It takes someone with chutzpah and cojones to take on L Frank Baum’s Oziad for a fan-fiction series. Luckily, Gregory Maguire has these, plus an over-abundance of talent which he shows in his Wicked Years series.
I’ve just finished the final installment, which changed my mind about what Maguire has done with Baum’s characters. Until yesterday, I swore that his Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister was his most interesting retooling of a well-known tale (in that case, Cinderella), but the final chapter of his homage to Oz kept me awake long after I’d closed the book and turned out the light.
I expect I don’t need to say much about Wicked (1995): popular book, musical and (soon, they say) film. In this prequel to Baum’s Wizard of Oz, Maguire provides a positive spin for the Wicked Witch of the West that would make a political manager envious. I don’t think I’m the only reader ending the series with the hopes that Elphaba somehow was NOT melted by little Dorothy.
Then there’s Son of a Witch (2005), about Liir, offshoot of Elphaba and her lover Fiyero (from the Vinkus). Liir is an reluctant hero, pushed here and there by characters and forces, all the time denying his heritage.
After that comes A Lion Among Men (2008), about Brr the Cowardly Lion. Brr, another character who falls into disaster with each attempt to escape danger, is also an orphaned protagonist (that familiar trope) trying to figure out who he is both before and after Dorothy’s first sojourn in Oz.
These first three books of Maguire’s Oz series are fun, full of obvious and obscure references to Baum’s books and the well-known 1939 film, and with a few IMPORTANT themes: love, equality, how the mighty fall, and so on. Characters cycle in and out, and then in again (encouraging us to hope for Elphaba’s reappearance).
But all this changes with the 4th book, Out of Oz (2011), about Liir’s daughter Rain. The cycles ratchet up, in the story-telling equivalent of a geometric progression. The themes become subtler, more challenging — permanence and change, attachment and dissolution, ephemeral moments and inexorable time, surprise and disappointment.
Totaling about 1600 pages, this series will occupy your reading energies for quite a while. Read them all, for each is a necessary part of Maguire’s creation. As one of his Animal characters says, “… when you get right down to it, every collection of letters is a magic spell, even if it’s a moronic proclamation by the Emperor. Words have their impact….”