Béis is one of Broadway’s greatest hits for almost 20 years, but did you know it’s based on a book by Gregory Maguire Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West published in 1995? Now the musical is being adapted into a movie Starring Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande. That makes it the perfect time to take a look back at the novel!
Settled in the Land of Oz long before the arrival of Dorothy, Béis pursues the life of the evil witch of the West: who she was, how her life was, and how she deserved the moniker of “evil”. The upcoming movie is based on the Broadway musical adaptation, which is very different in tone and plot than the book. If you are curious about the novel that started it all, here is what you know.
Who are the main characters in Wicked?
The main character of Béis, as you might guess, is the woman who will grow up to be called the Wicked Witch of the West. In the Béis, her name is Elphaba Thropp. When we first meet her, she is a green-skinned teenager who goes to university at Shiz University. Her fellow resident there is Galinda Upland, a socialite from a powerful family.
Elphaba and Galinda’s social group also includes Boq, a Munchkin from Elphaba’s hometown, and Fiyero, a prince from the Vinkus region west of Oz. Elphaba’s younger sister, Nessarose, eventually joins them on Shiz.
Her teachers at Shiz include Dr. Dillamond, a talking goat and professor who researches the strange and frightening things that happen to Oz’s talking animals, and Mrs. Morrible, the powerful director. Of course, the Wizard of Oz himself plays a role in the story.
An Introduction to Oz
At the very beginning of the story, we are introduced to Oz’s politics and some of its founding mythology. Most relevant to history is the system of government in Munchkinland, where Eminent Thropp (the highest member of the Thropp family) rules as a sort of hereditary governor. Melena Thropp is the granddaughter of the current incumbent, and she is married to Frexspar, a traveling minister. Finally, they have two daughters, Elphaba and Nessarose. Both have unusual appearances (Elphaba is green, while Nessarose is born without arms) and were conceived under dubious circumstances, but Frex favors Nessarose strongly and considers Elphaba with contempt.
The Shiz Year
The first part of the story takes place during Elphaba and Galinda’s college years in Shiz. Upon arrival, Elphaba and Galinda are forced to flee together, to their dismay. Galinda is initially a bit of a superficial middle-aged girl and tries to embarrass Elphaba, but the two become friends. They also free Boq and Fiyero, and even though there are a few crushes swapped back and forth, it’s all pretty low drama, and they form a close group of friends.
Elphaba works as Dr. Dillamond’s research assistant, is quickly drawn into animal rights activism. When Dillamond is murdered just before making a breakthrough in research that has shown genetic similarities between humans and animals, Glinda changes her name to “Glinda” to honor Dillamond because he has always mispronounced her name. The only witness to the murder is for sure that Dillamond was killed by Madame Morrible’s servant, presumably on her orders and those of the Wizard of Oz.
Morrible offers Elphaba, Glinda, and Nessarose a chance to become “ambassadors” in the corners of Oz, proving that they will eventually hold all power in the country. Unsure, Elphaba convinces Glinda to come with her to the Emerald City to plead the animal case before the Wizard. Elphaba, however, is terribly disappointed when the Wizard dismisses her. So instead of returning to the shiz, Elphaba says goodbye to Glinda and decides to exclude herself alone to get justice.
Five years later, Elphaba lives in the shadows in the Emerald City as part of a pro-animal, anti-Wizard rebel group. Fiyero, now married, stumbles over her and recognizes her. Even though she initially pretends not to know him, she eventually gives up, and they form a bond and then a love affair, despite their mystery and marriage. Unfortunately, it ends horribly when Elphaba’s task is to assassinate Madame Morrible. Fiyero is kidnapped and apparently murdered by the wizard’s secret police, sending the Elphaba into deep despair. Finally, she is taken to a convent, where she lies conscious for a year and sweats for six years after awakening.
After Elphaba leaves the convent, Elphaba travels to Fyero’s home in Vinkus, accompanied by a young boy, Liir. It is revealed that Liir is the son of Fiyero and Elphaba, who gave birth to her while she was unconscious. Elphaba is soon called away to talk to Nessarose, who has become a witch. After Nessa promises that Elphaba can have her enchanted silver shoe after she dies, Elphaba returns to the Vinkus, only to kidnap Fiyero’s family and leave.
The Wizard of Oz, from a different perspective
Another seven years pass, and the plot is captured The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s house falls on Nessa and kills her. Glinda gives Dorothy the silver shoe, and thinks they are too powerful and could end a civil war, which angers Elphaba. When she goes to the Wizards to try to free Fiyero’s surviving daughter, Nor, the Wizards reveal that he’s in Oz to get a powerful magic book, the Grimmerie, and learn his magic. On the way back to the castle at Vincus, Elphaba makes another discovery: the wizard is her father.
Elphaba slips further into despair. When she learns that Dorothy and her friends are coming to kill her on orders from the wizard, she is convinced that Scarecrow Fiyero is in disguise. She tries to send her pets to lead the group to the castle, but they understand it as an attack and kill the animals, which drives her further into madness. When Dorothy and company reach the castle, Dorothy apologizes and tries to kill Nessa, but Elphaba refuses to accept. Elphaba accidentally sets her own rock on fire, and when Dorothy tries to pull it out, the water melts Elphaba.
In the end, things play out the same way they do The Wizard of Oz, but for various reasons. The wizard leaves Oz to avoid another blow. No one knows where Dorothy is, but many do not believe she left Oz. Political chaos reigns, but it is suggested that Elphaba is not gone forever.