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Can Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West help us learn Empathy?

By: Abigail Trevino

I never thought that I would find myself empathizing with a VILLIAN.

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is the first novel in Gregory Maguire's The Wicked Years. It takes the story and characters from L. Frank Baum’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and completely flips the story. Unlike The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is not for children; this book contains adult language and content including violent imagery and sexual situations. We recommend that anyone under 10th grade check with your parents before reading this!

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West is a novel about the political,social, and ethical commentary on the nature of Evil. The story takes place in The Land of Oz, years before Dorothy’s arrival. The story centers on Elphaba Thropp, the misunderstood green-skinned girl who we later learn becomes the notorious Wicked Witch of the West.

Here are some discussion questions that will help you on the reading journey!

  1. When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum's classic tale, we heard only her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

  2. Gregory Maguire fashioned the name of Elphaba (pronounced EL-fa-ba) from the initials of the author of The Wizard of Oz, Lyman Frank Baum-L-F-B-Elphaba. Wicked derives some of its power from the popularity of its source material. Does meeting up with familiar characters and famous fictional situations require more patience and effort on the part of the reader, or less?

  3. Wicked flips the Oz we knew from the classic movie on its head. To what extent does Maguire's vision of Oz contradict the Oz we're familiar with? How have Dorothy and the other characters changed or remained the same? Has Wicked changed your conception of the original? If so, how?

  4. What is the significance of Elphaba's green skin? What are the rewards of being so different, and what are the drawbacks? In Oz — and in the real world — what are the meanings associated with the color green, and are any of them pertinent to Elphaba's character?

  5. One of Wicked's key themes is the nature and roots of evil. What are the theories that Maguire sets out? Is Elphaba evil? Are her actions evil? Is there such a thing as evil, a free-floating power in the universe like time or gravity? Or is evil an attribute of the actions of human beings? (Hint: Turn to pages 231 and 370 for scenes that will draw you into the conversation.)

  6. The place of Animals in society is an important theme in Wicked. Why does Elphaba make it her mission to fight for Animal rights? How else does social class define Oz, and why?

  7. Early in their unlikely friendship, Galinda catches a glimpse of Elphaba and thinks she "looked like something between an animal and an Animal, like something more than life but not quite Life" (pages 78-79). Discuss the dual, and sometimes contradictory, nature of Elphaba's character. Why does Elphaba insist that she doesn't have a soul?

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