Though not strictly a fairytale, you’ll forgive me if I cheat at this point. The Wicked Witch of the West is a fictional character and the main antagonist of the classic children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), created by American author L. Frank Baum. In Baum’s subsequent Oz novels, it is the Nome King who is the principal villain. The Wicked Witch of the West is rarely even referred to again after her death in the first book.
The witch’s most popular depiction was in the classic 1939 film based on Baum’s novel, where she was portrayed by Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton’s characterization introduced green skin and this has been continued in later literary and dramatic representations, including Gregory Maguire’s revisionist Oz novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (1995) and its musical stage adaptation Wicked (2003), the 2013 film Oz the Great and Powerful, and the television series Once Upon a Time and Emerald City.
In Baum’s Books: Most of her power resides in the creatures she controls. She has a pack of 40 great wolves, a swarm of black bees, a flock of 40 crows, and an army of Winkies. She possesses the enchanted Golden Cap, which compels the winged monkeys to obey her on three occasions. First, the witch commanded the creatures to help her enslave the Winkies and to seize control of the western part of the Land of Oz. Second, she made the winged monkeys drive Oz out of the Winkie Country, when he attempted to overthrow her.
When she succeeds in acquiring one silver shoe by making Dorothy trip over an invisible bar, the little girl angrily throws a bucket of water onto the Wicked Witch. This causes the old witch to melt away. The Wicked Witch’s dryness was enumerated in some clues before this. Furthermore, when Toto had bitten her, she had not bled; her wickedness had dried her up long ago. Unfortunately, L. Frank Baum did not explain precisely why water had this effect on her, nor did he ever imply that all evil witches could be likewise destroyed.
However, the wicked witch Mombi is similarly disposed of in The Lost King of Oz and the wicked witch Singra is clearly afraid of the same fate in the early chapters of The Wicked Witch of Oz. The most likely explanation of Baum making water the Achilles’ heel of these witches is the long-held belief amongst major religions that water is effective for purifying the soul and combating evil.
In later Oz books, the Wicked Witch Mombi is similarly disposed of in The Lost King of Oz, published in 1925, and the Wicked Witch Singra is clearly afraid of the same fate. The most likely historical explanation of Baum making water the Achilles Heel of these bad witches is the long-held belief amongst major religions that water, which is used in holy rituals such as Baptisms can effectively purify the soul. Thus, destroying soulless witches.
The Witch did not carry a broom in the novel, but rather an umbrella, which she uses on one occasion to strike Dorothy’s dog, Toto. Her nature is a volatile and yet somewhat cowardly one. Despite her immense power, she avoids face-to-face contact with her enemies and is frightened of Dorothy at first when she sees the girl wearing the Silver Shoes.
She is also afraid of the dark in Baum’s original story for reasons unknown. For that reason, the Witch never tried to steal the Silver Shoes while Dorothy was sleeping. Despite her fear of water and the dark, the Wicked Witch of the West was one of the most powerful witches in all of Oz. In ensuing Oz books, her power is described as having been so great that even Glinda the Good Witch of the South feared her.
“Now, the Wicked Witch of the West had but only one eye, yet this eye was as strong and powerful as a telescope, and could see everywhere in the Winkie Country. So, as the Wicked Witch stood on the highest balcony of her castle, she happened to look around and saw Dorothy and her companions walking on her land. They were a long distance off, but the old wicked woman was very angry to find trespassers in her country…“―The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
Surprisingly, in the original book by Baum, it never states that the Wicked Witch of the West has any type of peculiar skin condition or discoloration such as being green. However, it does state that the Wicked Witch is so old and wicked, that all the blood in her body dried up long ago. And like all versions, she is highly allergic to H2O, which burns her skin like acid for reasons never explained or elaborated upon by Baum. One can only guess that due to the fact the Wicked Witch is so evil, a substance such as water is simply too pure for her old, bloodless body.
