Gregory Maguire loves his strange sex, which that is immediately apparent in the opening of Wicked. As the Witch flies over Dorothy and friends, she hears them trading gossip – the witch is a bereft lover, a lesbian, a man. And Elphaba is born into a world where various sexual identities are already being thrust on her. Her parents want a son and a lot is made of the idea that girls are ‘damaged’ or ‘unwanted.’ Even after she’s born, there is some debate about what her sex is. The Tin Woodsman suggested that she’d been castrated at birth – which she is, symbolically, when the birthing-matter that (maybe) brought on the confusion of her sex is removed.
The other long-running theme in this series is mysterious nature of magic. In this world, magic is never fully understood and no one is ever fully able to control it. Greg handles this mysterious nature brilliantly. The first taste of magic we get in Wicked is the Time Dragon. It is generally understood that the Time Dragon accurately shows the past, present, and the future. But, at the same time, the things it shows are almost never proven to be true and almost everyone who watches the Time Dragon’s little shows consider them to be nonsense. They generally spend a good deal of time explaining rationally how the shows must have been put together. So here we have little Elphaba, who, because of an angry mob, is birthed in the Time Dragon. Is it fate? Is it just happenstance? Is this what gives her some inclination towards magic? The beauty of it is that we’re never sure.
Elphaba’s father, Frex, a minister, is fighting to divert the villagers away from the Time Dragon, as he sees it as an apparatus of the ‘pleasure faith.’ Elphaba is clearly a spiteful child and her birth in the apparatus her father is fighting against knits in very well with that. It is also this failure to protect his people that starts to break Frex. From here on out, his and Melena’s banter moves from lightly scathingly to actively unpleasant. Elphaba’s green skin color also ratchets up the tension as Melena begins to resent her husband’s long forays away from the house. We learn she has her own history of sexual promiscuity, bringing into doubt Elphaba’s parentage – another long running idea in the series. Melena may have been drugged and raped – drugged specifically with something that made her dream of the Otherworld (here, our world). Melena also grows more and more isolated, as she fears letting the rest of the village see her child.
A lot of the opening is on Melena and Frex trying to cope with having this kind of child in a small village. Frex wonders on his failures and Melena grows increasingly into hers. In other words, the trauma of the situation is given appropriate breathing space.