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Gregory Maguire and the novel Wicked

Gregory MaguireAbout ninety years after L. Frank Baum penned The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Gregory Maguire sat in a tiny London apartment, brewing up a name for the central figure of the novel he had recently conceived: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. His witch became "Elphaba" [pronounced EL-fuh-buh] after L.F.B.—the initials of L. Frank Baum. His original intention was to make her evil, and to explore how her wickedness evolved from childhood. However, as Gregory comments in an interview published in the Grimmerie, he changed his mind when he began describing her as a baby. "...the minute that Elphaba appeared on the page—sharp-tooth, smelling like dog urine, appearing more of a beast than a human being—I couldn't help but love her as a parent loves a child. I couldn't make her as bad as I originally thought she was going to be. But I couldn't make her a saint either."

Gregory Maguire in London [Photo: Gregory Maguire in London, sometime in the early 1990s]

Maguire completed his Oz-based psychological novel in five months. Published by Regan Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, it quickly found an audience after its release in 1995, selling an estimated 400,000 copies before news of a musical version ever hit the presses.

Dr. Gregory Maguire, (he holds a Ph.D. in English and Literature) was born in Albany, New York in 1954. He began writing stories at the age of seven. His mother died in childbirth. He adds: "Then I lived with relatives for a short time, and then in an orphanage for a while, all of which gives me the Dickensian slant to my biography." His father married his late wife's best friend and they collected the four to form a new home. They eventually adding three more children to the crowd.

Maguire has no memory of the period he spent at an orphanage, yet the theme of abandonment and orphanhood has worked its way into several of his books, including "Wicked." He suggests that subconsciously, he must have always been curious about the life of abandoned and lost children.

Elphaba of the novel is daughter of Melena, but the real father is in question, (settled on the final page of the book). Melena's husband Frex, an annoyingly serious and ineffectual minister, assumes the role of father. The girl is odd from the beginning, and her first word at age two is "Horrors." Nine chapters in, the green-skinned girl finds herself an outcast at wizardry school, not so exotic as Hogwarts School of the Harry Potter books, but in that direction. She is assigned to be roommates with Galinda [who later becomes Glinda] and the story progresses from there.

Gregory Maguire in UK[Photo: Gregory Maguire creating music of his own -- photo from around 1992 or 1993 when he wrote Wicked]

When working on the text, Maguire says he purposely didn't go back and see the movie again partly because he was living in England and it wasn't available on video. For another thing, he didn't want to be slavish to the movie. "I had read the book as a child and had loved the book as much as I loved the movie. And that was in the days before VCRs so I didn't have access to the movie whenever I wanted it. I watched it when it was on TV with my parents and it stuck in my head because they let us watch very little TV. So I purposely didn't base it on the movie."

Wizard of Oz interests:

As a child he played Scarecrow in neighbourhood reenactments of the movie, The Wizard of Oz. But he wasn't a big fan of the film version. He told an interviewer: "I wanted Dorothy to shut up. . . And Glinda! She steps out in this prom gown from some era that we never lived in, and with that helium voice, lies to her, when she knows all along the ruby slippers will take her home instantly and that Dorothy doesn't have to suffer anything. That lie, on top of the Wizard's lies, made me furious as a kid. And of course I grew up in the shadow of Vietnam, when boys I knew were being sent to kill the Wicked Witch of the Vietcong, by Nixon, who wouldn't come out of the White House and who wouldn't answer questions."

The Impulse for Wicked

Maguire is sharp and has a dark artistic sensibility, acknowledging, as he says, "We live in dark times." He doesn't shrink from tough topics. He writes about the origins of his novel Wicked, that at the time he was living in London in the early 1990's during the start of the Gulf War. After reacting to a headline about Saddam Hussein, he started pondering the nature of infamy and evil. "I became interested in the nature of evil, and whether one really could be born bad. I considered briefly writing a novel about Hitler, but discarded the notion due to my general discomfort with the reality of those times. But when I realized that nobody had ever written about the second most evil character in our collective American subconscious, the Wicked Witch of the West, I thought I had experienced a small moment of inspiration."

Did he answer his questions about the nature of evil? Gregory told a reporter, "The only thing I was sure of by the time I got to the end of writing `Wicked' was that I am convinced that anybody who does what might be considered an evil act - that is, cause harm willfully to another human being - has on some level a component of self-disgust and self-hatred. ... Somewhere in the heart of that person - whether it is a mass murderer or a playground bully - there is some part that can't tolerate something about himself or herself." He adds a comment about another level of evil: "The truth is there is a lot of evil perpetrated by institutions in which no single individual ever takes responsibility, and the evil an institution can do is mammoth."

Maguire books

Gregory Maguire booksGregory Maguire books at

Gregory Maguire had written a dozen novels for children before launching his first adult novel, Wicked. A lifelong devotee of children's fantasy (he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject), Maguire's subsequent novels for adults are variations-on-a-theme: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (made into an ABC movie starring Stockard Channing) considers Cinderella as a seventeenth century maid from Haarlem; Lost evokes the ghost of Charles Dickens's Scrooge; and Mirror Mirror concerns a High Renaissance Snow White trapped in a household governed by the scheming Borgias. His Wicked Sequel, Son of A Witch came out in 2005. Originally from Albany, NY, Maguire lives outside Boston with his partner, the painter Andy Newman, and their three children. For more information on Gregory and his work, visit
Carol's Wicked UK Site. Carol is also webmaster for the official fan site for Wicked's composer Stephen Schwartz


Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Wicked logo.
NEW - European Edition just released

Wicked novel - European edition
--Hardcover (February 6, 2006), Publisher: Headline Review. Supposedly has green-edged pages in honor of the green central character.