Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gregory Maguire: Wicked

The lovely Ms. L.-H chose the phenomenally successful Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (published 1995) as her inaugural book club selection. I finished it yesterday while I was on the bus, oddly. It is quite unsatisfying to finish a novel while lurching along breathing in the odors of strangers. But I digress.

Ms. L.-H is the group’s newbie and chose one of her dearest favorites to share with us. In our Book Club the custom is that one member hosts at her home and whips up a scrumptious meal to get our literary cogs turning, while another member leads the discussion about the book of her choice. If you host, you don't have to fuss with prepping a discussion (actually we rarely need any grease for our booky-talk hinges). Everyone gets to proffer their book selections; and we take turns preparing our homes and dinner tables. The sharing of books and our culinary talents (or experiments, in my case) works for our group.

I should clarify, for the record, that I am actually not attending Book Club this year. You see, Book Club is in South Bend, Indiana. I am in Boston, Massachusetts. While I would love to find a grant that supports my desire to travel for Book Club, it hasn’t happened. Apparently, Oprah just hasn’t read my letter stipulating my wildest dream and why she should make it come true. I understand; Oprah is quite busy. All those needy kids in Africa—I bet she reads their precious little letters first. Alas. Did I just digress, again?

Yes, Ms. L-H, it is true that I had to deal with a bit of personal reluctance before I dove into Wicked. I am a Kansas girl, born and bred on the tales of the plucky young Dorothy. Yes, I owned a Cairn Terrier—the exact same breed as darling Toto. My Toto was named: Haley’s Comet (check your astrology charts and you can do a complicated story problem to figure out my age when I welcomed little Haley into our Kansas acreage.) Little Haley went the way of the car accident and we buried her on a gentle hill near the road. But you didn’t log in to read dead-dog stories.

My point is this: I grew up with the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch of the West. I am sure many readers are drawn to the tale precisely because of their great familiarity with and love for the characters and its fantasy. I was hesitant, however, to jump into a long novel about a story that I already “knew” and LOVED.

But I love Ms. L-H too. It was a terrible triangle: me, the Wicked Witch of my childhood and my passionate devotion to Book Club. I gave in. And. . .I am glad that I did. I am glad to have been goaded into reading a fantasy.

I have to say, honestly, that I did really get into the Wicked Witch. I think Maguire did a convincing job creating a fully realized character for her. She was the star of my reading. The discussion of EVIL, on the other hand, just got annoying. Don’t get me wrong, I love EVIL (really, I studied it in college. no really.), but here I felt it was a bit forced.

I wanted adventure, intrigue. I wanted to feel delight. I wanted to empathize with the witch. I didn’t want to think about the nature of evil or her “baptism” at the end. She died. End of story. She was not baptized. I know, I know that I should/could think more deeply about the ideas in the novel. But I don’t want to. I want to read this one for pleasure. Don’t make me think. I love Maguire when he lets me gallop along in his fantasy land. I love him not so much when he tries to get too deep.

Recommendation: Yes, read it. It is a perfect bedside/planeride read. Here are some of the little jewels you will delight in down the yellow brick road. . .

Memorable Lines
(page numbers taken from paperback edition)

"He meant this, and for such intensity she had fallen in love with him; but she hated him for it too, of course." (9)

"She reasoned that because she was beautiful she was significant, though she what she signified, and to whom, was not clear to her yet." (65)

"The broad, offensive panoply of life and Life, seamlessly intertwined." (75)

"Walk softly but marry a big prick." (161)

"I do not listen when anyone uses the word immoral," said the Wizard. "In the young it is ridiculous, in the old it is sententious and reactionary and an early sign of apoplexy. In the middle-aged, who love and fear the idea of moral life the most, it is hypocritical." (175)

"When the times are a crucible, when the air is full of crisis," she said, "those who are the most themselves are the victims." (238)

"Poets are just as responsible for empire building as any other professional hacks." (320)

"Maybe the definition of home is the place where you are never forgiven, so you may always belong there, bound by guilt. And maybe the cost of belonging is worth it." (377)

Intriguing words

gawp (67; 167)
Function: intransitive verb
Etymology: English dialect gawp to yawn, gape, from obsolete galp, from Middle English

etiolate (108) A perfect way to describe a blanched green witch!
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -lat·ed; -lat·ing
Etymology: French étioler
1 : to bleach and alter the natural development of (a green plant) by excluding sunlight
2 a : to make pale b : to deprive of natural vigor : make feeble

voluble as in volubly weeping (142)
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle French or Latin; Middle French, from Latin volubilis, from volvere to roll; akin to Old English wealwian to roll, Greek eilyein to roll, wrap
1 : easily rolling or turning : ROTATING
2 : characterized by ready or rapid speech : GLIB, FLUENT
synonym see TALKATIVE

glower used as glowery (161) to describe the weather
Function: noun
: a sullen brooding look of annoyance or anger

splenetic (171)
Function: adjective
Etymology: Late Latin spleneticus, from Latin splen spleen
1 archaic : given to melancholy
2 : marked by bad temper, malevolence, or spite

sententious (175)
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, full of meaning, from Latin sententiosus, from sententia sentence, maxim
1 a : given to or abounding in aphoristic expression b : given to or abounding in excessive moralizing
2 : terse, aphoristic, or moralistic in expression : PITHY,

camels in glittering caparisons (236)
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French caparaçon, from Old Spanish caparazón
1 a : an ornamental covering for a horse b : decorative trappings and harness
2 : rich clothing : ADORNMENT

parlous (361)
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, alteration of perilous
1 obsolete : dangerously shrewd or cunning
2 : full of danger or risk : HAZARDOUS

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