Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
I feel there’s some personal history we must go over here. I read Wicked in early high school and I loved it. I went on to read Son of a Witch, which, while not as good, I still enjoyed. If you’ve read it, you know it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. So when A Lion Among Men came out in high school, I traipsed down to Books-a-Million and bought myself a copy. I read it, and was promptly so infuriated by the fact it doesn’t address said cliffhanger that I swapped it for something as soon as I had the chance. Considering my poor track record with Maguire’s other novels, I wasn’t holding out too much up for Out of Oz, but I softened up towards it when I saw Maguire at a reading last November. And so here we are.
Out of Oz picks up a few years after Son of a Witch and A Lion Among Men. Oz is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, which so recently seceded—the Munchkinlanders, led by the mysterious new Eminence La Mombey, won’t give up, but neither will Oz, its military forces led by General Cherrystone. To further complicate things, Dorothy Gale has arrived on her second tour of the Land of Oz. Into this political upheaval comes the little girl Rain, granddaughter of the infamous Elphaba Thropp and apparent heir to her magical talents, or, at the very least, her green skin. Disguised and hidden for the better part of her life, it’s only when childish Rain realizes her full potential that Oz can be set to rights. But what’s one little girl against all the armies of Oz? Good thing she’s got an unconventional family to back her up…
I was reading this while listening to Brideshead Revisited, which made me practically dizzy from beautiful wordplay. I can almost forgive Maguire his tepid plotting and poor grasp on reproductive processes (I will never be over Mirror Mirror, okay?) for his absolutely gorgeous prose. Watching Maguire play with language is a soothing delight. While he’s been doing it since the original Wicked, he slips into more characters here, and each has a particular way of talking and looking at the world. Out of Oz flirts with language thematically, by a focus on Rain’s love of reading (not for stories, but for understanding, which I thought was an interesting twist on a reader) and, of course, the anxiety-inducing Grimmerie, which everyone is anxious to be able to read. But that peters out towards the end. But oh, what a treat to hear Maguire play with English—who else would conclude that the feminine of troll is clearly trollop? Dreamy.
If you’re a fan of Maguire’s Oz (like myself), there’s plenty of it to go around. I was pleased with little Rain, who manages to be just as stand-offish as her grandmother but for vastly different reasons—where Elphaba wasn’t cherished enough (and was punished by her own biology for expressing emotion), Rain is cherished too much, almost smothered with protection by Liir and Candle, her parents, for fear of what might happen if she’s discovered by either side. We spend time with Liir (who ends up getting some beautiful and thoughtful moments to himself), Brrr (the Cowardly Lion, for those playing at home), and Glinda, along with Dorothy, who gets a fair share of pages, although only the prologue is from her perspective. After three books, Maguire thinks it’s past time to bring Dorothy here, and it’s interesting to see Dorothy, so unsure in the real world, find her footing here in Oz. (Which, I suppose, is the point of the original book!) Out of Oz feels more populated than the other novels in the cycle, undoubtedly because it’s the last.
But is it a satisfying end to the series? I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that, while I think Wicked is a work of extreme genius and beauty, the other novels fail to live up to it. I think it’s because the greatness of Wicked lies not in a story about anti-Animal politics, but in the heart and soul of Elphaba Thropp. Maguire is going about the business of tying up the loose ends of that story, instead of the emotional fallout of Elphaba’s death. To be fair, he examines it a bit, especially with Glinda and Rain, but Out of Oz is more about a political struggle coming to its end, although it’s not the one between Oz and Munchkinland. And, without trying to intentionally spoil, the resolution of the novel feels… off. It’s not set up (especially considering how important an element was for so long) and it feels so flimsy as the epic ending to the Wicked Years. While it’s head and shoulders above A Lion Among Men (to the point I might start calling this a trilogy), it still just makes me want to pick up Wicked.
Bottom line: While heads and shoulders above A Lion Among Men, Out of Oz still proves that Wicked is unmatched, especially given its tepid strength as the epic conclusion to the series. And yet, there’s nothing quite like Maguire’s gorgeous, playful prose and fond handle of emotionally bereft women. If you’d like.
I rented this book from the public library.