Wicked, The Other Boleyn Girl, women, and power.

Wicked, like The Other Boleyn Girl, is the story of two women striving for power. But oh, Wicked does the story so much better.

(Note: spoilers for both will follow.)

In Wicked, we see Glinda and Elphaba as they follow ultimately divergent paths in their attempts to gain the power to change Oz. Glinda plays along with the powers that be, in the hopes of changing things from the inside, while Elphaba tries to forge her own way, but both wish to work for the good of Oz. Ultimately, Elphaba is killed, and Glinda is honored by the power structure, but neither is able to effect the change they would have liked to see, and it is very much a story of missed chances and lost dreams.

The story of Anne and Mary Boleyn– the real people– could easily be told in a very similar way, as astute commenter Colleen pointed out here.

I think they were both, in very different ways, trying desperately to lighten as much as possible the yoke of male domination. Anne harnessed her sexuality, the only power she had, to rise to a post in which only one man could tell her what to do. Mary bore it meekly as long as she could in order to lessen its ill effects, then at first opportunity ran off with someone who, by virtue of his far inferior class and income, would have a much harder time asserting his rights as a husband.

The parallels are pretty straightforward– Glinda/Mary doing things the “right” way, Elphaba/Anne being much more bold and uncompromising, Glinda/Mary receiving a pat on the head but no world-changing success, Elphaba/Anne being killed for their transgressions. And, of course, the idea that both girls are working for the same, honorable goal– fighting totalitarianism in Oz, fighting institutionalized sexism in England.

Except The Other Boleyn Girl doesn’t tell this story, with its parallel to Wicked. In the movie, as I’ve said before and before, we are shown the story of Good Mary and Bad Anne, an oversimplification that tells the tale from the patriarchy’s point of view.

Which is why, given trustworthy reports that the book tells much the same story, I’m going to declare Gregory Maguire to be a better writer than Phillipa Gregory.

Gregory Maguire started from a story of “Glinda Good, Elphaba Bad” to give us two women struggling for goals of freedom, striving together and then apart, growing, trying again, and ultimately making not a lot of progress. He showed us their love-hate relationship, he showed us their sex lives, he showed us their dreams and desires. In other words, he gave us two complex, real people and the struggles of their lives.

Phillipa Gregory took two complex, real people and the struggles of their lives, and gave us “Mary Good, Anne Bad.” She botched what was surely an interesting sibling relationship, ramped up the sex lives to titillate (Now with 200% more incest!), and left out all the dreams and fears that made these two women human. The actors did their best to compensate– Natalie Portman was fantastic– but it was ultimately a flat story.

They should have made Wicked a movie instead.

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7 Responses to Wicked, The Other Boleyn Girl, women, and power.

  1. Amelia says:

    Might I add that Philippa Gregory a. oversimplified and stereotyped the characters and b. perpetuated myths and historical inaccuracies?

  2. eloriane says:

    Of course you can šŸ™‚
    Especially the incest. I still haven’t wrapped my head around that one well enough to write about it. It’s just– really? She’s acting like it was a plausible charge? Really?

  3. Colleen says:

    I meant to check back in here earlier, but another good post. And Philippa Gregory drives me frogging insane. I expected a loose interpretation of the facts and a plot-convenient fudging of the characters, but this was WAY worse than I thought. The topper, of course, was the incest. Who actually thinks she slept with her brother?!?!? I don’t think even Henry believed it.

    I highly recommend anything Alison Weir wrote for those looking for either history or historical fiction.

  4. eloriane says:

    Next time I go to the library, I’ll definitely get Alison Weir.

    I don’t know a lot about this period of history– just what they taught in school, and what I’ve read in historical fiction. This worked okay with Elizabeth, because I read a lot of books about her and they all contradicted, so I was able to figure out what was probably true (she had her flaws, but was nevertheless awesome) and what was probably complete rubbish (basically any time she had sex.)

    Unfortunately, Phillipa Gregory’s is the only book I’ve read about the Boleyns, and while I don’t remember much of the book, I do remember nodding along and assuming that she was, well, giving a loose interpretation of the facts and some plot-convenient fudging of the characters. I have no idea how I didn’t pick up on the, er, blatant lies.

    I guess I knew just enough about Anne to be determined to sympathize with her. But it’ll probably be a lot easier to do so with Alison Weir– so I’ll grab some of her books next time I’m at the library. Thanks šŸ™‚

  5. Colleen says:

    Oh, marvelous, I love turning people on to her! Her writing style is clear and easy-to-read; she’s really up-front with what her sources are, what’s fact, what’s interpretation and why she thinks that way; and she’s always writing about uppity women. I read a lot of Tudor/Stuart history (It’s like a soap opera, that family!), and Weir has some of the most balanced treatments I’ve seen of some pretty controversial characters.

    Check out Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII for a fair look at Anne’s life that also does an excellent job of contextualizing her in relationship to the era, her upbringing, her age (getting old for Henry’s taste), the political situation, and the other wives. Mary’s only mentioned in passing, but really, she’s not important. Weir does a great job of making all the wives and even Henry relatable, in a weird way. Not always sympathetic, but identifiably and comprehensibly human.

    Also, whaddya talk? Liz and Dudley totes did it!

  6. eloriane says:

    Really, about Elizabeth? It always seemed like it would be such a huge risk, I didn’t think she would have considered it worth it! I mean, I’ll buy that they were attracted to each other, but I didn’t think she had that much privacy as Queen, and I always thought she used her desire to remain a virgin to keep the husbands away (and to keep her own power.)

    But maybe I’m wrong!

  7. Colleen says:

    Enh, to be totally honest, I’m not completely convinced either way. Most days, I think she and Dudley were gettin’ it on because I just find it hard to believe that such an independent woman could have lived so long without even once doing the no-pants dance. Moreover, in one of Weir’s books (yes, apparently I am just here to preach her gospel), she notes that several times in Elizabeth’s life she updated her will with no apparent impetus, and at least one or two of those times corresponded with pregnancy rumors at court. Given the likelihood of death in childbed in the era, it would make sense if that’s what drove her to do it.

    Yeah, you’re right that she wouldn’t get much privacy as Queen, but if only a few trusted friends and some servants knew she was Doing It, that would be a well-kept secret for the time. In fact, even if everyone at court knew but no one dared to write about it and it didn’t get out to the commoners, that would be considered a secret successfully kept. And while it seems clear that she never actually intended to marry, for exactly the reason you give, she was always, always courting a husband. She was a GENIUS at manipulating tricky diplomatic situations, and at a time when England was extremely weak militarily, she often used the carrot of her hand and England’s kingship to get powerful men to act (or not act) as she needed them to, a feat she couldn’t have accomplished by normal diplomatic methods. Elizabeth was a kickass monarch.

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