Audible: The Wicked Years series by Gregory Maguire

I first physically read Wicked while living in NYC.  Previews and ads for the play were just EVERYWHERE.  I fell in love with the book and the author.  I next read Mirror, Mirror and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister.  They were all amazing (and dare I say) wicked twists on the fairy tales we all know and love.

I listened to all four books in format. This format is relatively new to me as I have only listened to one book prior to these four.  I loved the performance of the all the books overall, but in particular the ones narrated by John McDonough.  One bit of customer feedback for me to Amazon would be to add bio pages for the narrators, same as they do for the authors.  It can be brief but I would love to know more than the fact that there are 208 titles he has narrated.  I was able to find a page on the Recorded Books website that gives me a picture and biography.

John McDonough

Hey there John! Nice to meet you after spending roughly sixty hours listening to you read to me in January and February.  Wow, the four books only took 60 hours?  No, actually around 74-75.  I will get to that in a minute…  According to Recorded Books: “John McDonough is an actor and narrator who has performed with many orchestras and chamber music festivals, including the Norfolk (Yale) Festival (2011), and he has narrated Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat. He was the voice of Paul Bunyan in the Glimmerglass Opera and New York City Opera productions of the Benjamin Britten work. He enjoys performing for Recorded Books and won an Audie Award in 2006. He has recorded hundreds of titles in fiction, classics, history, and children’s literature. He recorded Alberto Manguel’s Curiosity, Paul Theroux’s Deep South, and Jan Karon’s Come Rain or Come Shine. Outside his audiobook work, John has performed with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion and starred in the revival of Captain Kangaroo on the Fox and ABC Family networks.” I loved him and would recommend him eagerly to people who want to have a great listening experience.  An interview with him is HERE and a GoodReads article HERE.

Now, why did I say I only listened to 60 out of the 75(ish) hours from him?  Because, without realizing it, I downloaded the Son of a Witch version that was narrated by the author Gregory Maguire.  No offense, Gregory, but I was not as big of a fan of your performance.  Was it horrible?  No, not really.  But I was “within” the story at this point and when I pushed play to start the next book, I had certain expectations and Gregory’s voice was not one of them.  It took me a while to warm up to his reading of his story.

For me, I LOVED Wicked (written and heard).  I was not the biggest fan of Son of a Witch (written or heard).  I was moderately ok with A Lion Among Men (just heard).  I loved Out of Oz (just heard).  I would have liked it better as a three book series with the middle two books kind of mashed together somehow.  I would still recommend HIGHLY this series if asked.

Wicked was first published in 1995 and is a twist on the characters (and story) of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, its sequels and the film.  The major difference – this adaptation is definitely NOT for children.  In 2003 the novel was brought to Broadway through the musical Wicked.  According to Wikipedia: “The novel is a political, social, and ethical commentary on the nature of good and evil and takes place in the Land of Oz, in the years leading to Dorothy’s arrival. The story centers on Elphaba, the misunderstood green-skinned girl who grows up to become the notorious Wicked Witch of the West. Maguire fashioned the name of Elphaba /ˈɛlfəbə/ from the initials of Lyman Frank Baum, L-F-B. The story is divided into five different sections, based on the plot location.”  It is a tale of family, love, inner conflict and political activism with undertones of religious mania, greed and conforming to social statures.  There are a TON of sexual undertones (and overtones really).  I loved the exo-complicated and flawed character of Elphaba who was, at her heart, a passionate woman whose major failing (and downfall) was her loyalty to those she loved.  Thinking about this book (in regards to the Land of Oz as a whole, including L Frank Baum’s version), it is like knowing the headlines but reading two versions of the editorial from two different sources.  It could very well be applied to what we see currently in the media.  The same pictures, the same outcome, but two stories on how it evolved/came to fruition.

“And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time.”
“And did she ever come out?”
“Not yet.”


The second book, Son of a Witch was published in September, 2005.  Because of an outpouring from his fans regarding “what happened to Nor”, Gregory Maguire decided to write a sequel to answer some of those concerns.  Son of a Witch continues the story after the fall from power of the Wizard of Oz and the death of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. It is the story of Elphaba’s “possible” son, Liir.  Nor was his half sister, the daughter of Elphaba’s lover and his wife.  When last we saw Liir, at the end of Wicked, his mother was dead and he was awe struck with Dorothy Gale while Nor was captured by the forces of Oz.  This book tells the tale of his life after the Witch.  Again, the sexual over/undertones of this book are prominent.  The characters are as rich as the story Maguire weaves for us. Although I really enjoyed the second half of the book, I found the first half to be rather dry.  I hold fast to my thoughts that this one could have been edited and combined with the third book, A Lion Among Men.

