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One doesn’t know, necessarily, when one meets the trip-action person in one’s life. A good teacher, a flirt behind the dry-goods counter, a petty thief wielding a knife. Any one of a thousand chance encounters might be the chance of a lifetime. Or a deathtime. A lost girl in a blue gingham skirt and a white pinafore hardly seemed a likely ambassador toward a rosier future: still, stranger things had happened.
— (p. 152)[src]

A Lion Among Men is the third novel in Gregory Maguire's The Wicked Years and was released in the UK on October 2, 2008, October 8 in the US, and on October 14, 2008 in the rest of Europe.

Prior to the publication of A Lion Among Men, Maguire stated that "this book will be about the differing moralities... among soldiers, for one, and diplomats, for another... about decisions to wage war" and "One of the main characters is the Cowardly Lion". Maguire also stated that the novel's story "starts off about eight years after the end of Son of a Witch". Maguire's website describes the novels as "seen now through the eyes of the Cowardly Lion—the once tiny cub defended by Elphaba in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West."

Plot

The story opens with an impending battle between the Munchkinlanders and the Emerald City troops. In the middle of the war is the Mauntery, the center that's been the epicenter for Elphaba, Yackle, Liir, and Candle. Yackle still lives despite losing her eyesight and longs for death. At her request, the Maunts bury her in their crypt alive with only a few candles and some wine. She's eventually forgotten, but not by all.

Elsewhere, Nor has escaped from Southstairs and wanders the Land of Oz until her path crosses the dwarf, whom she calls Mr. Boss, and the Clock of the Time Dragon. The Clock has awakened...

Back at the Mauntery, Brrr, the Cowardly Lion, and his pet, a Glass Cat named Grimalkin that he has nicknamed Shadowpuppet, arrive looking for Yackle. The maunts claim she's deceased but Yackle rises from the crypt, still alive. Yackle and Brrr begin a game of wits - Brrr demands information on Madame Morrible and in exchange he'll tell Yackle about himself:

Brrr doesn't remember his parents or where he's from. He grew up by himself in the Great Gillikin Forest, learning language from the hunters that travel through his forest. One day he meets a soldier, Jemmsy, who's caught in his own hunting trap that was supposed to catch Animals. He implores Brrr to go to Tenniken and get help. Instead, out of fear and the naive belief that since this is the first person he's conversed with, then Jemmsy's a friend and can't be abandoned, Brrr stays with Jemmsy until he dies, claiming the books that lie beside him and taking Jemmsy's medal for courage to give to Jemmsy's relatives. Thus begins the Lion's unhappy personage as a coward.

After Jemmsy dies, Brrr goes out to find Tenniken. Not long after he sets out, Brrr finds a terrified Bear Cub. The Bear soon reveals that his name's Cubbins, and takes Brrr to his family. They're the Northern Bears under rule by Queen Ursaless. She tells Brrr that to get to Tenniken, he must travel through the Cloud Swamp, a wet land inhabited by the Ozmists (ghost-like beings). Brrr and Cubbins have an "all but fatal" interview with the Ozmists. Brrr soon leaves Cubbins with the pile of books as he leaves the Great Gillikin Forest for the first time.

When Brrr first ventures out of the forest, he finds out he isn't in Tenniken at all, but Traum, a market town east of Tenniken. Brrr soon finds himself involved in a massacre of Glikkun trolls. Not knowing what to do, Brrr tells some trolls to play dead, as he thinks that it's the only way to bypass the slaughter, but they take his advice too late and become captured. The people of Traum celebrate the Lion for refusing to help their enemies, the Glikkuns, and Brrr safely gets out of Traum by train. While on the train, however, Brrr decides that his refusal to help the Glikkuns is really a badge of shame, and knowing that in Tenniken his reputation will precede him, he ultimately can't bring himself to go there, instead arriving in the University town of Shiz.

Brrr sets himself up in an apartment, and spends time in and around Shiz. The Lion soon finds a poem dedicated to humiliating him. Feeling embarrassed, Brrr packs up and leaves into the wilderness. Brrr wanders around the woods aimlessly for a while, until he finds a pride of Lions trying to make it in the forest. Brrr lives with the Lions for several years. But some of the Lions mock him, prompting him to leave... again.

The next group that Brrr encounters is the Ghullim, a streak of Ivory Tigers in Wend Fallows. He'd happily pass right through their tribe without stopping, but they force him to stay with them for a while, if only to assess his status as a threat. While there, he befriends and ultimately falls in love with Muhlama H'aekeem, princess and heir to the Chieftaincy of the Ghullim. But when they're discovered mating by Ivory Tiger scouts, her father Chief Uyodor H'aekeem announces that he suspects him of attempting to thwart his regime due to Muhlama being seriously wounded from the lovemaking, once again prompting him to leave, before they have his head on a trophy background.

