Friend of Dorothy 

By Neil Plakcy

Originally published on Advocate.com February 09 2009 12:00 AM ET

Ever since
Gregory Maguire published the novel Wicked: The Life and
Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
,
millions of fans have enjoyed his skewed vision of the world
of Oz. The hugely successful Broadway musical and two
successive novels -- Son of a Witch and
A Lion Among Men -- have only
cemented the dedication of his fans. Here, he e-mailed
with Advocate.com about gay characters, friends of
Dorothy, and the veil he draws over some of his
characters’ hookups.

Advocate.com:Why do you think the Wicked books have drawn such
an enthusiastic readership?
Gregory Maguire: I confess that I write the
kind of books I like to read. On the potentially risky side,
that means the books are dense and sometimes obscure.
On the plus side, I think that I put my richest
interest in politics and personality into stories that
have some degree of familiarity already (The Wizard
of Oz
). In addition, of course, Baum's original
characters and their famous evocations by 1939's MGM
film are so beloved and usefully complex that, as
fleshed out in Wicked, they can become just
that much more prickly, tender, and surprising.

Do you have a series of books plotted out based on
the many hints you drop throughout the books -- or are
they just part of the general mystique of the series?
Both Wicked and its sequel, Son of a
Witch
, were meant to be stand-alone novels, but
with A Lion Among Men I could see that there
needed to be one (I think only one) more novel to complete
the arc of the story. Some of my hints and cues
suggest narrative twists in the future, but others are
useful in order to continue to make sure that Oz seems
just as rich, contradictory, and obscure as the complicated
world in which we live. In other words, Oz is a place with
hundreds of thousands of histories and
interpretations, not just the novelist's privileged
view.

You mentioned in an interview that you know a lot
more about the story than ever makes it onto the pages.
Can you give me an example?
I hate to be coy, but I hate to be prurient,
too. I believe in leaving some characters their veils
of privacy. I will say that I know some characters who
had romances or relations with each other about which I
either only hinted or bypassed entirely, because to linger
on such a subject would have given a false importance
to the relationship.

What impact does your own sexual orientation have
on the books and the world you’ve created?
I think being gay is a useful precondition for
turning into an artist, in that one has to learn
through childhood to pay attention to other people's
cues and behavior, because one's own system of references --
of affections, of interests, of interpretations
-- seems to be awry compared to the norm. I think
the practice of studying life for the purpose of
self-protection makes a gay or lesbian person more curious
and perhaps, if one is lucky, more astute. And that
helps any artist.

Beyond that,
though, gay people love the physical texture and resonance
of the world, the social complexity of arcane relationships,
and I have tried to bring my love of the physical
world and my interest in social complexity to Oz. I
have enjoyed choosing to write my magnum opus, as it
were, in a magic land that, while famous, while popular, is
not stuck in something that resembles the 13th century
as tricked out by damsels in distress, swords and
sorcery, cone-hatted magicians, and avaricious
dragons. I like a magic world in which courage and affection
and loyalty are just as strong as the powers of green
and blonde witches and conniving wizards.

A Lion Among Men bookcover and art x390 (Publicity) | Advocate.com
 

There are many gay connections with The Wizard of
Oz
-- the rainbow, Judy Garland and the
“friends of Dorothy,” the idea of making a
family of choice, and so on. Is that one of the
reasons why the source material resonated with you?
I now know enough about this to accept that your
assertion must be true, but I have to admit when I
first head about "Friends of Dorothy" I really
couldn't put it all together. I didn't know that the film
The Wizard Of Oz had become a gay icon (though I
did know about Judy Garland). I was a child reader and a
lover of music and magic before I knew myself as a gay
man, so in a sense I came to Oz in the pre-gendered
condition of childhood reader.

In Son of a Witch, Liir fathers a child with
Candle, as well as falls in love with Trism. Do you
see him as a gay character?
Liir was in a near-death state when Candle slept
with him, as much to keep him alive -- as one might
strip naked next to someone suffering hypothermia
-- as, perhaps, to love him and attach herself to him.
When he wakes up, though, he is affectionate -- what does he
know of love and affection...what could anyone whose
mother is the Wicked Witch of the West? So I do see
him as a gay character -- he isn't remorseful over his
night with Trism (though he can imagine Trism might be), but
at the end of Son of a Witch he has just
crossed over the threshold into adult life, and these
questions -- his sexuality, how he might come to a
description of his own nature -- are all ahead of him.

In A Lion Among Men, you address the
question of what it means to be courageous. That seemed
to also have gay resonance -- Brr is a dandy
who’s been rejected by his family, who has
to go out into the world and figure out how to present himself.
In Son of a Witch and Wicked and
A Lion Among Men, courage is one of the
recurring themes -- courage, and how to make yourself
potent. Elphaba, a green witch, was potent as an
iconoclast, a solo agent, a hermit. Her son, Liir, perhaps
not so powerful, has to learn instead to be potent as
a citizen (all his movement is away from isolation and
toward collaboration). Brr, the Cowardly Lion, starts
at an earlier position, needing the courage not to
make himself potent in the world (he comes to learn perhaps,
unlike Liir or Elphaba, that that may be a false
ambition), but how to be potent to one's self -- how
to love or accept himself. For Brr, the beginning of
figuring out how to present himself to the world is to stop
worrying about it and present himself to himself.

By placing Trism’s liaison with Liir in the family
tree, are you saying that it is as significant as any of
the other relationships in the books?
It is to me. But part of my larger perspective
in writing the Oz novels is to present a fantasy world
in which to be homosexual or lesbian isn't to be part
of a gypsy underground, but to be an integrated part of the
complex world of the story.

You’ve said that you think of Oz as a great
metaphor for the United States. Will you ever address
things like sexual politics, then?
I hope that I have been doing that since the
beginning, starting with the very first conversation
between Elphaba's parents, Frex the minister and
Melena the society woman with decayed morals, as they
consider the relative powers and merits of their
respective positions in society. But I write stories
ultimately because the characters in their situations
thrill and puzzle me, and I let the characters live as
themselves, as much as my subconscious allows me to
do, and I try not to harness them to do paid political
advertising.