According to Wikipedia: “Son of a Witch elaborates significantly on the history of Oz as established in Baum’s books, but in a way very different from its predecessor. The second Oz novel by Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz, recounts the dethronement of the ruler of Oz, the Scarecrow, by General Jinjur and her all-female army, and reveals that the boy Tip is in actuality the enchanted Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz. The only connection Son of a Witch has to the established Oz history is that the Scarecrow (although not Dorothy’s Scarecrow) briefly rules Oz as a puppet (or ‘straw man’) of a cabal of bankers, and that Liir, on one of his journeys, crosses paths with Tip. Despite this, Son of a Witch does not explicitly contradict the official history, but instead recounts history that has been left out of the official history. Since the Scarecrow that becomes the ruler of Oz is not Dorothy’s Scarecrow and since, when Liir meets Tip and Mombi, they are driving home a newly acquired four-horned cow (which is mentioned at the opening of The Marvelous Land of Oz as Mombi’s “especial pride”), it is likely that Son of a Witch takes place between The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of OzOut of Oz  , the fourth and final volume in “The Wicked Years”, includes elements from The Marvelous Land of Oz and depicts a somewhat altered version of the events of that story.  The use of Glinda’s last name Upland comes directly from the musical; in the previous book Glinda refers to herself as “Glinda of the Arduenna Clan”. When Glinda throws Elphaba’s broom in the fire and it refuses to burn she says “Sweet Oz”; she uses the same exact phrase in the musical when she sees the broom levitate for the first time. When Glinda and Liir meet again towards the end of the book Glinda claims that people remember the legend of Elphaba and in a way that nearly breaks the fourth wall she says: “No Liir. She lives. People sing of her. … There’s a musical noise around her name; there are things people remember, and pass on.”

A Lion Among Men was published in October, 2008 and is the story of Brrr, the Cowardly Lion.  The entire book was about the sashaying Brrr and how things just happened around him.  We learn how he received the title of Cowardly, how he meets up with Dorothy on her way to see the Wizard and the fallout of his life because of the nature of who he is.  From the back of the book: “While civil war looms in Oz, Brrr—the Cowardly Lion—surrenders the story of his life to a tetchy oracle named Yackle. Abandoned as a cub, Brrr’s path from infancy in the Great Gillikan Forest is no Yellow Brick Road. Seeking to redress an early mistake, he trudges through a swamp of ghosts, becomes implicated in a massacre of trolls, falls in love with a forbidding Cat princess, and avoids a jail sentence by agreeing to serve as a lackey to the war-mongering Emperor of Oz. A portrait of a would-be survivor and a panoramic glimpse of a world gone shrill with war fever, Gregory Maguire’s A Lion Among Men is written with the sympathy and power that have made his books contemporary classics.

Out of Oz was published in November 2011 and really, brought me back front-and-center to the story. I realized by the fourth book that it is somewhat daunting to tackle a four book series, especially when you are listening versus actually reading. It is the story of Rain, the granddaughter of Elphaba.  As much as I loved the elder, I do so adore Rain.  It is a coming of age story with a character of famous origins. She grew up with everyone being overprotective.  In the end, it was she who saved them all.  The story is a completed tapestry of woven work with all of the various characters offering themselves as threads of its existence.  To connect all of the characters and bring them to their final point this way is nothing short of a masterpiece.

It was overall great Gregory Maguire! Bravo!

As a secondary note:  While reading, I envisioned Idina Menzel as Elphaba, Christin Chenoweth as Glinda and, for some reason, Sam Neill (as he appeared in Peaky Blinders) as Captain Cherrystone (who I wished had met a seriously ill fate but did not).

Have you read or listened to it?  What did you think?  I would love to know!

Next up, Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a full cast including Alan Cumming and Tim Curry.  I will see what it is like to have multiple people reading to me.  Tim Curry!!  I squeal with joy!

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