Book review: Maguire closes the book on Oz

Albany native Gregory Maguire is bringing down the curtain on his books about Oz in the Wicked Years

Albany native Gregory Maguire is bringing down the curtain on his books about Oz in the Wicked Years series.

In the fourth and final book, “Out of Oz,” Maguire returns to his previous three books and sees what loose ends remain. He ties up some and leaves others untouched.

For those who haven’t read the earlier books — “Wicked,” “Son of a Witch” and “A Lion Among Men” — Maguire provides enough background to understand how they influence the present one. He offers a detailed introduction with descriptions of characters, events and timelines, and manages to do it without slowing down the pace of the story. Artist Douglas Smith provides understandable maps of imaginary places in the book, which are very helpful.

“Out of Oz” opens with a war between Oz and Munchkinland. Oz is running out of water and wants to seize control of Restwater, a large lake, from the Munchkins. On the way to seize the lake, Oz’s army, headed by General Cherrystone, captures Mockbeggar Hall, home of Lady Glinda, former Throne Minister of Oz and former Good Witch.

Now a middle-aged widow in retirement, she has lost interest in politics. However, she is irked by the occupation of her home and she dislikes Oz for starting the war.

She and a few close servants start planning how to defeat the army. As she undertakes the plan, characters from the earlier books arrive. For example, the Lion arrives with Mr. Boss and the magical device from “Wicked,” the Time Dragon. Later on, the Flying Monkeys return, as does Dorothy.

At nearly 570 pages, “Out of Oz” is much longer than the previous books. The length is at once a weakness and a strength.

Sometimes the book feels long, as if the writing is treading water. Near the end, a crucial change in a main character is written in a vague manner. I reread the chapters containing the change several times and was still confused about how it occurred.

Complete world

Nevertheless, Maguire uses the length of the tale to develop a complete imaginary world and to make sure all characters are fully developed, rather than being appealing but briefly glimpsed, as in the movie.

For example, his Dorothy is not as charming as Judy Garland was in the film, but she is wiser and braver.

Snippets of humor are sprinkled throughout, some elaborate and aimed at readers of the series, while others are in plain sight.

For example, as Rain, Glinda’s mysterious servant girl, walks through the Emerald City, she hears Dorothy singing. Dorothy is out of town, and Rain decides the singer “must be one of those entertainers who impersonated” Dorothy.

Maguire displays understanding and kindness, and uses his own experiences throughout. For example, in real life he is active in encouraging children to read. When the book opens, Rain cannot read and Maguire shows the epic transformation she experiences as she learns. When Rain and Grace Graeling are discussing reading, Grace says, “Every collection of words is a magic spell,” no matter how boring the subject. “Words,” she concludes, “have their impact.”

Maguire will appear at the Open Door Bookstore, 128 Jay St., Schenectady, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday for a signing of “Out of Oz.” For more information, call 346-2719.

Categories: Life and Arts

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