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"Six thousand strong, they cried in unison, hoping that the echo of their message would be heard in the darkest, most cloistered cell in Southstairs as well as in the highest office in the Palace of the Emperor. “Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives!”
— (p. 305)[src]

Son of a Witch is fantasy novel written by Gregory Maguire, it being a sequel to Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995).

Like Wicked, Son of a Witch elaborates a darker and more mature side of the lighthearted world of Oz. In an interview that is included with the Son of a Witch audio CD, Gregory Maguire gave two reasons for writing the book: "the many letters from young fans asking what happened to Nor, last seen as a chained political prisoner, and seeing the Abu Ghraib torture photographs." Son of a Witch continues the story after the fall from power of the Wizard of Oz and the death of Elphaba, Maguire's reinvention of the Wicked Witch of the West. As its title implies, the story elaborates the life of Elphaba’s possible son, Liir.

Son of a Witch is the second novel in The Wicked Years. It is dedicated to the musical cast of Wicked.

Plot Summary

Oatsie Manglehand, a woman who leads the Grasstrail Train, discovers the body of a young man, badly bruised and near death, by the side of a road in the Vinkus. The Vinkus has lately become dangerous due to "scrapings", mysterious killings that involve the removal of the head's facial features, but this man's face has not been scraped. Oatsie brings the man to the Cloister of St. Glinda in the Shale Shallows. The Superior Maunt recognizes the young man and identifies him as Liir, the young boy who left the Cloister with Elphaba a decade or so prior.

The narrative is not chronological for the first part of the book: in the first two sections ("Under the Jackal Moon" and "The Service") the narrative shifts between the time when Liir left Kiamo Ko after the death of Elphaba and the time when Candle and Liir leave the Cloister. The second two sections ("The Emperor Apostle" and "No Place Like It") tell the story chronologically from Candle and Liir's arrival at Apple Press Farm to the end. An explanation for this narrative structure in the first part of the book is provided by references that Candle, in playing the domingon while Liir is in his coma-like state, is "guiding" him through his recollection of his past, and to the numerous and complex references in the novel to connections between past and present in the lives of individuals.

Events between the end of Wicked to the opening of Son of a Witch

After Elphaba's death in Wicked, Liir accompanies Dorothy Gale, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Toto back to the Emerald City. While traveling, they meet Princess Nastoya, the leader of the Scrow, a Vinkus tribe. Nastoya is an Elephant who, because of the Wizard's pogrom against Animals, availed herself of a witch's charm that enabled her to transform into a human. Nastoya is slowly dying, and she asks Liir to find a way to enable her return to Elephant form before she dies. In return, she promises that she will try to learn about the fate of Nor, Fiyero Tigelaar's daughter, who, with her family, was taken by the Wizard's forces. When they reach the Emerald City, the others go off to receive what they were promised by the Wizard, leaving Liir alone.

Liir becomes convinced that Nor is in Southstairs, a subterranean city that operates as a maximum-security prison, and seeks the aid of Glinda, appointed acting ruler of Oz after the Wizard's departure. She enables Liir to access Southstairs by arranging a meeting with Shell, Elphaba's younger brother. Shell, who undertakes 'missions of mercy' in Southstairs, which involves 'comforting' female prisoners by injecting them with extract of poppy flower and taking sex as payment, brings him to the Under-Mayor, Chyde. When Chyde takes Liir to find Nor, they learn that Nor has recently escaped, by hiding in the carcasses of some slaughtered Horned Hogs. Liir leaves Southstairs by flying out (via the "original geological bucket" at the middle of Southstairs) on Elphaba's broom.

After living on the streets of the Emerald City for a time, Liir manages to enlist in the Home Guard. After a number of years in the service, his and three other companies (known as the "Seventh Spear"), led by Commander Cherrystone, are deployed to Qhoyre in Quadling Country, ostensibly to find those responsible for the kidnapping of the Viceroy and his wife and to maintain order, but imperatively to show some strength against the Quadlings for their lack of interest in the disappearance of the Viceroy. Their quietism and general deferential nature, however, prevent the Seventh Spear from needing to display any force. Over time, the unit comes to absorb the laid-back nature of the inhabitants, and the authorities in Emerald City become critical about their laxness, ordering them to get back on mission immediately. To adopt an appearance of keeping the Quadlings in line, and in desperation, Commander Cherrystone provokes the village of Bengda into refusing to pay an exorbitant fine and orders Liir to lead a secret operation to burn the village. In the operation, many of the villagers including women and children are burned to death or drowned, and Liir, having witnessed this, deserts. Liir learns later that the Quadlings attacked and killed most of the Seventh Spear, and that dragons were then sent to punish the Quadlings.

