Friday, September 18, 2009


Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

I have literally JUST finished this book about a minute and a half ago, and my overall impression is.. wow.  Now I wouldn't say it's "wow" as in "this is the best book I've ever read in my life", but I would say it as, once again, Maguire has managed to take us into the bizarro world of Oz and make us sort of like being there.  The Oz of Maguires stories is kind of like the movie "Brazil", if you get my meaning.  Everything is a bit twisted, and weird, and just slightly disturbing.  But all of the weirdly twisted disturbing-ness of this world is very subtle, and compelling.

 One of the reasons I love Maguire's work so much is his use of words.  His words are so wild and unusual I have no idea where he gets them from!  Even his character names are bizarre:  Oatsie Manglehand, Trism, Iskaanary, Chyde, etc.  And not just his names of characters, even names of places are weirdly cool like The Kells, and The Dissappointments.  I love the names of the "maunts" which, you can infer by context only, are nuns -  Sister Apothicaire, and Sister Doctor.  These two in particular provide some much appreciated comic relief in their shinannegans.  Also, there are animals and then there are Animals.  The Animals are intelligent talking creatures, where as the animals are just the ordinary non-talking-thinking types.   I will warn you, though, Gregory Maguire's work such as this is not for everybody!  It is challenging at times in his use of language, and not exactly "happy" or "light" reading.  I happen to love his use of weird words that, quite frankly, at times I have no idea what the heck he is referring to until later in the paragraph or chapter.  But his style is so unique, I feel like it must be appreciated!  But that's just ME. 
Here is an example of what I mean:  (the set up:  in search for his beloved childhood friend Nor, Liir is taken down to the Southstairs district below the streets of Oz)

They found the set of steps leading farther down.  Chyde asked for directions once or twice, and sent Jibbidee scampering to check the marks on buildings.  "This'll be it, I guess,"  he said.  "It's an Animal district, so you'll forgive the stench.  Hygiene isn't their strong suit, as you know." 

The air was so cold, though, with a wind whipping in from above that the smell seemed negligible.  At any rate, Liir was too excited to care.  He found himslef bobbing up and down, and once he nearly grabbed Chyde's hand to squeeze it.  So what that Shell was a bounder, that Lady Glinda was a glamorous airhead!  They've done something good; he'd gotten here.  He'd find her, his only peer and friendmate, his half-sister if that version of history was true-- the girl who befriended mice, and shared her gingerbread, and who had giggled at bedtime, even when threatened by spanking.  He would liberate Nor, and then--- and then----

I have sat down to read this book a half dozen times.  I just couldn't get past the opening images.  But had made this "deal" with myself that I wouldn't buy a book for a whole year (cough, cough) I decided it was time to read through the hundreds of books I already owned and this one was one of them.  So, with my new found ferver in tact I plowed ahead. 

The story begins with Oatsie Manglehand and her collegues on the road in a stage coach of sorts.  They come accross several bodies on the side of the road.  These happen to be maunts whose faces have been scraped.  (See what I mean?)  So, finally getting past this part after 4 years I was delighted to find that I was actually enjoying the story!  Oatsie and her band find another unfortunate laying on the side of the road and when they go to retrieve the badly beaten and bloody body they find him still breathing.  Barely.  They decide to take him to their overnight rest stop which just happens to be the Mauntery. 

At the time nobody knows who this unconscious stranger is, and he is left in the care of a young Quadling female named "Candle" who plays an instrument near him called a "domingon".   This is how we find out that the stranger is in fact Liir, the Wicked Witch of the West's "son" ( I use quotes here as we as readers and even Liir himself are not sure if he is in fact her son) from the first story, and the music penetrates his sleeping mind and transports us into his past and how he came to be lying on the side of the road. 

I really came to adore Liir.  His character is not unlike Elphaba (the wicked witch) in that I ended up having a lot of empathy for the guy.  He is extremely loyal, has his morals intact, and draped against the backdrop of  of the sometimes despicable creatures we encounter in Maguires novels, he comes off as almost a saint at times!  And standing witness to his struggles is very endearing.  He is just trying to figure out who he is, and how everyone assumes he is the witches son and assumes he has some of her powers.  In his inability to help the She-Elephant/Human we can see that he feels he has failed her and all of Oz, just by virtue of not knowing where he truly came from.  And last but not least, reading passages of his times with Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Cowardly Lion and their talk of the Wizard, makes me think about the movie and the original book and wonder, "Yeah!  What IS the deal with the wizard hiding behind that curtain! What a scam artist!" 

As I said before, Son of a Witch is not for everybody, and some people (like Wicked) will either love it or hate it.  I for one loved it.  And it will go on my shelf of favourite books in my office.  I cannot WAIT to read the next one in the trilogy, "A Lion Among Men".  For those of you that have already read Son of a Witch  or end up reading it, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on the book!


3 Blabs:

Sarbear said...

I want to read this one, but I need to read Wicked first!

Jenny said...

I have not read any of his books! They all sound interesting.

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for the review...I did enjoy Wicked so I think I will have to pick this one up eventually.

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