Within the following weeks, Brrr meets a strange group of travelers. One a little girl named Dorothy, one a Scarecrow and the other was Nick Chopper, the Tin Woodman. Brrr decides to go with them to meet the Wizard of Oz. They soon find themselves on a quest to kill Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. But Dorothy wants to reason with her instead. Once at Kiamo Ko, where Elphaba lives, she locks the Lion in a room with Liir while she and Dorothy have at it. They soon break out in time for Elphaba to be vanquished. The five go back to the Wizard and get their rewards. All but Brrr got what they wanted (Brrr getting a terribly manufactured Badge of Courage, even more so than Jemmsy's. Liir gets nothing for he was left outside.) Brrr promises Dorothy that he'll protect and look after Liir, but Liir vanishes in the streets and crowds of the Emerald City. Brrr then goes off on his own path, like before.

The Lion has hit the outback again. With the other members of Dorothy's party laughing it up and having their own affairs, Brrr soon meets two old bachelors; Mister Mikko, an Ape, and Professor Lenx, a Boar of some kind. The three Animals discuss current events and past events. They soon rile Brrr up to retrieve money from the banks of Oz for them. The Lion soon becomes a broker for Animals, retrieving their money that is held in the banks since before they were forced to leave Oz. The forces of Oz soon discover that Brrr is bringing money into the Free State of Munchkinland and try him for being a Collaborationist. He strikes a plea and is assigned to go find the whereabouts of the Grimmerie, which leads him to his interview with Yackle.

Yackle tells Brrr that she awoke from a stupor already aged and having no memory of her prior life. She ventured out of the room she awoke in, walking right into Shiz, where she began her career as a clairvoyant. She adopted the name Yackle after she saw a picture of the mythological Yakal Snarling and adopted the name, dropping the Snarling. It is later revealed she came from the Grimmerie and was created as a witness to the life of Elphaba Thropp.

Yackle would work as a practitioner of pagan herbal magic and a prophet. She stayed for a time in Shiz, offering minor predictions, before leaving for the Emerald City, where she worked in the Lower Quarter in a shop branded with an underground symbol representing the practice of alchemy. During this time, Yackle provides a middle-aged Nanny with the pills that were supposed to prevent Melena Thropp from giving birth to a green child again (her first being Elphaba). Instead, the strange magic remedy caused Nessarose, Melena's second child, to be born without arms and hardly able to support herself. Yackle drinks some of the Miracle Elixir Nanny brought (which Melena was given by the Wizard) and predicts that Melena's daughters will change the history of Oz.

Yackle admits to Brrr that before Nanny's visit she was a fake and had no actual powers. After her first vision, induced by the Miracle Elixir, she began to have some powers of prophecy, which she used to keep track of Elphaba.

Later, when the Company of the Clock of the Time Dragon arrives at the mauntery, they bring the Grimmerie with it. The Clock reveals that Brrr's pet Shadowpuppet was actually a cat hired by the Wizard's government to spy on Elphaba and played a small role in Fiyero's death. The cat is ultimately imprisoned in the Grimmerie by Yackle. In the end, Yackle also reabsorbs herself into the book.

Praise

"Melodic, symphonic, and beautiful... dejected and biting and brave...In fabulous details and self-mocking language, Maguire displays his gift for whimsical potrayals of the broken, the powerless, the hopless, the bad." --Los Angeles Times

"A masterful storytelller... A Lion will be catnip to fans of the Wicked series, and newcomers will be drawn in, too." --New York Daily News

"Much to savor... A page-turning fantasy and a timely political allegory." --USA Today

""Entertaining.... The author mixes some relatively weighy exisential themes--the search for self, faith, redemption--into... a darkly enchanting saga" --Publishers Weekly

"This Oz goes far beyond L. Frank Baum's; it's as surreal as a dream but as immaculately and impecably detailed as history. Maguire's wizardlike grasp over every aspect of this reinvented land rivals classic literary landscapes like Tolkien's Middle-earth and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County." --Albany Times Union

"So well crafted that readers of all ages could enjoy winessing Brrr's transformation from an insecure kitten in the woods to a compassionate, engaged ‘manimal.’" --Christian Science Monitor

"The third book in Maguire's Wicked Years is at once funny, charming, harrowing, bleak, and incredibly beautiful." --American Chronicle

"Engrossing... Maguire is a masterful storyteller with an uncanny flair for mixing political and personal while exploing what it means-- and what it costs--to be accepted in a society." --New York Daily News

"As usual, Maguire, a seasoned fabulist, populates his version of Oz with a cast of utterly fantasic charaacters who much face their own inner demons while tumult and uncertainty rage around them. An absolute must-read for fans of this ever-evolving dark fairy tale." --Booklist

"The minute you open A Lion Among Men, you're back in Maguire's exquisitely detailed environment, caught up once again in his geograhy, his characters, his worldview, touched anew by the loneliness that lurks in the heart of all things." --New Orleans Times-Picayune



Wicked
Wicked-Years.jpg
The Wicked Years
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the WestSon of a WitchA Lion Among MenOut of Oz


Another Day
The Brides of MaracoorThe Oracle of Maracoor


Companion book
Tales Told in Oz


Musical
Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz
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