Wicked starts very in media res, and I’m assuming Maguire presumes his readers have at least some exposure to The Wizard of Oz.
At the very least to the characters, which admittedly it’s rather hard to avoid knowing something about in the USA these days – or at least in the parts of it I grew up in. The image of Dorothy and her companions skipping along is iconic. The Hallmark stores in the malls and anywhere else that sell their ornaments proudly display characters from the movie come the Christmas shopping season. And then there were the commercials for the anniversary DVD a few years back…
I never saw the movie all the way through until I was a senior in college – thank you ‘films as historical documents’ class, for being the reason I still have the DVD – despite nearly managing to do so between middle and high school, and I may or may not have read the book in middle school. I remember reading some of Baum’s other books, most or all of which are available as free e-books now on Amazon or elsewhere online legally, while riding home on the school bus.
But I was still very, very sure of what the Wicked Witch, Dorothy, and Dorothy’s companions looked like.
One of the things that strikes me in the prologue as someone who has read The Wicked Years before but has a bit of distance since her last reading is that so many of the rumors going around either are based somewhat in the truth or come directly from the experiences of the character voicing the rumor. I won’t talk much about that here, because some of it ties into much later chapters and the other books in the series.
And despite Dorothy’s traditional ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ framing as someone who thinks everything should work out for the best eventually (just how many total strangers does she trust without question by the end of the movie?), she’s the one who voices a true urgent concern and gets told it’s an over-reaction.
Storms are the one case where her Kansan knowledge is of more value than everyone else’s knowledge of how Oz works, and her insight is brushed off until she points out that even close but indirect lightning is a mortal danger to at least the Scarecrow and they’ve taken shelter under the largest tree in the area despite lodgings with an actual roof being available a short dash away.
Another thing: even as the Witch (she isn’t named yet, even though the prologue is from her point of view) catches sight of her late sister’s slippers, we’re introduced to just how careful she knows she has to be around water. A rainstorm is enough to completely ground her.
Oddly enough, Maguire doesn’t actually let us know whether Wicked is set in the movie’s version of Oz or in Baum’s books, at least not yet. The description of the shoes is a hybrid, containing references to both the ruby slippers of the movie and the silver slippers of the original book. At this point, it could by either way or even a bit of both.
Speaking as someone with a bit of experience writing stories based in multiple-choice-canon worlds – in my case Greek mythology – trying to pick what to take from which source is one of the more interesting parts of the writing process. Here, Maguire has two sources to chose from, and he appears to have kept his options intentionally open. If he makes a specific choice to follow one or the other later, that choice will now be to either follow that canon or both since the indecision about the shoes makes it clear he’s not firmly attached to either (despite including places and terms later on that only come from the books).
And as a last comment: even here and this early, there are signs that Maguire’s Oz is not the clean and innocence-accepting place of the movie. There are a few spots where the group can skip as they did in several iconic moments in the movie, but the rest of the Yellow Brick Road has fallen into disrepair. This is a place where not even the highway to the current capital is kept in good condition – or at least not the highway to the Emerald City from Munchkinland.
As I said in my introduction, this is a book series set in a cracked world. Even before Maguire starts showing where the cracks are – although the Witch’s reference to the political climate is a big hint – he’s made it oh so clear they exist. And in the large-format paperback (and I presume also the similarly sized hardcover), we haven’t even made it to page 5.