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.”