Green-Skinned Monster: The Wicked Witch of the West

HALLOWEEN 2015: BY RACHEL SEXTON

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Despite being known as “the gentler sex” and “the weaker sex,” women have the same capability for physical violence and moral evil as men do. Sometimes, a great piece of storytelling acknowledges this and the audience is treated to a villainess who truly stands the test of time.

Fairytale tradition is full of stories with women as the antagonist, and that is also true of later popular narratives that are associated with fairytales due to story similarities. No one needs prompting to immediately recognize The Wizard of Oz as one of these. The Wicked Witch of the West has been developed through many incarnations since the novel’s release, but now her green skin is often a physical manifestation of a destructive character trait: jealousy.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published in 1900, written by L. Frank Baum. It was immediately popular and was later printed under the name The Wizard of Oz. In the novel, the girl heroine Dorothy Gale is swept up into a cyclone and deposited in the land of Oz where she faces the evil Wicked Witch of the West during her attempt to seek the assistance of the Wizard to get home. The novel was adapted for film in 1939 and became the classic that we all know and love. It is here that the changes to the character begin, and initially, they are largely physical. Readers who have already seen the film will be surprised that the Witch has one external attribute they don’t expect and she doesn’t have one they do expect. In the novel, the Witch has one eye, and it operates like a telescope which allows her to survey the entire landscape of the Winkie Country of Oz that she exercises tyrannical control over. I have never seen any version of this story show that feature of the Witch. Also, the novel makes no mention of her having green skin. This aspect of her looks is so synonymous with the Witch now that it is hard to believe, but her green skin was crafted for the character in the 1939 film where she is played by actress Margaret Hamilton. Every incarnation of the character since has shown her with green skin.

In 1995, the novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West was released. It was written by Gregory Maguire and was adapted into the hugely successful and beloved stage musical of the same name in 2003. This is an adult retelling of the familiar story, and here the Witch is named Elphaba and her skin is green from birth. She attends university and befriends Glinda before different circumstances leading up to and surrounding the tale we know force them into their separate destinies. Issues of political activism, infidelity, and rivalry ensure that this is not a children’s story anymore. The Witch is developed as a character with much more complexity than Baum attempted.

Disney released a grand scale effort to bring Oz back to the big screen in 2013 with Oz the Great and Powerful. This is essentially a prequel to the Oz books by Baum, recounting how the Wizard arrived in Oz and became so revered while also revealing his interactions with the Witches which have lasting consequences. After a tornado lands him in a wondrous new place called Oz, untrustworthy magician Oscar Diggs (James Franco) meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) and flirts with her. She and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) are good witches and they believe he is the subject of a prophecy that says he will defeat an evil witch and rule Oz. Diggs accepts the task to stop the evil Witch terrorizing Oz’s countryside because it will make him wealthy. Oscar also meets Glinda (Michelle Williams). His behavior with her makes Theodora realize Oscar never loved her. Evanora tries to help Theodora forget Oscar but the magic exposes Evanora as the evil Witch they are trying to stop and turns Theodora evil herself, with green skin to match. Diggs drives the two out of the Emerald City in opposite directions and takes his place as the Wizard. As in Wicked, the Witch here is presented as not bad from the beginning but is driven that way by outside forces, with jealousy as a contributing factor.

The second half of the third season of the revisionist fairytale drama series Once Upon a Time introduced the Wicked Witch of the West as well. This show is known for playing fast and loose with cherished stories, so they have named their character Zelena and she is revealed to be the half-sister of Evil Queen Regina Mills. Played by Rebecca Mader, Zelena wants to complete a time-travel spell in order to claim her place in Regina’s family and become royalty. She even goes to Rumplestiltskin to learn magic, as Regina did. This version of the Wicked Witch features the most overt use of jealousy among all her different interpretations. Zelena was born with normal skin but when Rumplestiltskin rejects her as a student, preferring Regina, she is devastated and her skin turns green. All the heroes on the show believe her dead at the end of the third season but she managed to take the place of another character and was found out at the end of the fourth. Mader was upgraded to a full cast member for the now-airing fifth season, so the Wicked Witch of Once Upon a Time is not done yet.

More and more conspicuously, the character of the Wicked Witch of the West has developed over several incarnations and the distinct physical feature of her green skin has become linked with the emotional upheaval of jealousy. She is already an iconic villainess and audiences can be certain that we haven’t seen the last of her. After all, Maleficent recently got a solo film and one for Cruella de Vil is in the works. Even if she doesn’t get one herself, the Wicked Witch of the West is too entertaining as a female antagonist to stay out of the public eye for long. And her green skin, too. ♥

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Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. But what you really need to know is that she has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life and her favorite fandoms are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Once Upon a Time. Plus, she is most described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Her main hobby is editing fan videos.

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