Liir returns to Kiamo Ko, where Chistery, Elphaba's Flying Snow Monkey, and her elderly Nanny are still living. While there, a badly injured Princess of the Swans lands, having been attacked by a predator she does not know the name of. Before she dies, she asks Chistery to take her place at a Conference of the Birds she has called. Although Chistery says he cannot go, Liir decides that since Elphaba would have attended the Conference, he will go in her stead. While flying on Elphaba's broom to reach the Conference, however, Liir is attacked by dragons and falls to earth, where he is found by Oatsie Manglehand.

After the Cloister

The Superior Maunt of the Cloister of Saint Glinda decides to appoint Candle, a young Quadling girl, to watch over Liir and soothe him by playing on her domingon, a Quadling guitar-like instrument. When Sister Doctor and Sister Apothecaire object, she informs them that she is sending them into the Vinkus to investigate the perpetrators of the scrapings of some novice maunts who were doing missionary work there. They encounter the Yunamata tribe and then Princess Nastoya and the Scrow, who each accuse the other of perpetrating the scrapings. It becomes evident to the Sisters that neither tribe is responsible.

When Candle believes that Liir is dying and is about to get help, an old maunt, Mother Yackle, stops her and locks her in the room with Liir. In a desperate attempt to save him, she performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the boy, and wraps him in her clothes. Mother Yackle later unlocks the door, and, when the Superior Maunt and the newly returned Sisters Doctor and Apothecaire enter the sickroom, Candle and Liir are gone.

The pair take up residence in a deserted farmhouse, which Candle names "Apple Press Farm." When he is fully recovered, Liir goes to the Conference of the Birds. As the Princess of the Swans had told Chistery, the Birds had until now been little concerned with the fate of other Animals under the Wizard's anti-Animal laws because, being flying creatures, they were relatively safe. However, the Birds were a potential threat to the Emerald City's efforts to divide those groups who might oppose them, like the tribes of the Vinkus and the Munchkinlanders, because they can see and report on what is going on throughout Oz. This is why the dragons are attacking Birds, and why the Conference is huddled up in Kumbricia's Pass, afraid to fly. The Conference wants Liir to destroy the dragons and recover the broom (taken by the dragons) in order to become their human ambassador, a request that Liir reluctantly agrees to fulfill.

Returning to Apple Press Farm, Candle tells him she is pregnant. Liir insists he never had sex with her, so he cannot be the father, but Candle insists that he did and he is, and explains that she had sex with him while he was unconscious, although Liir remains unconvinced. Arriving back in the Emerald City, he meets Trism bon Cavalish, the soldier who had told him how to get into the Home Guard, who, he remembers, was a Minor Menacier involved in dragon husbandry. To Liir's disgust, Trism informs him that the Emperor Apostle, the current ruler of Oz, is none other than a born-again Shell. Trism is psychologically shattered because of his responsibility for training the dragons to perform their killing missions (including the scrapings), but, as chief dragon master, feels trapped, fearing for his and his family's life if he resists. Trism reveals the dragons are sent out to terrorize the population of Oz and ensure submission to the Emperor's authority. Liir convinces Trism to help him destroy the dragons, and after poisoning their food, they recover Elphaba's broom and cloak and flee the City. Liir leaves a note saying he has kidnapped Trism, signing himself "Liir, son of Elphaba."

During their flight, Liir and Trism become lovers. They eventually end up at the Cloister of St. Glinda, where Commander Cherrystone and the Home Guard besiege them. The mauntery is spared from attack because Glinda is staying there on retreat. With her help, they come up with a plan for the pair's escape: Liir will fly away on his broom, while Trism will leave with Glinda, disguised as her servant. Returning to the Conference of Birds, Liir flies about Oz, collecting and training a huge flock of Birds, which he leads to the Emerald City. Over the City, they fly in formation as a huge representation of the Witch, with Liir as "the keen black eye of the Witch."

