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The Catholic New World


Jan. 7, 2007


I think Caroline was four the first time I took her to see “The Wizard of Oz” on the big screen.

She loved Dorothy and Glinda and the songs and the yellow brick road and the Emerald City. The Wicked Witch? Not so much.

Every time the witch came on the screen, with her pea-soup complexion and evil cackle, Caroline hid her face on my shoulder and didn't peek again until I sounded the all-clear.

When the movie was over, she asked me why there had to be a wicked witch at all. Fast-forward four years. Santa brought Caroline tickets to “Wicked,” the hit musical that looks at the “Wizard of Oz” story from the perspective of the witch, and Caroline invited me to accompany her.

The first clue that the story would go off in a new direction came when the people of Oz, celebrating the death of the wicked witch, ask good witch Glinda whether people are born wicked, or have wickedness thrust upon them-and whether it's true the two had once been friends.

The story that follows has elements of the “Harry Potter” story, with Elpheba (she of the green skin) showing up at school with obvious magical talent; “Mean Girls,” with Glinda making fun of Elpheba's skin tone and fashion sense; and any number of Dickens' stories, as it examines the fate of an ill-favored child.

It soon becomes clear that, at the beginning at least, Elpheba hasn't a wicked bone in her body-though given the amount of abuse she takes, she could be forgiven for using her magic against people.

She never does. She only uses it to help-but sometimes the help goes dreadfully wrong. And when she refuses to use her powers to hurt the animals of Oz, the wizard scapegoats her, leading the rest of the Ozians to believe she is working against them.

Through it, Glinda, who has become her friend, remains true after a fashion-as true as a friend can be who values popularity over truth.

So in the end, the moral seems to be that there are two sides to every story, and the only one of the main players in Oz who wasn't at least a little wicked was Elpheba-and, of course, that history gets written by the winners.

For what it's worth, Caroline loved it. Now she's too sophisticated to be alarmed by green make-up and a hysterical laugh.

But she still liked Glinda-all blond curls, saccharine sweetness and light-better. Glinda, the spoiled little rich girl, who, on finding the man she wants has rejected her has the epiphany of realizing that she hasn't got what she wants, and that other people must have this feeling all the time. “How horrible,” she says.

Elpheba's character is more along the lines of a biblical prophet, speaking truth to power no matter the cost. Elpheba's green skin might not be scary, but her intensity can be.

Glinda ends up the ultimate winner, the only one alive and remaining in Oz to tell the tale. What happens to Elpheba? Well, we've all seen the end of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Martin is a Catholic New World staff writer. Contact her at [email protected]

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