wonderful production, but it’s a reminder of my teenage years. It reminds me of friends near and far, and the many nights of singing around the piano. Every October, as pumpkins are being carved and witches hats appear in shops, I get the urge to belt out those riffs and melodies. It’s become synonymous with autumn.

Ten years, countless drunken renditions of Defying Gravity, dozens of re-reads of the books, thousands of soundtrack-filled car journeys and 4 official viewings and I can’t get enough. Wicked has a reference for every occasion (does anyone else blast No Good Deed when they’re angry?). Defying Gravity has to be one of the most empowering songs ever. It packs enough punch to energise you in a second.

For me, Wicked is definitely a show that will stay with me forever. It’s part of my life and it was most prevalent during the time that shaped who I am today. Ten years ago, I might have been Team Glinda (I was inconsiderate and obsessed with what people thought). In 2016, I like to think I’m Team Elphaba and I have been changed for good.

Image result for defying gravity gif

 

I’m never one to be out of Oz for long. Hot on the ruby heels of my re-read of Wicked, I took a twister back into Maguire’s Oz in his sequel novel, Son of a Witch. Like Wicked, I’ve found Son to read better each time I re-read. Although it does lack some of the magic of the first book, fans of Maguire’s Oz won’t be disappointed as his trademark darkness is still evident.

The story starts with a mysterious stranger, later to be revealed as Lirr, suspected (but never confirmed) son of Elphaba, being admitted to the same mauntery where he was born. Liir has been the victim of a strange attack, leaving him comatose and inches from death. He is nursed by the silent Candle, who uses her musical skills to lure his mind into reverie where the truth about the attack is revealed.

We’re taken back to the moment Wicked ended, seconds after Elphaba’s death. In these early chapters, we get to spend time with those familiar travellers from Baum’s novel, though they turn out to be bitchier than originally thought! Their bitter quarrels and the Tin Man’s sassy advice to  Dorothy (that she should invest in a leash for Toto) provide plenty of humour before events turn pretty bleak.

The re-appearance of Glinda is very welcome but Maguire taunts us with the idea of her becoming a more prominent feature and adopting Liir. Unfortunately for both the thought is far too fleeting and Glinda is soon off to her country retreat. Obviously a favourite character from the original book, Glinda’s short and sparse appearances in Son are refreshing, with Maguire still proving he is capable of mixing the familiar with the new. Glinda is still as air-headed as ever but it’s touching to see her so affected by her friend’s death. Her loyalty to Elphaba remains apparent through her support of Liir.

As for our protagonist, Liir transforms from the pathetic, mild-mannered child lingering around Elphaba’s skirts, to a brooding and angry young man, emotionally blunted by the vagueness of his past, his own self-loathing and loss of his (poor) mother figure. By the end of the novel Liir has expressed many of the traits which made Elphaba such a strong hero. He is determined in his quest to find Nor. He shows very little sentiment for others, or himself, and his desire to make some sense out of a very messy situation binds him to the reader. One of the strongest themes of Son of a Witch is that of relationships and, in this story, Liir becomes part of a very modern love triangle. Whilst Liir does love Candle, the mother of his child, he also has a touching relationship with Trism, Minor Menacier for the Ozian Army. Remembering that Son of a Witch is now eleven years old, with Wicked being published ten years prior to that, Maguire’s portrayal of relationships, sexual fluidity and that idea of indecisiveness over our desires is quite contemporary. Liir never actively questions his sexuality – it isn’t an issue of whether he likes men or women, it’s whether he loves Candle or Trism or both! Maguire should be admired for putting a bisexual (or pansexual, it’s never really clear which) character at the heart of his work. By the end of the novel, the reader is left feeling equally torn over which lover Liir should be with. Both relationships are written so delicately and naturally that it is clear both sets of couples care very much about each other. However, at the end Liir is left alone, with both his partners missing, therefore leaving him unable to come to any arrangement. His attentions, instead, are focused on his daughter, who he has found wrapped in blankets and hidden in the barn, abandoned, for reasons unknown, by Candle. Maguire certainly is the master of the cliff-hanger with that final line – ‘She cleaned up green’. Does this confirm Liir’s parentage as he carries the green gene? Will history repeat itself now another green child lives in Oz? Will the child live up to her grandmother’s name? Maguire sets up questions as fast as he answers them.

