Columns > Published on October 24th, 2011

A Recap Of... The Wicked Universe

Out of Oz marks Gregory Maguire’s fourth and final book in the series beginning with his brilliant, beloved Wicked. Maguire’s Wicked universe is richly complex, politically contentious, and filled to the brim with nuanced characters—all of which is wonderful to read but super tough to remember. Out of Oz is released on November 1st, and readers have a lot to recall if they’re going to travel that labyrinthine yellow brick road once more. So put your dog in your basket or hop on that broom, and let’s go see the Wizard!

(SPOILERS if you haven’t read the books.)

"Wicked" by Gregory Maguire"Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West" (1995)

The maligned and misjudged, green-skinned Elphaba is born in drought-stricken Munchkinland, where she grows up pinched, unpopular, and startlingly clever. At seventeen she’s accepted into the prestigious Shiz University where she rooms with the high-born and frivolous Galinda. After the girls and their friends become immersed in political intrigue at school, the newly named Glinda and Elphaba travel to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard, because they’re still young enough to think that will accomplish something. It doesn’t, obviously, but Elphaba stays in the city and becomes a political activist. She falls in love with her former schoolmate Fiyero, but he’s murdered due to her terrorist leanings, and Elphaba retires to a cloistered community (called a mauntery) as penance. She eventually travels to the secluded stronghold of Fiyero’s family to ask for forgiveness, and makes the Vinkus castle of Kiamo Ko her home--at which point Dorothy enters the story. Elphaba just wants her sister Nessarose’s shoes back after Dorothy whops Nessa on the head with a house and walks off with them, and well, you pretty much know the rest of the story.

Stuff to Know:

Sentient, capitalized Animals that can talk and reason are fighting for their rights to be treated as first-class citizens rather than beasts of burden, and they’re facing discrimination and government-endorsed intolerance. Elphaba fights for their acceptance and opposes the oppressive authority of the Wizard, because she is awesome.

Wait what? Right, the Wizard’s not just a humbug; he’s also kind of evil. And he’s probably Elphaba’s real dad, because her fellas-loving mom remembers hooking up with a humbuggy stranger who stopped by the house nine months before Elphaba’s unusual birth.

The Clock of the Time Dragon is an enchanted mechanical device that foresees the future and reveals the secrets of the present by means of a bawdy puppet show, which is totally the most fun kind of oracle.

The Grimmerie is a massive, ancient tome found within the walls of Kiamo Ko after another (okay, probably the same) humbuggy stranger left it there. The book is written in a secret, swirling language that Elphaba slowly deciphers in order to achieve magic. Both the Grimmerie and the Clock of the Time Dragon are featured throughout the Wicked series.

Characters to Know:

Elphaba Thropp: Our prickly protagonist, green-skinned, beset with bad luck, and not really so wicked as all that. She is allergic to water and to stupidity.

Galinda: Known to you as Glinda the Good Witch, she’s wealthy and flippant, hiding a loyal heart and shrewd head.

Nessarose Thropp: Elphaba’s armless and insufferably pious sister. After school she becomes the political figure known as the Eminence of the East, or as the Munchkins call her, The Wicked Witch of the East. She gets herself house-smushed but good.

Nanny: She has raised three generations of Thropps and travels with Nessa to Shiz to watch over the sisters. She’s sharp-tongued but affectionate and hella old.

Fiyero: A prince of the Vinkus Arjiki clan. He was married at a very young age to Sarima, but he falls in love with Elphaba after he discovers her hiding in the Emerald City. Her political associations result in his being killed.

Melena Thropp: Elphaba’s mother, the granddaughter of the Eminent Thropp of Munchkinland. She’s bored and shallow, having married a poor minister and regretted it her whole life. She treats Elphaba with distant affection and sleeps with pretty much everything. She’s also a casual drug addict.

Frexspar the Godly: Frex is Melena’s husband, an ineffectual if good-hearted minister. Turns out he’ll also sleep with anything.

Liir: The implied son of Elphaba and Fiyero; a fat, bashful boy who knows nothing of his birth or family. He follows Elphaba along as she leaves the mauntery, but he doesn’t know why. Mostly because he doesn’t have much else to do.

Shell Thropp: Elphaba and Nessa’s younger brother, the only child born of Melena without a physical deformity. His deformity turns out to be that he’s totally nutballs, but we don’t learn that until later.

Madame Morrible: The headmistress at Shiz, she is affiliated with the Wizard and takes a sinister interest in Elphaba, Nessa, and Galinda. She prophesies that the three girls will grow into positions of great power in Oz, and she may have manipulated events so that her prophesy comes true. She looks like a giant fish, by the by.

Yackle: A mysterious witch who appears throughout important events in Elphaba’s life. She gives Elphaba the notorious broomstick.

Sarima: Fiyero’s wife, who after his death lives with her bitchy, biddy sisters and three children, Irji, Manek, and Nor, at Kiamo Ko. The family is abducted by the Wizard’s forces while Elphaba is away from home.

Commander Cherrystone: The commander in charge of the Wizard’s forces staying at Kiamo Ko.

