Study Guide

Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West Religion

By Gregory Maguire

Religion

If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move – if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems – could you even stand? ... Is religion itself – the tired and ironic phrase – the necessary evil? (5.13.3)

The choice of words here is really evocative: "skewers" and "scimitars" suggest that religion is sharp, piercing, and more than a little uncomfortable. At first it seems like religion is "stabbing" people uncomfortably, but as the sentence progresses, a shift occurs. With the question "could you even stand," religion becomes a system of pillars. Religion may be a necessary evil for any type of morality to exist.

"Now isn't the time to argue. Do you want to distract me from holy work today? We're facing the presence of real evil in Rush Margins. I couldn't live with myself if I ignored it." He meant this, and for such intensity she had fallen in love with him; but she hated him for it too, of course. (1.1.35)

Frex's religious fervor manages to both attract and repel people, including his own wife. It's interesting that the same type of love/hate descriptions are used for Nessarose, particularly in Glinda's assessments of her.

Frex was up and lashing out at Nanny, swinging his fists. Nanny fell backward off her stool, and Melena bobbed about her, shrieking. "How dare you!" cried Frex. "In this household! Isn't this green girl insult enough? Sorcery is the refuge of the amoral; when it isn't out-and-out charlatanism, it is dangerously evil! Contracts with demons!" (1.4.102)

Frex's over-the-top reaction here is pretty unusual in this book; people don't usually flip out to this degree. It may be the subject matter that is causing this level of intensity, which isn't surprising. Just flip on any news channel today.

"Lurline is the Fairy Queen who flew over the sandy wastes, and spotted the green and lovely land of Oz below. She left her daughter Ozma to rule the country in her absence and she promised to return to Oz in its darkest hour."

"Hah!" said Frex.

"No hahs at me." Nanny sniffed. "I'm as entitled to my beliefs as you are, Frexspar the Godly. At least they don't get me into trouble as yours do." (1.5.47-49)

Oh, that Nanny. She's so great. It's interesting that later in the book we get a few references to how the Wizard is suppressing religion, especially Lurlineism and old "pagan" beliefs. The book establishes a link between Nanny and Lurlineism very early on, which helps emphasize how the Wizard isn't just targeting a religious belief, but "old" and un-modern beliefs.

"In a panic they flung themselves into the torrent and attempted to swim through Lurline's urine. Those who became intimidated and turned back remained animals.... Those who swam on and made it to the farther shore were given the gifts of consciousness and language."

"What a gift, to be able to imagine your own death," muttered Crope. (2.2.4.13-14)

Well, this is certainly one of the more imaginative (and gross) creation myths we've heard. It's interesting that Crope defines consciousness as being able to "imagine your own death," or as an awareness of your own mortality, kindly granted to you by a higher power. Perhaps even the ability to imagine anything at all is what consciousness is.

"The Unnamed God perceived the sorrow that would overwhelm the land throughout time, and bawled in pain. The whole of Oz was a mile deep in saltwater tides. ...Those [animals] who swallowed enough of the tears of the Unnamed God were imbued with a fulsome sympathy for their kin .... They saved their kind out of mercy, and from their kindness they became a new, sentient lot: the Animals." (2.2.4.21)

Flood myths are prominent throughout various societies. The diction in the Unionist myth above really contrasts to that of the Lurline myth. The Unionist Animal mythology emphasizes sympathy, sorrow, and mercy, while the Lurline myth portrays a dire (and kind of disgusting) situation, oddly reminiscent of that South Park episode where a water park gets flooded with urine. (Just go with it.) The Animals who survived were rewarded with consciousness; sympathy didn't really enter into the picture there.

"I've told you before, I don't comprehend religion, although conviction is a concept I'm beginning to get. In any case, someone with a real religious conviction is, I propose, a religious convict, and deserves locking up." (2.2.4.5)

Elphaba may claim not to understand religion, but she certainly seems to have a handle on certain aspects of it: passion, belief, conviction, etc.

"Hence," observed Crope, "your aversion to all water. Without your knowing it, it might be a baptismal splash, and then your liberty as a free-range agnostic would be curtailed." (2.2.4.6)

This is probably the best explanation we've heard for Elphaba's severe water-phobia. And even if it's not true, it's at least more entertaining than something like a weird skin allergy. Crope's description of a "free-range agnostic" also gives us great insight into Elphaba's character. For her, agnosticism is a type of freedom. As an agnostic, she's not bound to any one belief system.

"You have no soul," he teased her.

"You're right," she answered soberly. "I didn't think it showed."

"You're only playing word games now."

"No," she said, "what proof have I of a soul?" (3.9.2-5)

Elphaba definitely does play word games a lot, but she also plays the part of a skeptic. We wonder what Elphaba would consider as "proof" of a soul.

"I shall pray for your soul," promised Nessarose.

"I shall wait for your shoes," Elphie answered. (4.3.6.58-9)

Besides being the best sister exchange in the whole book, this little beat also gives us insight into the very different belief systems of Elphaba and Nessa. Nessa is a rather overbearing evangelical, while Elphaba reveals her own materialist streak.

"Any afterlife notion is a manipulation and a sop. It's shameful the way the unionists and the pagans both keep talking up hell for intimidation and the airy Other Land for reward."

"Don't," Sarima said. "For one thing, that's where Fiyero is waiting for me. And you know it."

Elphaba's jaw dropped. When she least expected it, Sarima always seemed ready to rush in with a surprise attack. "In the
afterlife?" said Elphie. (4.2.6.58-60)

Elphaba's complaint about people using heaven and hell to browbeat others would certainly make Nietzsche proud. He griped about the same thing in a lot of his work, including Beyond Good and Evil. It sounds a bit like Karl Marx, too, who called religion the "opiate of the masses." Aside from the philosophy shout-outs, this passage also helps demonstrate the way Elphaba sees Sarima. She speaks of Sarima conducting a "sneak attack" on her, which is kind of ironic, since Elphaba is usually the one conducting her sneak attack forgiveness campaign.