I’m doing this in stages for the Wicked series, because Gregory Maguire so kindly divides the books up. So, this review focuses on the first parts, “Munchkinlanders.” I’m doing the reviews this way because the book was very heavy later on and I want to be able to sit down and think everything through, so hopefully, I don’t miss any of the major points.
I mentioned in my other post, “NEXT!” that Maguire’s books (and all of them, not just the Wicked series, but Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror, Mirror as well) make me stop and think. Wicked in particular as a great deal of levels to it. “Munchkinlanders” is about Elphaba’s (you know, the Wicked Witch of the West) birth and toddlerhood. She is born to a unionist minister and his wife, who was a society lady; she is also born on the night that her father is disgraced by a “pleasure faith,” tiktokism, represented by the Clock of the Time Dragon.
The basic premise of the first part is young Elphaba, who is green and born with a full set of teeth and carefully avoids water, clearly not like other children, and her toddlerhood. She and her mother live outside of the town while her father travels, finding himself. When Elphaba is nearly two, a Quadling glassblower named Turtle Heart ends up at their house and stays with them. The readers are also introduced to Nanny, who tries to care for Elphaba and acclimate her to other children when her mother seems reluctant too. But Elphaba is clearly a strange child.
Maybe it’s reading the book for a third time or maybe it’s easier for me to understand the beginning, but I comprehend the religious and political overtones in this section of the book. When Frex, Elphaba’s father, begins to explain the various religions, they make sense. There’s Lurline, which is the pagan religion of Oz, unionist, which has become the primary religion and follows the Unnamed God and also has a figurehead in the Ozma whom is the ruler of Oz, and the pleasure faiths and tiktokism, which is a fatalism religion. Somehow I missed a lot of this the first time I read Wicked.
The other part of “Munchkinlanders” comes at the end of the section, when the characters are discussing the politics of the county. The current Ozma is only three and her father is the Ozma Regent. He is working on building a large yellow brick road throughout the entire country, which will make it easier to collect taxes and move troops. The building of this road is meeting resistance in some areas, such as Quadling Country, where the land is very marsh-like and boggy and difficult to build roads. The reader is told that there are also rubies in the marshes and the Quadlings worry about what the discovery of the stones will mean for their land. It hones in on the fact that Oz is a real country, so to speak. There are sections, such as the industry in Gillikin, the farmlands in Munchkinland, the desert of Winkie Country and the marshes of Quadling land; each section has its attributes and issues with the other sections. There’s a ruler and an agenda and religions that bring Oz to life, beyond the brief glimpse that Dorothy saw.
It also touches on the political unrest that will come in the rest of the book. After Turtle Heart explains the situation about the road and rubies in his homeland, he mentions that many of the Quadlings have “seen” that a stranger will come to Oz and that this stranger will be a danger to the country. Elphaba also sees the horrors in the glass that Turtle Heart made for her; the stranger comes from the air and the Regent will fall.
The upset in greater Oz is not the only foreshadowing. After Elphaba was born, Nanny went to an old witch and the witch as foreseen great things for Elphaba and her sister, although Nanny doesn’t tell the mother that the next child will also be a girl. But these two sisters will be part of history. Which we already know.