A Smashing Good Time – the Wicked Witch of the West
Few villains are as iconic as Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939). Is it the green skin, the archetypal witch’s nose, or the wide-brimmed black hat that makes her so memorable? Maybe her screeching voice is what sticks in your memory. The Wicked Witch of the West has had multiple incarnations in the 100+ years since L. Frank Baum first published his novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Many additional authors have written about this witch. We will explore the four primary versions of the Wicked Witch of the West. These versions are:
- The Wicked Witch of the West, from The Wizard of Oz (film, MGM, 1939).
- Elphaba, from Gregory Maguire’s Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West.
Note: This is the original version of the character made famous in the Broadway musical, Wicked.
- The Wicked Witch of the West, from L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- Ondri-baba, from Tarl Telford’s Hidden History of Oz books.
What makes each of these versions different? Who is the Wicked Witch of the West, anyway?
The film version
The best known witch in film history was characterized by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939). She was a wicked, cackling menace to Dorothy and her companions, from the beginning, all the way to the end of her miserable life. She controlled the Flying Monkeys, the Jitterbug, and she had a large hourglass filled with red sand. She had no mercy for man nor beast, as exemplified in her well-known quote, “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”
A prequel version of this character appeared in Disney’s, Oz, the Great and Powerful (2013), portrayed by Mila Kunis. She was a young witch who had her heart broken by Oscar Diggs, a con man who was called the Wizard. (I don’t care for this version of any of the characters; more on that in another post.)
The book versions
Gregory Maguire created an alternate history of the Land of Oz in his Wicked series of books. Elphaba Thropp is a misfit and an outcast with an aversion to water. Her college years as a roommate with Galinda (later her name was changed to Glinda) comprise a portion of Maguire’s first book. For a complete, easy-to-read synopsis, visit Shmoop.
Unnamed (Baum’s version)
Baum’s version of the Wicked Witch has a magic eye, with which she can see great distances. This is how she spots Dorothy and her friends coming from far away. She ruled the Winkies from Yellow Castle, and she had a silver whistle with which she commanded wolves, crows, and black bees to destroy Dorothy. Thanks to the efforts of Dorothy’s friends, the vicious animals were destroyed. This left only one course of action to conquer Dorothy – use the Golden Cap and command the Winged Monkeys. This she did, using her last wish to command the Winged Monkeys to destroy Dorothy and her friends. This was one command they could not complete fully – Dorothy was protected by the magic of the Good Witch of the North (Locasta).
Dorothy was carried to the castle of the Wicked Witch, where she spent several weeks doing menial tasks. But the Witch was not content with having Dorothy as a slave – she wanted the Silver Slippers that Dorothy wore. The only time that Dorothy removed the magic shoes was when she slept, and when she took a bath. The Witch was very afraid of the dark, but she was even more afraid of water. So she came up with a plan to get the slippers. She enchanted a bar of iron and made it invisible to human eyes and placed it in the middle of the kitchen floor, causing Dorothy to trip. This made one of the Silver Slippers fall off. Dorothy was angry and picked up a nearby pail of water and doused the Wicked Witch head to toe.
As the story goes, she melted. That was the end of her.
Ondri-baba, from the Hidden History of Oz series
The Wicked Witch of the West was not always old. Like Gregory Maguire’s stories, The Hidden History of Oz series comes before the events of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz novel. Ondri-baba is one of the witches in the Land of Oz, but it is not until the end of The Witch Queens that she obtains her own land – the West.
Ondri-baba has the power to make things invisible. She has a magic eye, which was a gift from the Queen of Dreams. She sees magic, and things that nobody else in Oz can see. This keeps her awake at night, as the eye does not close. As she sleeps, she sees the things that nobody else can. In a revealing conversation between Ondri-baba and the Wizard, she relates:
“They promised me I would see.”
“And what do you see?”
“I see fire. I see monsters each night. I see the dark winds that blow from the desert. They sear the clouds and push through the minds of the dreamless sleepers. They stop at me. Do you understand, Wizard – they stop at me because I see!”
“So close your eyes.”
“This eye does not close. It watches awake, constantly. I cannot rest. I SEE!”
— The Hidden History of Oz, Book Two: Crown of the Dreamer, chapter 27, “A Voice in the Darkness”
Her rivalry with her sister (Kalinya, the Wicked Witch of the East) stems from disagreements long ago. According to Locasta, “They are sisters that cannot bear the blood they share.”
Ondri-baba rules the Winkies in the West with an iron fist. She is absolute ruler over both the Winkies and the Winged Monkeys. By virtue of the Golden Cap, she controls the Winged Monkeys, but only three times. The first command was to conquer the Winkies. The second command was to drive the Wizard from the Lands of the West. And the third command…? Baum already related that part of the story.
Ondri-baba, according to her sister, is not clever, but she is cruel and she is stubborn. What she lacks in schemes, she makes up for in raw determination. She obtained her goal and rules the Land of the West. In a confrontation with her sister, Kalinya, she reveals the secret of her power:
“Go. Take your magic slippers and leave. I do not want your schemes to destroy what I have worked hard to build.”
“You did build this – you took it by crook. You had the monkeys conquer the Winkies and then you came in as Deliverer.”
“Yes.” Ondri-baba smiled. “These people were desperate to cling to a strong fist – anything that would bring peace. It just happened to be me.”
“Yes.” [Kalinya] mimicked. “It just happened to be you.”
— HH2: Crown of the Dreamer, chapter 26, “Mirror, Mirror”
The need for power and control drives Ondri-baba. In The Witch Queens, she battles against betrayal. In Crown of the Dreamer, she battles the Wizard for control of the Winged Monkeys. In both cases, her stubborn strength wins the day.
The Wicked Witch of the West is iconic. She comes in many forms and appears in many stories. Every reader will have their favorite version. For myself, I prefer Ondri-baba. She is true to Baum’s original vision, but she comes with an interesting motivation and backstory. Her history is one that I enjoy exploring.
- Wicked Witch of the West – Oz.wikia.com – a more definitive version of this post. The only version it does not yet have is that of Ondri-baba, from the Hidden History of Oz series.
I also enjoy Ondri-Baba. I prefer the Baum versions over all and she seems to fit that version (with a bit of Baba Yaga thrown in).
But though I don’t care for Elphaba and Theodora, I do like the MGM version of the witch. Margaret Hamilton was perfect in the role she played, even if she was very little like the witch from Baum’s book.
The Golden Cap does appear in the film, (it looks plush) so maybe they had planned to use it for more than something the witch could just throw.
October 20, 2013 at 12:26 AM
The purpose of the Hidden History of Oz is to create the context for Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz. While Baum left many questions unanswered, the HH series points back to the wonder and whimsy he created. The familiar characters from Baum’s stories will make appearances. Ondri-baba plays a larger role in Book Two. We find out how her second command to the Winged Monkeys played out – “Drive the Wizard from the lands of the West!”
October 20, 2013 at 2:36 PM