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'Wicked' Ways

'Wicked' WaysAs he reexamines the themes of his best-selling book "Wicked," Tufts graduate Gregory Maguire cautions against the dangers of moral arrogance.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.14.07] When Tufts graduate Gregory Maguire penned his best-selling book "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West" in 1995, he undertook an examination of what "good" and "evil" really mean. With the musical adaptation of the book playing in Boston until Oct. 14, Maguire recently published an op-ed in The Boston Globe that reexamines those themes in light of intervening world events.

"Wicked" explores the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, known as Elphaba, in events preceding the plot of "The Wizard of Oz." In the book, Elphaba is portrayed as an insecure, misunderstood individual who has a complicated friendship with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, and rebels against the political corruption of the Wizard. The musical debuted on Broadway in 2003, earning 10 Tony nominations and three awards.

"The play crystallizes into a pink-and-green music box what in my novel was more obscurely put: The cost of the choices one has to make may bankrupt even the morally soundest among us," wrote Maguire, who earned his Ph.D. in English and American literature from Tufts in 1990.

Maguire notes that when the book was originally published in 1995, Operation Desert Storm was concluding and the United States was looking forward to relative peace and prosperity.

"I felt, and hoped, that I was writing about a kind of sordid American exceptionalism that we might just be outgrowing," Maguire wrote in the Globe. "How naive we writers are, forgetting the endless inventiveness of evil."

But as Maguire recalled in the op-ed, the musical was developed against the backdrop of the Sept. 11 attacks, with tryouts held in the nascent stages of the American occupation of Iraq.

As the book and the musical continue to achieve success, Maguire questions what is driving that success, noting the context of a contested presidential election, Sept. 11, two wars, genocide in Sudan and natural disasters on shores both domestic and foreign.

"The character of our national discourse has grown so shrill that it now borders on the hysterical," he wrote in the Globe. "I find the lack of civility and the evaporation of respect for different points of view to be rampant all over the political spectrum, including the soapbox I comfortably occupy."

Maguire said that as "the public, observable face of evil keeps changing," people must remain vigilant and demand accountability from their leaders, and themselves.

"The danger isn't just that one's noble aims might justify questionable means, but that the very quality of one's moral zeal, the rightness of one's cause (and, by extension how very flattering the rightness of one's self) might justify the means," he wrote. "That self-confidence is the root of fundamentalism of any stripe."

Maguire's new book, "What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy," was published on Sept. 10.

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