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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Allegories and influences with Wicked author Gregory Maguire
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Allegories and influences with Wicked author Gregory Maguire

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Gregory Maguire is best known for his retelling of classic fairy tales and putting them into adult settings. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (the source of the current Broadway musical) was published in 1994, and he has shown no signs of stopping. In addition to two Wicked sequels (Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men), he has brought to life the legends of Cinderella (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister), Snow White (Mirror Mirror) and several English legends for an original Dickens-style ghost tale in Lost.

Taking time out just before vacation, Mr. Maguire agreed to an interview with the SGN. His soft-spoken voice suggests that he is a naturally gifted storyteller and he speaks with a welcoming and easy tone.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of theories have you heard pertaining to Wicked as an allegory, i.e. the story representing Irish/English conflicts or Gay/feminist struggles?

Maguire: Some of those you mention I haven't heard! I certainly know people have recognized some of the following in Wicked, whether I intended it or not: European colonial attitudes toward Native Americans; English attitudes toward Asian Indians when India was colonized by England; reflections of class (a la Brideshead Revisited) in the Shiz sections; Pinochet's Chile/Hitler's Germany/Stalin's Russia in the dominance of a totalitarian power; Gay subculture; valley girl culture; suppression of women in educational circles pre-1940's England, etc.

Andrews-Katz: Were you a consultant on the musical? What changes did you like that differed from your original book?

Maguire: I decided that if there was any chance of the musical being successful, it would be because I had released the [musical's team] to follow their own muse. The original novelist, and the scriptwriters of the famous 1939 film, did not come out of the grave to lecture me on what I might or might not be getting right in my own novel.

Andrews-Katz: How is your mother's death [in childbirth] related to your view of fairy tales as a child, and your eventual revisionist retelling as an adult?

Maguire: I leave that for others to comment upon; I'm not a psychologist. I do however think that my early love of fairy tales was perhaps enhanced by the condition in which most tales begin; a mother dies leaving a child to fend for himself or herself. I certainly didn't fend for myself, but was benefited by a gloriously competent stepmother. I responded to the plight of the abandoned, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, which populate the fairy tales as we know them.

Andrews-Katz: You said that with Lost you were hoping to break out from the "revisionist" category. What made you decide to go back to it?

Maguire: First, I should remark that "revisionist" is a term others have used about my work, and I think not entirely correctly. Because a novel relies on previously used material does not, in my mind, constitute a revisionist tale. I wouldn't call Rushdie's novel [The Satanic Verses] a revision of the Koran or of a sacred tradition but a wholly new work that relies on common cultural understandings. Maybe my own problem with that term is that "revisioning" seems so close to "revising." I never did intend Lost to be a retelling of anything but a new story with references to 19th-century materials I thought readers would know: not only Jack the Ripper and Ebenezer Scrooge, but also Charles Dickens. I had to negotiate with my publisher for the privilege to try my hand at a psychological ghost story; she [Judith Regan] wanted me to stick with fairy tale tropes. I bargained that if she allowed me to publish Lost I would give her a Mirror Mirror next. She agreed.

Andrews-Katz: Where did the idea come from for combining the stories of Snow White with Italy's notorious Borgia clan in Mirror Mirror?

Maguire: In Mirror Mirror, I took as my theme the costs of maturation, of a child and of a civilization. Set during the High Italian Renaissance, I worked my theme through several plot strands: that of the Snow White character, Bianca de Nevada, coming of age; that of the dwarves, holdovers from a superstitious pagan past in danger of losing their way in the approaching dawn of reason; and that of the epochal city-states struggling against the Papal states for power and independence. I realized that the Borgias were notorious as competent poisoners & the entire story fell into place. Lucrezia as a wicked stepmother capable of poisoning an apple, Lucrezia as a famous beauty of her time, Lucrezia slandered by her family's enemies as having been the lover of her father, the Pope & you can't make this stuff up, as Dave Barry says. It was too good to pass by.

Andrews-Katz: Has adopting children influenced your writing?

Maguire: I know great works were inspired by parents telling stories to their actual children: Winnie-the-Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan were all originally stories invented to amuse real children. Salman Rushdie has done the same thing with two children's books himself, for two sons. My own children have not inspired the same font of creativity in me, or not yet. This is a fault of my genes, of course, not theirs.

Gregory Maguire and his husband, the painter Andy Newman, have adopted three children together. As co-founder of Children's Literature New England, children's literacy is an important issue for Mr. Maguire. The CLNE Inc. stated mission is to elevate the awareness of the significance of literature in the lives of children. "We do that," says Maguire, "through holding institutes and colloquiums at which teachers, librarians, parents, editors ... come together to discuss classic and contemporary children's books in the light of expansive literary themes." Maguire is the author of more than 20 children's books and continues to write for both children and adults.

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