Maguire’s “Wicked Years” series continued with “Son of a Witch” and “A Lion Among Men” and concludes with “Out of Oz,” which comes out Nov. 1. He is scheduled to read Nov. 5 in Atlanta at Outwrite and the Georgia Center for the Book.
Maguire and his partner, Andy Newman, were among the first same-sex couples to be legally married in Massachusetts, where the couple lives with their three adopted children. While Maguire talks about his children with the same sort of glee as his fictional characters, he sounds uneasy with the fame that comes with writing a series that has sold millions of books and spawned one of the most successful musicals in the history of the modern stage.
“The play is a huge enterprise, I think of it like this huge spaceship, ‘Starship Wicked.’ It’s sort of this big thing that hovers above my life, and it drops down buckets of cash, but one reason I called the book ‘Out of Oz’ is I was signaling to that big spaceship that it’s okay to move on,” he says.
“Keep in touch, keep sending checks,” Maguire laughs. “But maybe it’s okay for it to go off in its own direction.”
The “Wicked” stage tour, which wrapped its six-week run at the Fox Theater during Atlanta Pride, has become an international hit. Maguire’s novel and the musical took the story of “The Wizard of Oz,” already a cult classic among a generation of gay men, and turned the story on its head, suggesting that maybe the Wicked Witch wasn’t evil; maybe she even had a first name, Elphaba.
Throughout the “Wicked Years” books Maguire examines issues of race, class and appearance using the highly complex politics of Oz as a lens to examine contemporary society. But his fictional world isn’t meant to be a reflection of gay culture, a culture where he never felt at home.
“Until Wicked came out I never lived in urban areas with a big gay community,” Maguire says. “I had gay friends, but it wasn’t like I was part of this big community… I always felt like I was a rural partisan fighter.”
Maguire’s early life eschewed gay bars and events, which seemed like a big door he didn’t have the key to unlock.
“If anything, I always felt the gay community was a big party that was going on somewhere and I was Cinderella, and I didn’t have a ticket,” he says. “I was like I’m gay, where’s my ticket, and I couldn’t get to the ball. Maybe I needed a fairy godmother.”
A sense of being an outsider runs through the Wicked Years, from Elphaba, whose green skin makes her an outcast, to Glinda, who finds herself in “Out of Oz” as an isolated former emperor living in exile.
“In that way my stories reflect what it means in gay in America, but it means more about what it means to be gay in rural or marginal America,” Maguire says.
While his lead characters may be marginalized, it’s not enough to explain why his work has found traction across borders and social lines.
“Elphaba is one character who wants to go good,” Maguire says. “I think we go into a play and lot of times the characters are cynical, but Elphaba comes from a very pure place and she wants to do good…. I think it’s that combination that makes her resonate so well with Americans.”
Life after the Wicked Years
Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse is expecting a large crowd for Maguire’s Nov. 5 signing, and despite the impressive sales of his novel and cultural prominence of the musical, Maguire says that gay venues are one of the few places he gets recognized.
“When my kids were younger I would take them to see ‘Wicked,’ and we’d always get good seats,” he says.
“One time there was a group of gay men there, and they came up to me and told me how much they appreciated my work and I signed their playbill for them. I started thinking that this was one of the few places in the world I could go and be recognized, a room full of gay men.”
Maguire is crossing the country as part of the “Out of Oz” book tour. While it concludes the Wicked Years series, he says he plans to write one more novel.
“I have not yet gotten the sense of what the character is going to look like once that Starship Wicked begins to clear the horizon,” Maguire says. “I do owe my publisher one more novel, so I will write one more novel, and it will probably be based on a fairy tale.”
With retirement looming, Maguire believes he told the story he wanted to tell.
“I think I have said what I have to say, and I think that there were maybe two messages,” he says. “One is the more obvious one, that we must be wary of making moral decisions on the basis of superficialities, like someone’s looks per say.
“But the second theme that emerges in the four books, and it emerges more in the later books, is that it is easier for the powerful to grab power, but it is more important for the weak to grab power.”
Top photo: Gregory Maguire visits Atlanta Nov. 5 to read from ‘Out of Oz,’ the final book in his ‘Wicked Years’ series. (Publicity photo)