The Wicked Witch’s most popular depiction was in the classic 1939 Hollywood musical movie loosely based on Baum’s book, The Wizard of Oz, where she was portrayed by late actress Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton’s iconic characterization introduced green boogeyman skin and this has been continued in later literary and dramatic representations of Oz.
In Maguire’s story, the Witch’s name is “Elphaba” who is green due to her mother consuming “Green Miracle Elixir” while she was pregnant with her. In the 2013 Oz film by Walt Disney pictures Oz the Great and Powerful, the pre-Wicked Witch of the West is a young and naive “Good Witch” named Theodora, who tragically turns green from a green poison apple that causes her heart to shed itself from all its goodness.
In the Spring 2014 story arc of the popular television series Once Upon a Time, the Wicked Witch is named “Zelena”, who turns green due to her jealousy over a newly arrived Dorothy who became a threat to the prophecy involving Oz’s four Witches (“Green with Envy”).
In the original 1900 book by L. Frank Baum, she and the Wicked Witch of the East were not sisters or blood-related.
In the book, the Wicked Witch lives in a yellow castle described as beautiful. The Wicked Witch also owned a pack of 40 killer wolves, 40 killer crows, and 40 angry bees. She did not own the Winged Monkeys, but the Golden Cap that compelled them to obey its wearer three times.
In the book, it’s stated that the Wicked Witch of the West has only one eye, yet it is as powerful as a telescope. It also said, the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t have green skin but is said to be so wicked all the blood in her body dried up long, long ago.
In the book, the Wicked Witch of the West doesn’t fly on or own a Broomstick, instead she carries around a gaudy umbrella to protect herself from the rain or any water attacks.
In the book, when Dorothy Gale is kept a prisoner in the yellow castle of the Wicked Witch as a kitchen slave, the Witch forcefully hits Toto with her umbrella and sends the poor dog flying across the room. This was done to install fear within Dorothy.
In the book, the Wicked Witch is said to be scared of the dark for unknown reasons.
Margaret Hamilton, who played the green-skinned Witch in the 1939 film was badly burned during a shot involving fire and smoke. On December 23, 1938, while filming the Wicked Witch’s exit from Munchkinland in a blaze of fire, Hamilton suffered first-degree burns on the right side of her face and second-degree burns on her right hand.
The flames rose too soon before she had descended below the stage. Hamilton’s green makeup was copper-based and potentially toxic and had to be removed from her burned flesh with alcohol — an intensely painful process. She wasn’t able to return to the movie until February 10th. Yikes!
After weeks of being in the makeup department, before and after film shootings, Hamilton’s own natural skin tone begin to turn into a greenish hue.
In the finished film, Hamilton’s Wicked Witch has twelve minutes of screen time. Hamilton worked on the production for four months, and earned precisely $18,541.68.
Many scenes in the 1939 film involving the Wicked Witch had to be edited or taken out completely due to being too terrifying. Don’t believe it?
Margaret Hamilton appeared in an episode of Sesame Street which aired February 10, 1976, reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Reportedly, her performance scared so many children that their parents wrote in to CTW, saying their kids were too scared to watch the show anymore. As a result of the overwhelming reaction, this episode never re-aired, and as of 2017, no footage of it has surfaced on the Internet.
On May 14, 1975 Margaret Hamilton made an appearance on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and explained to the viewers at home that The Wicked Witch of the West seems mean but Margaret says that she never gets what she wants and it made her feel a little bit sad that the kids would be scared of her.
Prompt: Here’s your chance to rewrite the wicked witch’s story. How would you change this story?
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ABOUT T.S. VALMOND:
T.S. Valmond is the science fiction and young adult fantasy author of The Bolaji Kingdoms Series and The Verity Chronicles. As an award-winning poet, world traveler, and sign language interpreter she uses her experiences to fuel her stories. She’s a regular contributor to the website and founder of the Riders & Flyers group.