The Wicked Witch of the West is a fictional character who appears in 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 Salem Styles’ young adult novel WITCH CITY.
The Wicked Witch of the West is the malevolent ruler of the Winkie Country. Her castle is described as beautiful instead of being the sinister fortress shown in the film. In all versions, she is aquaphobic. The Wicked Witch of the West was not related to the Wicked Witch of the East, but leagued together with her, the Wicked Witch of the South, and the Wicked Witch of the North to conquer the Land of Oz and divide it among themselves, as recounted in L. Frank Baum's Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. She shows no interest in the death of the Eastern Witch and all she cares about is obtaining the Silver Shoes which will increase her power. W. W. Denslow's illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz depict her as a paunched old hag with three pigtails and an eyepatch. Baum himself specified that she only had one eye, but that it "was as powerful as a telescope", enabling the witch to see what was happening in her kingdom from her castle windows. Other illustrators, such as Paul Granger, placed her eye in the center of her forehead, as a cyclops. Usually, she is shown wearing an eyepatch; however, some illustrations show her with two eyes.
Most of her power resides in the creatures she controls. She has a pack of 40 great wolves, a flock of 40 crows, a swarm of black bees, 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 the Wizard of Oz's army out of the Winkie Country, when he attempted to overthrow her.
When Dorothy Gale and her companions Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Cowardly Lion were sent by the Wizard to destroy her, the Witch attacked them with her various creatures. Each of these attempts was thwarted with the Tin Woodman killing the 40 great wolves, Scarecrow killing the 40 crows, the black bees dying upon trying to sting the Tin Woodman, and the armed Winkie slaves being scared off by the Cowardly Lion. The protagonists are eventually subdued by the Witch's third and final permitted use of the winged monkeys. Nevertheless, the old witch cannot kill Dorothy because the girl is protected by the Good Witch of the North's kiss. She, therefore, settles for enslaving Dorothy, and tries to force the Cowardly Lion into submission by starving him, though Dorothy sneaks him food. Upon seeing the Silver Shoes on the girl's feet, the Wicked Witch decides to steal them, and thereby acquire even more power.
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.
In the film, the Witch is iconic for her green skin, pointed hat, broom, boisterous, dramatic (yet nasty) personality, and cackle; in the books, her personality is somewhat more subtle: she is not as obviously sadistic, she is not as antagonistic to Dorothy and only is once she sees Dorothy has intruded on her land, and her appearance is described very differently. In the novel, she also does not carry a broom, 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 when compared to the film version. 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. She was described as being so cruel that the blood in her body dried up and that when she was struck, she did not bleed. In the novel, she also owns slaves to do her bidding, a characterization which is kept in “The Wiz”, in which she is much more dramatic than in the original film and forces her slaves to refer to her as beautiful.
The 1910 silent film The Wonderful Wizard of Oz features a character similar to the Wicked Witch of the West, identified in intertitles as "Momba the Witch" (Compare the character Mombi from The Marvelous Land of Oz). In the film, Momba has an unspecified hold over the Wizard, who promises his crown to anyone who can release him from Momba's power. Momba captures Dorothy and her companions, evoking the events in Baum's original novel, and is destroyed when Dorothy throws a bucket of water over her.
Mombi's likeness and costume in the 1914 silent film, His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz is based on Denslow's illustrations of the Wicked Witch of the West.
In the 1939 version of The Wizard of Oz, Margaret Hamilton plays the Wicked Witch of the West as a green-skinned witch dressed in a long black dress with a black pointed hat. She does not wear an eye-patch as in the novel. This representation of the Wicked Witch has become a standard for what witches resemble and an archetype of human wickedness. While the relationship is not mentioned in Baum's books, in the movie, the Witch is the sister of the Wicked Witch of the East. The movie makes her even more of a primary antagonist, and consequently, she appears in the film much earlier (and more often), than in Baum's original novel. She demands the Munchkins reveal who killed her sister, not long after Dorothy's arrival in Oz. She is described by Glinda the Good Witch of the North, not the South as in the book, as "worse than the other one". She actively seeks revenge against Dorothy for killing her sister, even though it was "accidental". However, as soon as the Witch is reminded of the ruby slippers, all interest in her sister's death vanishes and all she cares about is obtaining her slippers, which will enable her to conquer Oz. She is more menacing than her literary counterpart, making Dorothy too afraid to ever lose her temper with the Witch. She makes sure that Dorothy knows her power when Dorothy meets the Scarecrow by throwing a ball of fire at them. Before Dorothy and her friends get to the city, the Witch casts a sleeping spell over a field of poppies through which the group must pass. Glinda remotely counteracts the spell with snowfall. The Wicked Witch then flies on her broom over the Emerald City, demanding that the citizens of the Emerald City surrender Dorothy to her, and the Wizard demands the destruction of the Witch, with her broom as proof, in exchange for granting the wishes of Dorothy and her companions. Unlike Baum's original depiction, the Wicked Witch sends the Winged Monkeys as the first wave of attack. The Golden Cap is not mentioned but, after the failure of her poppy spell, the Witch does hold and then angrily cast away a costume piece that could be considered the cap (It greatly resembles the Cap as depicted in W. W. Denslow's original illustrations for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and was mentioned as her "wishing cap" in the original shooting script. She is killed when Dorothy throws a bucket of water on her, in attempt to put out a fire the witch bestowed on the Scarecrow. In the novel, Dorothy simply throws it on her in a fit of anger. There is no prior mention of the Wicked Witch's vulnerability to water in the movie, save for a split-second before the water actually douses her when she screams "Don't throw that water!" (this line does not appear in the film's shooting script). After the Wicked Witch of the West is dead, her soldiers are glad to be free of her power, and quote "Hail to Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead!" The character ranks No. 4 in the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time alongside Darth Vader, Norman Bates, and Hannibal Lecter, making her the highest ranking female villain, as well as placing 90th on Empire magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
Hamilton's other role in this film is the Witch's Kansas sepia tone counterpart, Miss Almira Gulch, newly created for the film by screenwriter Noel Langley. She is a socialite who owns half the county. She arrives on her bicycle at the farm and says to Uncle Henry: "Mr. Gale! I'd like to speak with you and your wife right away about Dorothy!" Dorothy's dog, Toto, has bitten her leg, and she wants to take him to the sheriff and make sure he's destroyed. Dorothy calls her "a wicked old witch." Miss Gulch takes Toto away in her basket, but he escapes. In the tornado scene, Dorothy sees Miss Gulch on her bicycle transform into a Wicked Witch, flying on her broom.
