Saturday, September 5, 2009


No, I have not worked on my writing. And, yes, I am writing a blog. I have to. My husband and I watched the musical Wicked last night, and I have such a mixed response to it, I had to write to make any sense of it.

First, let me qualify my response. I have read the book Wicked, and it was terrible. Despite how poorly it was written, how boring, and how meaningless the whole thing was, I still did read it through to the end, and when the end of the novel occurred, I felt like I had completely wasted my time (and a lot of it, since it took a long time to read). Naturally, I was not certain the musical would be any better, but I'd heard good things, so my hubby and I thought we'd try it (buying the cheapest seats for the production, so we wouldn't be too disappointed). 

The good news? The musical retained few elements of the novel--very few--and invented all sorts of other elements, including changing relationships, changing the ending completely, and taking all sorts of other liberties with it. The characters were infinitely more likable and accessible, and they were funnier (which wouldn't have been hard, since the characters weren't the slightest bit funny in the novel). In fact, Glinda the Good Witch was pretty hilarious and stole the show from Elpheba (The Wicked Witch of the West) pretty handily.

The bad news? Well, it wasn't a very good musical. The music was pretty forgettable (I'd seen the most dramatic part of it on the Tony Awards, but I'd forgotten it completely). Plot lines were slim, and the ending was ridiculous.

Even worse, were I the novelist who penned the original novel, I would have run out of there screaming, and I would likely be in jail for killing the first person I saw. I imagined one of my own novels being turned into utter drivel, and the prospect of it made me cringe. Right now I am still cringing.

What's oddest about this is that I hated the novel--it might be one of the worst novels I've read in years--but I am still defensive about the idea of someone's work being mauled to death for the sake of a musical format. I can only compare it to the travesty that is Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. What Disney execs were thinking when they took the most depressing novel ever (and one I personally love) and turned it into a children's cartoon will be forever a mystery. 

And so will Wicked, I'm afraid. Still, it was fascinating to watch and analyze, from the perspective of both a novelist and a playwright. 

Rather like a train wreck would be fascinating to a railroad engineer.


  1. I read one of the author's other books and it was also a bit of derivative business that made little sense. I like a couple of the songs from Wicked, but I can't sit through a musical anymore.

    Have you read/seen Julie and Julia? This is the most recent example of a book being re-written for the scene that got to me. I really loved the book by Julie Powell, but clearly Nora Ephron wanted to make a movie about Julia Child instead.

    I doubt that any author likes having their work chopped and diced and broiled and stir fried by an ever growing roomful of cooks.

    But there is money there, so it would be very hard for me to stay on the moral high ground for too long.

  2. I think I'd have to do what J.K. Rowling did... not give up the work unless I had a veto in changes to the plot, or some sort of "no way you're doing the book that way" clause. I wouldn't have a problem with a few changes, but if they destroy my book, I'd have to create issue with it.

    Thanks for the comment! I don't intend to ever read another book by that author. One was plenty!

  3. I guess I see things differently. Personally, when I read a bad novel (or one I think would translate to film/stage poorly) and they manage to make it better than it might have been, I'm cool with that. Admittedly, I have little sympathy for a poorly wrought novel, and there are few things that irk me more than a book that wastes its potential.

    I'm also well aware that many things that work swimmingly on paper don't work with breathing actors, often the strangest stuff. So, I'm rarely bothered UNLESS the staged/filmed production is lousy. If it's good, even if it's radically changed, I'm happy. I feel like I can see them on their own merits.

    For that reason, though I love Greek mythology, I wasn't bothered by Hercules. I never read Hunchback of Notre Dame, but it is one of my favorite of the Disney animated movies. It just goes to show. I'm not a purist.

    With books in the public domain, I find it a little fascinating how different people get different things from the original. I don't know which are valid, and I know I don't like some and do like others, depending on whether we saw the same things. Or if perhaps I saw an aspect I hadn't seen before (as A&E's Pride and Prejudice explored Mr. Darcy more than the novel)

    Now, how would it feel with my own stuff? I don't know. If a movie was good (but different) from my novel, I'd like to think I'd still be pleased. If the movie wasn't good, I'd be pretty peeved. And, if I wrote a rotten novel, I'd be ecstatic if they managed to fix it, but be disgusted with myself for my own failures. Perhaps I'd learn.

    I work in an environment where my stuff is redlined all the time. I guess I'm pretty immune to it.

  4. Having said all that, I have to admit to speculating. My technical work isn't my baby but my fiction is. I might find I'm not nearly as open-minded to someone having their way with my work as I'd like to think I am.

  5. nice insite, and steph aren't we all that way with our work...

  6. I think writers tend to be sensitive, especially about work that is very close to them. I was only weaned from that as a reporter, for everything I wrote, including pretty impassioned editorials on all sorts of issues, was shredded by my boss week after week.

    After I did that for about 3 years, I pretty much lost any sensitivity. Now my goal is make my stuff great, and if somebody hates it (or even has issue with a character, or a situation), I want to know why. No, I HAVE to know why, so I can fix it.