By: Gregory Maguire
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: November 2011
Reviewed by: Barbara Ardinger
Review Date: January 6, 2012
We first learned about the mysterious land of Oz in 1900 when Lyman Frank Baum wrote what Michael Patrick Hearn, the editor of The Annotated Wizard of Oz, calls America’s classic juvenile fantasy. “When The Wizard was first published,” Hearn writes, "children loved it, though more than half a century would pass before critics, educators, and librarians would finally recognize its merits" (pg. xi). Baum followed up with a series of Oz books, a Broadway play, and a silent movie, and then there came the famous 1939 movie starring Judy Garland (at age 17 playing a 10-year-old child). Then along came Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) by Gregory Maguire, and then Wicked the Musical (2003 and still touring), starting Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth. Next up was Maguire’s Son of a Witch (2005) and A Lion Among Men (2008). Just in case you don’t already know, the 1939 movie is a lot different from Baum’s original book, and Wicked the Musical is considerably different from Maguire’s novel.
But Maguire keeps in step with the parade. There are allusions to the musical in the later novels, and one of the many fascinating details in Out of Oz is the arrival of Dorothy back in Oz. Dorothy sings. A lot.
The protagonist of Out of Oz is not Dorothy, of course, but young Rain, granddaughter of Elphaba and Fiyero. Their son was Liir, who “married” Candle. Their daughter is Rain. Unlike the Technicolor movie, these are not cheery books. Maguire writes about a darker side of Oz than we saw in 1939. His novels are about (among other things) ignored or deserted children. Maguire’s Elphaba, who is much less sympathetic than the musical’s green girl, gives birth to Liir and then ignores him because she’s so busy being a protester. He is hiding in the castle, along with the Cowardly Lion, when Dorothy pours the famous bucket of water on the wicked witch. Liir’s story is sad and ambiguous, and so is the story of his daughter, who was first enchanted to change her green skin to pale white and then handed over to Lady Glinda. Rain spends most of her first decade in Glinda’s house as a sort of servant girl.
Out of Oz is set during the war between Munchkinland and Loyal Oz. When Glinda is placed under house arrest, she and Rain escape and use the Grimmerie to strike a blow at their captor. Soon Rain is on her own until she meets the company of the Clock of the Time Dragon (which is a stunning part of the stage set in the musical). Carrying the Grimmerie hidden in the Clock, they travel through Oz, pick up Liir and Candle, and travel some more. Rain is put in a school that is worse than the university in the musical, but she manages to escape. After Dorothy arrives via the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, she meets Rain et al. and is put on trial in Munchkinland for the murders of the two witches. Rain travels some more. If you know anything about minor characters in Baum’s Oz books (look them up on Wikipedia), you’ll see how Maguire uses two of them to move his plot. If you’ve seen the musical, you know that Elphaba and Fiyero went into hiding; in Out of Oz, people keep asking if Elphaba is coming back. No spoiler here—but there is a green girl flying on a broom above Oz at the end of the book.
There’s more than just adventures in Maguire’s novels. First, there are the illustrations by Douglas Smith, whose map of Oz became the stage curtain for the musical. Out of Oz opens with copious front matter: “A Note to Readers,” a chronology of the Wicked years; maps of Shiz, Gillikin, and the Emerald City; family trees of significant families of Oz, including the House of Ozma and the Thropps of Munchkinland; a “brief outline of the Throne Ministers of Oz”; and the prologue, in which Dorothy, Auntie Em, and Uncle Henry are visiting San Francisco in April, 1906. All of this is not only interesting, but it also helps readers get up to speed. Like the first three novels, Out of Oz is complexly plotted, beautifully written, and filled with allusions. It’s a wonderful reading.
Quill says: Out of Oz ends with a quotation from “Atlantis,” a poem by Todd Hearon, and a line from “Duck Variations” by Ron MacLean. “…we must learn to live a secondary life in an unmarked world.” Is Maguire hinting that Oz might be that fabled lost island described by Plato?