‘Wicked’ writer explores phenomenon

Gregory Maguire talks sequels, adaptations

Gregory Maguire’s first adult novel spent 26 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, but it took almost 10 years to get there.

After nearly two decades of writing children’s books, Maguire wrote “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West” in 1995.

“When I went to Oz it was because I was interested in the corrupt landscape of adulthood,” he says.

When the musical adaptation of “Wicked” opened in 2003, the fantasist says, “My readership quadrupled.”

Maguire has since written revisionist takes on other fantasies such as the story of Cinderella (“Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”) and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” (“Lost”), reworking them into adult novels in the same way he upended L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. But it was only a matter of time until the writer revisited his cockeyed version of Oz in “Son of a Witch,” out in 2005, and “A Lion Among Men,” published on Oct. 14.

“The show brought many, many new readers, maybe people who weren’t readers of fiction generally,” Maguire recalls. “There were also many letters with questions about characterizations that never made it onto the Broadway stage.”

Maguire says he has four books planned for the series, which he calls “The Wicked Years.”

“I have planned for the house to land in about 280 pages,” he confides, bringing the novels up to the chief dramatic departure point of the beloved 1939 MGM film, “The Wizard of Oz.”

As popular as the books are (“Son of a Witch” was on the bestseller list for 14 weeks), Maguire says it’s unlikely we’ll see a musical sequel to “Wicked” — the stage show contradicts some of the plot points explored by the author in greater detail in the “Wicked” sequels.

As for the merchandise, the eventual feature film and the show’s continued financial success, Maguire regards all that the way an entomologist might regard a particularly interesting ant farm.

“It’s an enterprise now — it’s a nation unto itself,” he says. “And that’s fine with me. It allows me to stay affectionate and not get into internecine squabbles. And it allows me to get on with my other work.”