A couple of weeks ago, I was finally able to see Wicked, the Musical. To say I loved it would be an understatement. In order to sustain the experience, I listened to the CD non-stop and I checked out the book from the library.
Wicked , the novel, did not really sustain the magic of the musical. You know how when you really love a book, and you see the movie, all you see are the differences. Why would they change that part? Why did they leave out that detail? In this case, I loved the musical, and in reading the book, instead of getting more of the ingenious and delightful story presented in the musical, I got a book with the same very basic premise and characters bearing the names Elphaba, Glinda, Boq, Nessarose and Fiyero. That is almost where the similarity ends. Elphaba and Glinda are similar in their portrayals in the book and the musical, but somehow, in the unique setting of a Broadway musical that is able to merge a story with music and dance and grand presentation, the theme that Gregory Maguire tries to present in the novel, about the nature of evil, is intensified and clarified.
Wicked is the back-story of Glinda the good witch and the wicked witch of the west (Elphaba). I found the book to be unnecessarily crude and it was also quite political (using themes of racism, religion and politics liberally). I am all for a little symbolism, but these kinds of themes generally tax my brain, and that is not the reason I read fiction. If you are a fan of the fantasy genre (which I am not, in general), I think you would enjoy this book. The story is indeed ingenious, and Gregory Maguire does an amazing job of creating this fictional world.
The plot of the musical is completely different, and in my view, stronger. As you watch it, you truly wonder, "What is good?" "What is evil?" "How are our choices impacted by others' interpretation of our motives?" The musical is also about friendship and love, which is not really a strong focus of the book. In the book (the technical name of the story of a musical production), they are able to weave the various characters' lives together in a way that the book does not. In fact, the book is so subtle, that I wonder if I would have picked up on some of the big a-ha's if I had not seen the dramatic version on stage. I highly recommend seeing this if you have a chance. It has permanent theaters in London, on Broadway, and in Chicago and LA. It also is on tour each year. You can find the schedule listed here.
I am a book reader and a book lover. In fact, if I see a movie that interests me, and I know it's from a book, I generally like to read the book first, so that I can get the "real" story, and then wait at least a year to see the movie so that it will still be fresh and surprising to me. I really like to let a plot unfold and not know what is coming. If I love a movie, and read the book which closely follows the movie, I generally love the book more. This is only the second time that I have found the visual production to be far more satisfying than the book. The first? Beaches. I loved the movie, and then read the novel, which I also found to be slightly crude and to lack the love and the strong bonds of friendship that the movie evoked.
What about you? Has there ever been any reversal for you, where you enjoyed the movie (or play or whatever) more than the book itself? Does it matter which you've been exposed to first? With both of these, I did see the visual first, and loved them so much that I'm not sure that any improvement in print would have been appreciated in my eyes.
This review is linked to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books.