Just read "Wicked: the Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West". This after we saw Wicked in London as part of our summer Europe trip. My cousin Christopher plays the drums and various other percussion pieces in that production.
The musical is a blast. We had great seats, the music and singing were fabulous, the staging sometimes overwhelming, the kids loved it, Chris showed us around a little bit... what fun.
When we got back, we got the music, and now the kids have mostly memorized all the songs. It's slightly disturbing seeing my 4 year old singing "No one mourns the wicked".
Martha got the book out of the library, and we both read it. Like all tragedies, it's frustrating. It's a vastly more complex and subtle story than the musical. If you're reading this but haven't read the book or seen the musical, see the musical first, as it'll be tough to enjoy after the book. And don't read the rest of this post.
Like most things that I really like, I wanted the book to be better. In particular, a good tragedy should make me feel the inertia of doom, the sense that the characters are carrying themselves towards their downfall. In the book, there was definitely some of that, but I also got the feeling that doom was coming in the form of spunky little Dorothy Gale, and that the characters were bending their wills to the needs of that other story arc. So that wasn't as impressive. And why the hell couldn't a smart girl like Elphaba convert the tactical (and unsuspected) advantage of being able to fly on a broom into a way to pick off the wizard and his chief lieutenants.
The part that I really liked was how Elphaba's desire to do good was a significant part of what drove her to her doom. I find myself strongly agreeing with the idea that the desire to do good is not good in itself, and can actually lead to evil. If you want to be good you have to actually *do* it.
But there were so many things to love about the book. The dialog, the political machinations, tictocism, Elphaba's reaction to Dorothy asking for the forgiveness that Elphaba herself had been denied... I love reading an author who has insights way past my own.