Wicked – Part 2

The last chapter in part one of Wicked is Darkness Abroad and it starts all of the macro-plot elements that will move the rest of the story forward – specifically the coming of the wizard and the fight for Quadling rights. As is the way of plots, this momentum is created by everything going horribly wrong. Up until this point, Wicked hasn’t really had a plot – although exploring Elphaba’s childhood is important both in understanding that she wasn’t horribly abused by monstrous parents and in giving a glimpse of the sexual/religious/political/fate bound background she did in fact come from. Also the writing is just great and it was fun to read.

But let’s mostly talk about tone. Greg does a great job of building ever-increasing tension and fear in Darkness Abroad, albeit a little melodramatic at times. So let’s break it down piece by piece.

By now, a Quadling named Turtle Heart has ingratiated himself into the life of Elphaba’s family and is liked by pretty much everyone. In answer to why Turtle Heart left Quadling country, he responds, “Horrors” (which is a pretty great word for creating the appropriate tone. If I was a linguist I could probably tell you why). A few lines later, Elphaba picks up the word and continually interjects it into the conversation as things grow gloomier. It is of course wildly foreboding that this is Elphaba’s first word.

As Melena suddenly fears that everything is going to change, she and Nanny attempt to turn the conversation away. But it is at this point that Elphaba says “Horrors,” throwing the room into silence and ruining Melena’s last chance to keep things the same.

Turtle Heart describes how the Quadlings keep their delicate country intact and how the Emerald City is going to destroy it. Because Turtle Heart’s speech pattern is very different from ours, it allows him to create a greater sense of wonder and impending doom, especially as his language become more poetic, “Rubies under the water. Red as pigeon blood…Quadlings to say: The blood of Oz.” He speaks of learning of future horrors through magic – which has been infrequent enough throughout the rest of the story to still have a strong sense of wonder to it – saying, “As the water to run red with rubies it will to run red with the blood of Quadlings.”

In response to Turtle Heart, Melena and Frex grow increasingly tense, attempting to deny his claims. When Frex suggests they move to Quadling country, Melena screeches at the idea and hastily reveals her pregnancy. Although it’s not made clear if Frex believes Turtle Heart is the father, nonetheless, his response is, “‘Congratulations,’ he said coldly.” Just as Elphaba’s birth pushed a wedge into their relationship, so will another strange child.

As everyone heads off to bed, Nanny tells Melena that she went to an alchemist named Yackle, who predicted that Melena’s child will be an important part of history – so grows the sense of large and important things to come, things that will change the nature of the story.

As everyone heads off to bed, Elphaba goes missing and further throws everyone into a panic, only egged along by Nanny declaring, “It’s the prowling hour” and “Punishment for your wicked ways, you two-faced hedonists.” When they find Elphaba, the whole chapter coalesces into an unexplainable, wonderful, terrifying moment of Elphaba crouched in the arms of a tiger, her eye unnaturally hollow, staring into Turtle Heart’s magic glass, continually whispering “Horrors.”

Wicked – Part 1

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.