In recent times, Gregory Maguire has written a mountain of satirical books about Oz. This literary undertaker is somebody I’ve never particularly wanted to see in print. When I first saw the book in bookstores in my teens, I thought it was the only worse book than it would eventually turn out to be: Poor little Elphaba started out all sweetness and light until a cruel society warped her into being the mean, green, child-hating machine she is in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Truthfully, I thought the life of Adolf Hitler proved it: yes, you could be abused and grow up to be an even worse jerk than the man who raised you. No, I don’t feel any need to feel sorry for the person who does. I do not care that deeply where jerks come from. Anyway, the play came and went and I begged my mom and sister NOT to take me, and happily they honored that wish.
Finally, it had to happen: at my synagogue, an acquaintance was even related to the guy who was putting on the play. I agreed to go. I am still mad that I had to pay my own way to see a play I did not like. Anyway, after seeing it, I thought and thought and finally did it: I bought a copy of the movie The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (I already owned a copy of the book). I re-watched the film (I saw it first in grade school). I reread the book version. I read the original Wicked. I decided there was no reason for Wicked to be written: Dorothy was the most feminist heroine of the Victorian era, and I still loved her as much as when I was a kid.
Gregory Maguire’s main premise that 1) the words “good” and “evil” have no meaning; and 2) the destruction he does to the beautiful books and film that children should be allowed to enjoy in peace. These two things are interrelated, but I will focus on the second at least at first. The Oz books are perfectly suited–as are “Cinderella” and Alice in Wonderland, two other books are lampooned–are particularly suited to a child’s imagination.
I remember as a little girl, I had no trouble liking and admiring Dorothy. I even liked that she had brown hair and brown eyes, because instead of being a radiant beauty or a Shirley Temple, she ordinary looking little girl. Her courage, wisdom and kindness were hidden beneath the surface and fleshed out more extensively in the book than the movie. Though I did not see it myself, I like to think L. Frank Baum there has even been an African American version of the play made.
Now, I spoke of Dorothy’s virtues. I like to think her friends–the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion–all had the good traits they esteemed and desired–the Scarecrow already wise; the Tin Woodman already kind; and the Cowardly Lion already brave–and simply needed to prove it to themselves. So it is that though the Wizard in the book tricked them, all was not lost: they found their salvation within. And Dorothy, who wanted to go home already but needed to prove it already. Dorothy, of course, was already “good.” I have read all the Oz books; two biographies; Finding Dorothy; and a few other things, and this interpretation of Oz is what I firmly believe.
The book teaches a child reading it that she has inner strength and character. So does the character. So does the film. It teaches a child reading it that she has inner strength and character. So does the film. It teachers her to overcome evil (the witch) she must be true to herself. After all, to recognize that she loved Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and wanted to go home was to admit she was wrong to leave them. As beautiful as Oz is, the film recognizes that we cannot live there. And though L. Frank Baum was a free thinker who dabbled in theosophy and believed in reincarnation, his book seems to echo the idea that we are all searching for a sacred place of sorts,
The Earth is not my home, I’m only passing through.
I personally believe we are all searching for a final destination outside of this world, which we cannot find in all the things we acquire.
As for good and evil, I think it is a given that no person gets all of what they want, and that the person who seems to have “everything” is often sad, and spoiled and sick. (This is my own diagnosis of Donald Trump. For all I never see myself as very liberal anymore, I don’t like the man.) Sometimes less is more. So it goes without saying that to want to sleep with another man’s wife is sinful, and to actually consummate the idea, evil.
Yet it must be pointed out that in the book “evil” is translated to mean “sexual.” I refuse to believe the worst crimes a person can commit are even sexual in nature. Murder and genocide are more evil than adultery, and need to be condemned forthrightly. So, too, is terrorism, though we are not always as innocent as we assume. And in our personal lives, slander and gossip can place a wedge between us and those we love. Evil is not just a one night stand, though that is bad. It is those deeds which truly hurt ourselves or others.
One last thought. I picked up a children’s book recommended by Gregory Maguire. It was about a squirrel. I could not tell what the appeal of the book was supposed to be. Now, this may not prove much: I don’t “get” Edith Nesbit, either, and many children love her work. However, Maguire may be proving his lack of understanding of children in pillaring a great and loved classic of children’s fiction. However, Maguire is an adult writer writing for adults and I don’t believe he has any special understanding or interest in children at all. That understanding is part of what made L. Frank Baum such a treasure in the first place.
That is why I ask the reader to skip the Wicked series. It harms L. Frank Baum’s memory; it destroys the happy memories of childhood that many have; and it creates a toxic belief that there is no difference between right and wrong and that there is no God in Heaven.