Returning to Apple Press Farm, Liir finds that Princess Nastoya and the Scrow have come. Candle informs him that Trism had earlier come to the farm and left, having unsuccessfully tried to persuade her to flee with him, telling her he was afraid Commander Cherrystone and the Home Guard would come looking for him. Liir comes up with the idea that Candle's music might release Nastoya from her human form, and he is correct: he has hung around Nastoya the preserved faces of scraping victims that he and Trism stole after poisoning the dragons (which were going to be displayed as an example of what would happen to those who defied the Emperor), and with Candle playing accompaniment, the faces sing about their lives. Somehow, this allows Nastoya to return to her Elephant form and she dies.

Shem Ottokos, the new ruler of the Scrow insists Liir accompany the Scrow and the Princess's body back into the Vinkus, in case they encounter the Yunamata. They do, but the Yunamata only pay their respects to the dead Nastoya and leave. When returning home, it suddenly dawns on Liir that the "ELPHABA LIVES!" graffiti he has seen in the Emerald City is in Nor's handwriting. When he arrives at Apple Press Farm, Candle is gone, but he finds wrapped in Elphaba's cloak a newborn baby who he initially thinks is dead but revives under his care. Holding the baby up to the rain to wash away the birth blood, she "cleans up green."

Release details

Son of a Witch was first released on September 27, 2005 in hardcover format by Regan Books. Almost exactly a year later, on September 26, 2006, the paperback edition was released in the United States. A second edition of the paperback was released shortly thereafter on October 26, 2006.

Allusions and references

Allusions and references to other works

Son of a Witch elaborates significantly on the history of Oz as established in Baum's books, but in a way very different from its predecessor. The second Oz novel by Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz, recounts the dethronement of the ruler of Oz, the Scarecrow, by General Jinjur and her all-female army, and reveals that the boy Tip is in actuality the enchanted Princess Ozma, the rightful ruler of Oz. The only connection Son of a Witch has to the established Oz history is that the Scarecrow (although not Dorothy's Scarecrow) briefly rules Oz as a puppet (or 'straw man') of a cabal of bankers, and that Liir, on one of his journeys, crosses paths with Tip. Despite this, Son of a Witch does not explicitly contradict the official history, but instead recounts history that has been left out of the official history. Since the Scarecrow that becomes the ruler of Oz is not Dorothy's Scarecrow and since, when Liir meets Tip and Mombey, they are driving home a newly acquired four-horned cow (which is mentioned at the opening of The Marvelous Land of Oz as Mombi's "especial pride"), it is likely that Son of a Witch takes place between The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Marvelous Land of Oz. Out of Oz, the fourth and final volume in The Wicked Years, includes elements from The Marvelous Land of Oz and depicts an somewhat altered version of the events of that story.

Allusions to the musical Wicked

The use of Glinda's last name Upland comes directly from the musical; in the previous book Glinda refers to herself as "Glinda of the Arduenna Clan". When Glinda throws Elphaba's broom in the fire and it refuses to burn she says "Sweet Oz"; she uses the same exact phrase in the musical when she sees the broom levitate for the first time. When Glinda and Liir meet again towards the end of the book Glinda claims that people remember the legend of Elphaba and in a way that nearly breaks the fourth wall she says: "No Liir. She lives. People sing of her. … There's a musical noise around her name; there are things people remember, and pass on."

Literary significance and criticism

Overall, reviews for Son of a Witch were mixed. Some reviewers praised the book for its innovative look into an imperfect fantasy world while others disparaged the book's alleged lack of focus. Writing for The Boston Globe, Sarah Smith wrote, "Maguire has done it again: Son of a Witch is as wicked as they come," but Katharine Powers for The Washington Post called it "off-kilter and aimless." Kirkus Reviews keeps the middle ground of these two characterizations, writing, "The book works too hard to dazzle us; it's considerably more cluttered and strained than Wicked…but few readers will fail to stay its magical course. Once again, the myth of Oz proves its enduring power."

Liir was named #1 on a list of Top Ten LGBT Book Characters.

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

Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz