Gregory Maguire on the end of Oz, the modern fairy tale and more

Categories: Books, Q&A

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Author Gregory Maguire will be in town tonight at the Tattered Cover LoDo to celebrate, sign and talk about his newest book, Out of Oz, the final installment in his series of Wizard of Oz-based novels. The series, which debuted with Wicked sixteen years ago and spawned a hit Broadway play, is adored by fans. In this final book, Maguire kicked out the highest page count yet and solved nearly all of the mysteries he'd created in Oz.

We caught up with Maguire and asked him what it feels like to end a sixteen-year project and what he thinks of the recent push for new fairy tales on TV.

Westword: So, what does it feel like after sixteen years of working on this series to finish it?

Gregory Maguire: I've obviously, given my gender, never gone through the pangs of childbirth, but I have heard about postpartum depression, when the mother loves her new infant but misses the snugness of the life in the womb. So now that I'm through blurting my secrets of Oz across this novel, I'm very happy to exhibit the new baby, but at the same time, there is a sense of hollowness. I'm not an oppressive person, or I'd be quietly slitting my wrists in the corner, but I do notice that I have felt like I have been the ambassador of Oz for the last sixteen years to a whole nation, and I'm terribly honored to have found my way to this position. I'm not sure what being unemployed is going to do to me (laughs).

But you certainly had other ideas throughout the process of working on this?

Well, I've written a lot of other books, so my mind is always racing. But in a certain way, the Oz material has always been the queen bee in the hive. When I've been working on other things -- partly because Oz is so clear in my mind -- as I fall asleep sometimes I'll drift and hover like a slow-motion helicopter over the landscape of Oz and look down and see what I can see.

What has it been like to take this pre-existing world and expand on it?

I have not felt like a colonial oppressor, you know? I don't feel like the great white hope of darkest Africa stepping my great western-European boots across the natives and saying, "This will be good for you one day." I've never really felt like that. Instead, I've tried really hard to honor the givens of Oz such as they were laid out by L Frank Baum and the people who made the original MGM film. I had to honor them, but I couldn't be slavish about them. I have not tried to adore them and say they're scripture; I've just bowed by head to say they exist and then have gone on my merry way making little changes that I think help me build the platform that helps me say what I want to say with this material.

So you were never stuck with a "George Lucas-style" overhead of what you needed to do?

No, no. It was rather wonderful when I wrote Wicked. When I sent it in to my agent, he wrote back a letter saying, "Your massive book has arrived, and I'm looking forward to reading it. How clever of you to get this book to me just five months after the statute of limitations had run out." I had no idea about that; I thought it had run out decades earlier. If I had known, I probably would have never had the nerve to try.

On that same note, how do you feel about a lot of the TV shows that have been latching onto fairy tales and retelling them in a variety of ways?

Well, I feel obscurely responsible, and I only hope they do a good job (laughs). One of the reasons I think it's so popular is that fairy tales are one of the last bodies of commonly held culturally held material that American's agree on, since we seem to so love disagreeing about everything else. But we were all children once, and we all speak the common language of childhood.

It's one of the reasons I have used fairy tales as the basis for my novels: I don't simply want to preach to the choir, I want to preach to the people on the streets who don't even like choir music. So I want to use a language that is accessible to anyone, and the fairly tales are the lingua franca of our generation. It's not Bible stories, it's not Greek myths, it's the fairy tales.

Do you have plans for what's next?

No, I don't. Initially, I used to say that the muse came to visit me riding on the back of the wolf at the door. Now, thanks to the success of my novels, I'm happy to say the wolf can't go anywhere near my property lines. I'm sometimes worried the muse, too, is out there somewhere saying, "Hello!? Over here! Take off your security alarm!"

But the truth is, this last book has been so huge in my mind and in execution: It is by far the longest book I've ever written and I'm sure I'll ever write. You know how when you put down a big box, your muscles are still sore for a couple of days even though you're not actually carrying the weight anymore? I expect my creative muscles to be sore for quite a while. Eventually they'll unclench, and I do hope the muse is able to get over the barbed wire and past the security detail and the armored guards and will come in with a nice glass of port one night when I'm half asleep and will sit down, silently, out of my line of sight and say to me, "Let me tell you a story," and I will listen.

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