Another thing that strikes me about Maguire’s work is his ability to mix the familiar with the unknown. Oz is painted in Baum’s book as this wonderful, magical fantasy land, whereas Maguire blends that beautifully with familiar elements which makes Oz appear imperfect and closer to our world. Creatures such as Draffes and Tsebras are often referenced and briefly described, making it clear, without deliberately stating, these are just Giraffes and Zebras, but given a new name in a new world. The mauntery has never been directly referenced as a nunnery but through Maguire’s descriptions the comparison is clear.

As expected with a sequel, Son of a Witch ties up a few loose ends from Wicked but also introduces more questions for the third book. Princess Nastoya is finally released from her human body and sent to death. Maguire tackles Nastoya’s story with striking truthfulness, commenting on her decaying body, diminishing mental state and foul smell in way that creates a tight anxiety about our own mortality and the idea of being trapped in life whilst longing for death. The story progresses rapidly, with few references to events from Wicked and Baum’s original Oz. On the road to the Emerald City, Liir bumps into an old crone and her companion, a young boy named Tip. Tip appeared in Baum’s original sequels to Oz and it’s thrilling to see Maguire continue to reference Baum’s original work. Readers of the full series will also know this is an early hint at a future story thread to be tied up in the next two novels.

Overall, Maguire’s sequel provides a welcome return to his vivid but twisted land of Oz. Though it may just be shy of reaching the dizzying awesomeness of Wicked, Son of Witch still dazzles with its story of frustration and belonging. Liir is a suitable replacement protagonist but, pleasingly, the shadow of Elphaba still looms. Fans of the first novel might be frustrated at the inevitable death of Elphaba, but her presence is certainly felt throughout the second book, not just as Oz recovers from her actions, but as her (suggested, never confirmed) son steps into her boots, dons her cloak and takes flight in her name.

Six thousand strong, they cried in unison, hoping that the echo of their message would be heard in the darkest, most cloistered cell in Southstairs as well as the highest office in the Palace of the Emperor.

“Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives!”

The first book on my 2016 reading list was After Alice by Gregory Maguire. Maguire’s signature move is to take familiar tales and flip them on their head. This time it was the turn of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. After Alice begins shortly after Alice has taken that faithful tumble and we join Ada on the search for her friend. Ada encounters Alice’s snooty older sister, Lydia, who is reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream beneath a tree. The story splits off here as we follow both girls in the aftermath of Alice’s disappearance. Ada finds herself crashing into Wonderland whilst Lydia remains above ground, bickering with the Victorian servants and falling for the charms of an American gent.

It’s this split in storytelling that makes After Alice a bit…well…odd. It’s hard for me to criticize Maguire’s work (because I really do think he’s a genius) but I can’t help feeling like After Alice is a bit rushed. The majority of the story takes place above ground in Victorian Oxford. A place which, let’s face it, is considerably less interesting than Wonderland. I found myself hoping that the next chapter would rejoin Ada down under but was disappointed to find another chapter set in the grounds of Alice’s home. It feels like Maguire has wasted an opportunity to Oz-ify Wonderland – expose the darkness and revel in the absurd. That’s what he does best. Ada’s encounters with the inhabitants of Wonderland – particularly the Mad Hatter and the March Hare – do feel wonderfully genuine and reminiscent of Carroll’s original creations. Maguire has certainly captured the quirky style of Carrol but too much time is spent in the real world. It feels like Alice is having all the fun in Wonderland and we’re stuck on the wrong side of the rabbit hole, missing out on one hell of a party.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy this book, it’s just that I was expecting more from it. Wonderland, like Oz, is an impossible place and therefore bursting with possibilities. To get the chance to write in a setting like this is a writers dream and, whilst it’s clear Maguire has a lot of admiration for Carrol’s work, it feels like more could have been made of his opportunity to explore this world. There are some lovely moments – Ada’s freedom from her iron equipment, Siam’s decision to stay and a reference to Victorian’s needing a whacky fantasy novel – and Maguire has created a likeable character in Ada.

The Wonderland stuff works pretty well. It just feels like we should have more of it. The London based stuff is where the novel sinks slightly. A lot of conversations seem more like extracts from a thesis rather than a novel and I’m not really surely what the point of Lydia’s hinted relationship with Mr Winter was. It was an interesting touch to have Charles Darwin appear as a friend of Mr Winter’s and Alice’s father. Darwin and Carrol are two figureheads of the era so Darwin’s presence feels right. His final words on the human being’s capacity for imagination is also a neat way to end the story.

