Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Beautiful Wickedness: WitchWeek Day Three

One hundred and ten years ago L. Frank Baum introduced the world to what would become one of its most famous and iconic witches: a malicious magical maven known only as the Wicked Witch of the West. Through the years she's gone through several interpretations and been pictured in many different ways, but she's always been a menacing trial to Dorothy and her friends.

The Witch of the West in the original book is very different from the Witch in the 1939 movie. Perhaps the most unusual of her features and almost the first thing mentioned about her is that she only has one eye, but that as powerful as a telescope. Usually she is shown wearing an eye patch, but occasionally pictured as a sort of Cyclopean hag. She carries an umbrella instead of a broomstick; this is to keep off the water that she is deathly afraid of. Most of her power resides in the creatures she controls. She has a pack of wolves, a swarm of bees, and an army of Winkies. Dorothy's friends destroy the wolves and bees and scare the timid Winkies away. The Witch is forced to use her Golden Cap to summon the Winged Monkeys to capture Dorothy; she can only control the Monkeys three times, and this is her last time. Using them to take Dorothy leaves her seriously weakened.

But she hopes to have even greater power if she can take the Silver Shoes (no ruby slippers in the book) away from Dorothy. But the only time Dorothy takes off the shoes is when she's in the bath (and the Witch is afraid of water) and at night in bed (and the Witch is afraid of the dark!). When the Witch tries to take the shoes otherwise, Toto bites her, but she doesn't bleed, as all her blood dried up years ago. Finally she enchants an invisible bar that trips Dorothy. One of the shoes comes off and the Witch grabs it. Dorothy is so angry she dashes a bucket of water on the Witch, who promptly melts, fulfilling her worst fears. It is the end of the Witch, but not of the book, which goes on for twelve more chapters.

Two more differences between the book and the movie: The Wicked Witch of the East is not the sister of the Wicked Witch of the West, and the Wicked Witch of the West's castle is described as beautiful instead of being the gloomy fortress shown in the movie.

Of course the 1939 movie changed how Oz was perceived by the majority of people. It was Margaret Hamilton's iconic portrayal that defines how most people think of the Witch. It has been a chore for illustrators in the years since to reinterpret and redefine the Witch, to give their own spin on the character and avoid what is probably a copyrighted image. It is the 1939 Witch that has fueled her incarnation as Elphaba, the not-so-Wicked Witch of the West in Gregory Maguire's Wicked.

List of pictures: 1)Margaret Hamilton in the 1939 film; 2)W. W. Denslow's original 1900 witch; 3)Cyclopean witch by Paul Granger; 4)by Libico Maraja; 5)by Evelyn Copelman; 6)by Michael Hague; 7)from the 1982 anime; 8)by Greg Hildebrandt; 9)Eric Shanower's re-imagining of Denslow; 10)from Wicked.

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