Theodora vs. Elphaba: The Wicked Witches of the West

Theodora’s transformation into the Wicked Witch of the West is easily the weakest plot point in Oz: The Great and Powerful.  However, the contrivance and sexism of her character arc might not be as intolerable if the Wicked Witch of the West hadn’t already been given a well-developed backstory as Elphaba in Wicked, the musical loosely based on the novel by Gregory Maguire.  Granted, Oz: The Great and Powerful and Wicked are two, separate works but they are both prequels to The Wizard of Oz and, therefore, subject to comparison.  The issue is not that Theodora becomes genuinely wicked, whereas Elphaba is only ever perceived as such.  The issue is that Theodora’s motivation to turn evil is so simplistic and offensive when compared to the progressiveness and complexity of Elphaba’s characterization.

The fundamental difference between Theodora and Elphaba can be extracted from their motivations for opposing the Wizard.theodoraOz  Elphaba fights against him because he persecutes Animals (the capital “A” distinguishes them as animals that can talk).  Theodora hates the Wizard because she believes he did not return her affections.  Elphaba’s characterization is built on her unyielding commitment to justice, even when it costs her, her dreams as a politician, her friends and her family.  While men do play a large role in her life, they do not define her.  The same cannot be said for Theodora.

Like Elphaba, Theodora expresses concern for the welfare of Oz at the beginning of the film, but this proves secondary to her desire for the Wizard’s love.  When she is wrongfully informed that the wizard has been disloyal to her, she willingly undergoes a magical transformation to become evil, and thus forsake the people of Oz, because she can’t stand the pain of rejection.

In all fairness, Elphaba, too, takes a dark turn because of a lover.  In Act II, her boyfriend, Fiyero, is captured and tortured by the Wizard’s men.  Believing him dead, Elphaba sings “No Good Deed,” a ballad in which she declares, “Let all of Oz be agreed: I am wicked through and through.  Since I could not succeed, Fiyero, in saving you, I promise no good deed will I attempt to do again.”

“Sure, I meant well, well look at what well-meant did”

However, unlike with Theodora, this surrender is a culmination of Elphaba’s suffering.  Fiyero’s death is the last straw, rather than the first offense.  She mentions her murdered sister, and her Professor whom she was unable to save from the Wizard.  “Sure, I meant well, well look at what well-meant did,” she sings, reasoning that her attempts at doing good have only ever resulted in failure.  What purpose, then, is there in trying anymore?  It is an intriguing moral dilemma and one that encompasses much more than her sadness at being unable to be with the man she loves.

I bother writing about the contrast between Elphaba and Theodora, because Theodora’s simplistic characterization is not merely bad writing; it is offensive. Lindsey Ellis aka The Nostalgia Chick observes in her video, The Worst (And Least Awful) Female Superhero Movies, “[With villainesses,] it’s always either, ‘I’m mad that I’m not young and beautiful anymore,’ or, ‘I want to control all of the men.'” In this regard, incarnations of the Wicked Witch of the West, prior to Theodora, have been quite progressive in that they have always been motivated by revenge and power … except for Elphaba who fights for the rights of others.  The contrast, therefore, between Theodora, the least of The Wicked Witches of the West, and Elphaba, the greatest of them, is quite upsetting, especially when one considers that Wicked turns 10 years old this October and that it is the regressive Oz: The Great and Powerful that was just released.

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16 responses to “Theodora vs. Elphaba: The Wicked Witches of the West

  1. If I could be EITHER Theodora OR Elphaba-I would be Elphaba..
    She has MORE of a background and history THAN Theodora.

    • If you know the story of Wicked you would realise that she does not show true wickedness as the term for “wicked witch of the west” was used to distort her true nature, and instil fear into the people of OZ to believe that she is truly wicked. It was a farce and I think it is silly for you to fall or it if you already know the story.

  2. I disagree. In Oz the Great and Powerful, it’s implied that Theodora had been struggling with her innate wickedness. I never once got the impression that she chose to be wicked simply because of rejection, but that it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

  3. Austin, how is Elphie offensive? She gave up everything for Animals, she lived by morals not by superficial love. And Theodora….well, just review the article!

  4. Elphaba should be supported in every view. She turns WICKED when she realises that no one is ever going to give her a fair chance (and even in that she does nothing wrong, just stops doing good). Theodora lives on just to make others miserable.

  5. I find this article mildly annoying, personally. Is as though movies should ever ever portray a true aspect of the human condition that people really do suffer with every darn day. Broken hearts. Broken hearts can be powerful and turn a person completely irrational and even selfish. Why does a heterosexual portrayal of such have to be considered offensive to women?

  6. Comparing Theodora and Elphaba is comparing apples and oranges. the fundamental difference between them is that Theodora is a ‘villain’ and Elphaba isn’t. Villains tend to have unsavory and irrational reasons for their wickedness, thus making them unlikable. I’m not arguing that Elphaba doesn’t have an element of wickedness, I’m saying she is not portrayed as a villain. Villains don’t fight for human rights. Of course female villains are portrayed as one-dimensional male-hating she-devils…because no one would like a woman that behaved like that. Fortunately real women are much more complex and fascinating…enter Elphaba. Theodora just fits into the simple age old mold we like to make villains out to be…they have one big stupid reason for trying to make everyone’s lives miserable.

  7. Why is it I read this kind of discussions? It just…breaks my heart. I’ve seen Oz but not Wicked…I’m AFRAID to see Wicked because of all the negativity against Oz! I don’t want to feel that toward it…

    • Don’t worry, wicked isn’t against oz. it’s against the wizard, it’s primarily a lesson on how humans are so quick to accept the popular belief, when that popular belief may just be a lie. So seriously, go see it!

    • Thank you so much for your interest! In the upper left hand corner there should be a “Follow” option. Just click on that and you’ll get automatic updates every time I publish I post. Cheers.

  8. I agree with most of your estimation of Elphaba. I believe it is the greatest and most in depth portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West to date, though I do think there is a greater one that could be made. This is personal taste here but I would like to see a 3D villainess that is actually what she is called: Wicked. Not merely cast as wicked by those around her, sure it is more mellow dramatic but I think it would be truer to the original Wizard of Oz film. When that Wicked Witch is presented, I will still like Elphaba, but her character is unique.

    On the contrary I think you underestimate theodora’s character, and overestimate her concern for Oz. Her concern for Oz at the beginning of the film extends to her desire for a wizard to save the day, someone to replace her father on the throne. Yes this is an unfair stereotype used in many a movie. However it shows how her affections for the Oscar come about, and how her broken trust causes her already angry nature to pull through. Yes I agree with Jaye that it is heavily implied that she is already wicked, that Oz pushes her over the edge. Yes she does fit many a stereo, but no she is also not the greatest portrayal of the Wicked Witch, because her clingy and angry nature is simply a tool used by the true villain of the film: Her Sister.

    Just as in “Wicked” in “Oz: The Great and Powerful” It is revealed that there is another villain behind the scenes. In Wicked it’s the Wizard, which is presented as a fast talking travelling salesman type, and a womanizer. But in Oz it’s shown to be the Witch of The East who is greedy and bent on power, she is the non typical villainess (according to your description) and she is in fact the true villain.

  9. Pingback: What Makes an Awesome Villain? | lgalfonso·

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