Overall, After Alice is a must for any fan of Maguire or Carroll but don’t expect another Wicked. The front cover declares it a ‘Christmas gift to the dear reader of Wicked in memory of Alice in Wonderland.’ I think this is pretty accurate. I’d be grateful to read any new work from Maguire, particularly if it’s within his fantasy style, and After Alice does feel like a love letter to Carroll’s work, but to not explore Wonderland further, Maguire is clearly mad. Then again, all the best people are.

Warning: This blog contains spoilers.

In the autumn of 2006 I was introduced to what would become my favourite ever book. I’ve made no secret of it in previous posts – I love Wicked and I love Gregory Maguire. Autumn, for me, has become synonymous with Wicked (as each time I’ve seen the show and read the books it has been September/October) and every year I find myself listening to the soundtrack or reaching for the book. Musical aside, what’s special about Wicked is that each time I read it I spot something new. I always take something different from each re-read. My last re-read was in 2012 so I decided I was long overdue a visit to Oz. The story never ceases to capture me and I am always devastated to reach the end. It’s one of those rare books that you cannot get enough of but are wary of visiting too many times in case the magic wears off. (Though, I don’t think that’s possible).

Maguire manages to re-vision Oz in a completely new light to Baum’s world by using vivid and powerful imagery (who would have thought the yellow brick road would be described as ‘a noose’ around Oz? A symbol of its controversial political implications). Maguire’s Oz is magical but it is also a horribly sinister place – which makes it a lot more like our own world. Maguire’s Oz is real. Yes, there’s magic and talking Animals (note the capital) and TikTok robots but there’s also political unrest, discrimination and conspiracy.

One of the brighter highlights of the novel is the relationship between Elphaba and Glinda. In earlier chapters, Glinda’s snooty judgements are often comically countered by a sarcastic sting from Elphaba. As the two settle into a friendship they develop a powerful bond which leaves the reader genuinely saddened when Elphaba sends Glinda back to Shiz, leaving her in the Emerald City. Their brief reunion at Colwen Grounds years later is a treat to read with Elphaba’s spikiness continuing to douse Glinda’s snobbery. By their last meeting, it’s touching to see that Glinda truly cares about Elphaba, a stark contrast to their initial meeting. It’s also poignantly clear that Elphaba cares about Glinda but is too proud and enraged to show it.

From this year’s visit to Oz I picked up to two references to previous Oz stories which I hadn’t noticed before. Firstly, the sands surrounding Oz are said to be considered in some cultures as ‘deadly poison’, a reference to the wheelie’s description of the sand in Return to Oz. I also yelped when I deduced that the famous scene from the movie where the Witch spells ‘Surrender Dorothy’ above the Emerald City could actually be Elphaba asking the Wizard to ‘Surrender Nor to Me’, as she pleads with him at Colwen Grounds. (Oh! I just love Gregory Maguire!)

A major issue throughout Wicked is the struggle between good and evil. Elphaba tells her son, Liir, that ‘evil is always more easily imagined than good’, which links in to my discussion last week about finding villains easier to write. This phrase struck me as an unfortunate truth as, as well as when writing, us humans do tend to focus on the evil within the world and ignore the good. It’s evident in our newspapers, our televisions, even our classrooms sometimes. What is it about evil deeds that fascinate us so much?

Maguire’s main achievement with Wicked is that he casts doubt over the position of the Wicked Witch of the West on the evil-o-metre. Though it could certainly be open to interpretation, I don’t think Elphaba is evil, just a victim of injustice, society and…well…bad luck!  In this latest re-read I really felt for Elphaba in her pre-death descent into paranoia and desperation. She has harboured this urge for forgiveness for years and Sarima slyly refuses her that by befriending her and forbidding her to discuss Fiyero (talk about cold anger!) It hadn’t moved me so much before. Following a life of neglect, failure and loss, it’s no surprise Elphaba sinks into an alcoholic and sleep-deprived madness following her failed attempt to kill Madame Morrible.

Her apparent death at the hands of Dorothy is a final insult and indignity to a modern literary hero.

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