Out of Oz

By Gregory Maguire

The Short Take:

Subtitled The Final Volume in the Wicked Years, Maguire concludes his unique take on the original Oz novels created by Frank Baum. As with the three previous novels in this series, his writing is as much about ideas, political maneuvering, and self awareness as it is about the story line; though there is plenty of plot. As usual, Maguire’s writing is outstanding and every other page includes a line worthy of serious contemplation.

Why?

First of all, you really need to start with Wicked, the first book in this series. Seeing the musical won’t cut it. As entertaining as the play is, it just barely breaks the surface of the novel’s complexity. If you don’t read these books in order, you’re missing quite a bit.

Maguire’s Oz is a dangerous place with political struggles, religious differences, and restless territories ready to revolt. In this last book, he brings most of his key characters together for a grand finale. Even Dorothy gets to play a genuine role (she only made a brief “cameo” appearance in book one). However, ultimately, the ending doesn’t feel all that final; but I’m honestly not sure if that is good or bad.

Regardless, the journey is magical. Maguire’s flawed and struggling characters have difficulties in their relationships as well as trouble dealing with their individual pain. As they journey together (and separately) in search of safety and understanding, they painfully bump up against each other seeking love and companionship but finding it hard to give in return.

It’s a rich and rewarding book that bears actually little resemblance to the Baum masterpiece other than character names. While the tone of the book is rather somber — war and deadly danger usually are — Maguire inserts playful references to the legendary film and includes wise-cracking characters like Iskinaary the Goose and Dorothy herself. These help balance the mood as well as surprise others in the room when you emit a yelp of laughter.

The Wicked Years is no fairy tale series. If it weren’t for the Oz names and the talking Animals (not to be confused with regular, lower-case animals), you could be reading a Russian novel. That’s what makes these books so special.

A Little Plot:

If you haven’t read the other books this will mean nothing to you.

Liir’s daughter, Rain, has been lodged with Glinda for protection. However, with Oz invading the recently independent Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest. Rain is in danger, as is the sought-after book of spells that belonged to Rain’s grandmother, the Wicked Witch of the West. Fortunately, the Cowardly Lion shows up just in time. Maybe.

There’s a lot of traveling to different places, the reunification and breaking apart of families, trials and tribulations, friendships, and dramatic transformations. But start with Wicked. Seriously.

For more about Gregory Maguire and his books, click here.

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