Out of Oz (Wicked Years, #4)Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

a completely ripper finale to a possibly uneven* series.

so, this book makes me think of what we require of heroes/heroines. how deep our need for heroism is. how much we like to slough off responsibility to them, and what a completely unfair burden we saddle them with.

Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West just rocked, from beginning to end. it was complicated and lovely, and no matter how weird and possibly deranged our beloved Elphaba became, we rooted for her anyway. we forgave her for essentially abandoning her own child, for running off to Kiamo Ko and stitching wings on monkeys (stop and think about that for a minute–she was obsessed with making a completely unnatural animal, or Animal), we even forgave her for failing to be entirely heroic (the Adverse Animal laws didn’t fall). and we so hoped she’d somehow come back.

but she didn’t.

so books two and three are colored by this longing to have Elphaba return… she’s such a powerful character. sort of like Lisbeth Salander, she just wiped every other character into supporting-characterhood. Liir’s story in Son of a Witch and Brr’s story in A Lion Among Men feel wimpy not because the story’s less well-told or the subject matter less compelling, but because we really really need that hero.

in Out of Oz we are again disappointed. no Elphaba. no heroes. just admittedly unusual but not driven characters. they wander around, they run away from danger, they piece things together with painful slowness… they behave, in a lot of ways, more or less like us. they have courage, but they don’t want to be in a position to have to use it; they have smarts, but they don’t flog them like Elphaba did for a singular purpose; they show kindness, but kindness isn’t showy like heroism is, and it’s not rewarded.

kind of like us; kind of like life.

and in the end that’s why i love this series and will re-read it until my books fall apart. (then i’ll go buy new copies.) we need reminding that no deity or Superman or even gizmo-savvy Batman is going to come save us–we have to do the hard work, step by slow and possibly erroneous step, oftentimes in the dark, until we save ourselves. even if Ozma shows up in the end, he or she may not be what we in our laziness hoped for.

Maguire could easily have written this series to pander to our laziness. he could have made Liir a hero, he could have made Brr a hero, or young Rain (and isn’t there something waaaay creepy about a person who hopes that a child will save us?). but he didn’t. like the best writers, he told a story that we needed to hear, not the one we wanted to comfort ourselves with, that we could bumble on blindly another day.

and maybe all of that is more freight than the books need. maybe they’re just stories, and won’t ever help a person accomplish a damned thing. but at least stories help us think.

* i’m hedging, because having seen the conclusion, i want to go back and re-read the two middle books. i have a feeling i need to reconsider.