Get Wicked at Bookshop or Amazon

'Son of a Witch' by Gregory Maguire"Son of a Witch" (2005)

After Elphaba’s melty death at the clumsy hands of Dorothy, her ostensible son Liir travels to the Emerald City with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man. Liir then embarks on a journey to find Nor, the abducted daughter of Fiyero, but he never learns of her whereabouts. Liir encounters Glinda, who is the interim leader of Oz after the Wizard’s departure, and joins the Home Guard under the leadership of Commander Cherrystone. After being ordered to burn the blameless Quadling Country, Liir deserts. He hears about a Conference of the Birds, who are meeting to defend themselves against dragons set upon the innocent population by the mysterious Emperor, but on his way to the conference, Liir is attacked by dragons. He’s taken to the cloistered mauntery where he was born and is resuscitated by a beautiful young Quadling named Candle, who basically takes his virginity while he is comatose. I do not know why this is supposed to be okay. Liir attends the Conference of the Birds, befriends and eventually belovers a brave dragon-trainer named Trism bon Cavalish, and at last proves himself to be a rebellious leader much like his mother. After returning to the farm where he has made his home with Candle, he finds Candle gone but a little green baby in her stead.

Stuff to Know:

Political tensions have escalated. Munchkinland has seceded from Oz and now refers to itself as the Free State of Munchkinland. They have access to the great Restwater Lake, and Oz is dependent on Munchkinland for their water due to the epic drought. The mysterious Emperor who has succeeded Glinda uses cruelty and might to try to sway the Munchkins and to take over the Quadling Country.

Liir confirms that he is indeed the spawn of Elphaba when he is able to wield her broomstick and the Grimmerie when no one else can. He wears her cloak as well.

Yackle appears mysteriously throughout this novel as well. What is this lady’s deal?

Elphaba has been elevated to martyr status among the rebels and outcasts of Oz. As well she should be, because girlfriend is a bad-ass.

Characters to Know:

Liir: Our protagonist-- an irresolute, handsome, bisexual boy who eventually grows into a steadfast and heroic young man.

Candle: The young Quadling who nurses Liir back to health through a combination of music and coma rape, but we’re meant to think that she’s a nice person. She becomes pregnant after sleeping with Liir while he was comatose, which is WHAT SHE GETS.

The Emperor: Capable of great cruelty and ill-prepared to run a country, he is eventually revealed to be Shell Thropp, Elphaba’s younger brother. Man, that family’s messed up.

Brr: The Cowardly Lion, a dandy fop of a cat who accompanies Liir to the Emerald City.

Trism bon Cavalish: A well-born member of the Home Guard who specializes in animal husbandry. He proves quite skilled at training dragons and is chagrined to discover that they are being used to attack the innocent. He helps Liir with a plot to destroy the dragons and they embark on a brief romantic relationship.

Get Son of A Witch at Bookshop or Amazon

'A Lion Among Men' by Gregory Maguire"A Lion Among Men" (2008)

Brr, the Cowardly Lion, encounters Yackle at the cloistered mauntery where Elphaba once lived and where Liir was born. A battle is raging between the Emerald City and the free state of Munchkinland just outside the mauntery doors, and Brr demands to know more about Madame Morrible, whose diabolical maneuvering has shaped his own life as well as that of Elphaba’s. Yackle agrees to tell him what he wants to know if Brr will tell her his life story. Brr discusses his childhood as a lion cub in the forest, his time in the towns of Traum and Shiz, his attempts to fit in with various lion and tiger prides, and his adventure with Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and Liir. Yackle in turn tells her story of being born of nothing and how she is strangely drawn to guiding Elphaba to her true fate. As their night of palaver draws to a close, Brr escapes the mauntery and evades the Emerald City forces by leaving with the traveling troupe that guards the Clock of the Time Dragon.

Stuff to Know:

Brr is working for the Ozian government to locate the Grimmerie, mostly to get out of trouble for being accused as a Munchkinland collaborationist. He’s not really a collaborationist, though. Or a loyal government spy, either. He’s not much of anything, really.

Yackle, an ancient crone from time out of mind, is holed up in the mauntery, hoping to die. Her inexplicable life has really sucked.

Characters to Know:

Brr: Our protagonist, a cowardly, self-important Lion who, by the end of the novel, gradually grows into someone of substance.

Mother Yackle: The same old prophetic crone.

Malky/Shadowpuppet: The little cat who travels with Brr and who is later revealed to be a capital-C Cat. It turns out he’s a spy for the Emerald City, and he was living with Elphaba when she was participating in political insurgency there. His information resulted in Fiyero’s death, and now he’s spying on Brr to ensure that he finds the Grimmerie so he can turn it over to the authorities. He’s a real dick.

Illianora: A beautiful, mysterious young woman who travels with the Clock of the Time Dragon, she is eventually revealed to be Nor, the daughter of Fiyero who was abducted from Kiamo Ko by Emerald City forces in Wicked.

Get A Lion Among Men at Bookshop or Amazon

Okay, that should do you! Simple enough, no? No. It’s not simple at all. I’ve re-read these books a few times and I’m still having trouble keeping it all straight. But it’s worth it! The intricate universe is a joy to visit, and I’m looking forward to visiting it again come November.
Speak up in the comments if I missed anything!

Get Out of Oz at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Meredith is a writer, editor and brewpub owner living in Houston, Texas. Her four most commonly used words are, "The book was better."

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