Gale Sondergaard was originally cast as the Wicked Witch of the West, but withdrew from the role when the witch's persona shifted from sly and glamorous (thought to emulate the Evil Queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) to the familiar "ugly hag".
On a 1976 episode of the American children's TV show Sesame Street, the Witch, once again played by Hamilton, drops her broom and falls onto the street. Big Bird and a Sesame Street resident, David, have the broom and refuse to give it back because of her nasty and disrespectful attitude (Oscar the Grouch is the only Sesame Street resident who finds her pleasant; he even develops a crush on her). Enraged, the Wicked Witch threatens to turn them into a feather duster and a basketball, respectively, unless they comply with her wishes; she also makes it rain inside of Mr. Hooper’s store as an intimidation tactic. Realizing that threats and intimidation have failed to yield the desired result, she resorts to trickery, disguising herself as a sweet old lady in an effort to steal the broom back. David turns the tables on her by willingly giving it back after talking her into asking for it politely and with respect. Unfortunately, she does not learn the lesson about being nice and heads home on discourteous terms with the locals (except, perhaps, for Big Bird, who says he will miss her because the events of the episode were an exciting change). The Wicked Witch accidentally drops the broom again while showing off on her flight home, and David, again in possession of it, laments his prediction that the whole ordeal will now repeat itself.
This episode received a very negative reception. After it was aired, the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) and series creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett received numerous letters from parents, who complained that the Wicked Witch was too scary for their children, using phrases such as "screams and tears" and "the threat of the witch's power remains in children's eyes." As a result of these complaints, Anna Herera, of the CTW Research Department, told the creators of Sesame Street to not re-air the episode. The episode was considered lost but was leaked anonymously on June 18, 2022.
The Museum of the Moving Image in New York City screened part of the Wicked Witch episode on November 24, 2019, as part of a "Lost and Found" event that celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street. It was accompanied by many other clips, including the unaired episode "Snuffy's Parents Get a Divorce", along with a discussion panel with Jim Henson Legacy president Craig Shemin, former Sesame Street head writer Norman Stiles, and Sesame Workshop's Rosemarie Truglio.
Hamilton also played the Wicked Witch of the West in The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976), and reprised her role several times on stage, most notably at the St. Louis Municipal Opera.
Hamilton also appeared as herself on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood three times between 1975 and 1976. In these appearances, she demonstrated how her costume and acting skills made her appear to be the Witch, and assured her young viewers that there was nothing about her to be feared, because her portrayal in the film was only make-believe.
The story line of the stage adaptation "goes far afield" from the 1995 novel. As Winnie Holzman observed in an interview with Playbill, "It was [Maguire's] brilliant idea to take this hated figure and tell things from her point of view, and to have the two witches be roommates in college, but the way in which their friendship develops – and really the whole plot – is different onstage." Schwartz justified the deviation, saying "Primarily we were interested in the relationship between Galinda – who becomes Glinda – and Elphaba...the friendship of these two women and how their characters lead them to completely different destinies." In addition to this change in focus, other major plot modifications include Fiyero's appearance as the scarecrow, Elphaba's survival at the end, Nessarose using a wheelchair instead of being born without arms, Boq having a continuing love interest for Glinda – and eventually becoming the Tin Woodman instead of Nick Chopper, the complete cutting of Elphaba's years in the Vinkus, the deletion of Liir's birth, Fiyero not having a wife and children, and Doctor Dillamond not being murdered.
Mila Kunis portrays the Wicked Witch of the West, who is named Theodora, in the 2013 Disney film Oz the Great and Powerful. In this version, she is portrayed as a 'good witch' and as the younger sister of Evanora (Rachel Weisz), who is at war with Glinda (Michelle Williams) for control of Oz; Theodora wants nothing more than for peace to come back to their land. She falls in love with Oscar Diggs (James Franco), but her feelings for him are one-sided; Theodora wants to be Oscar's queen when he rules Oz. After Oscar goes to meet with Glinda, Evanora convinces Theodora that Oscar had betrayed her, offering her a magic apple that will help Theodora forget her disappointment. Theodora immediately takes a bite from it, but she realizes too late that Evanora had deceived her. Before Theodora can do anything, she starts feeling great pain and delirium, as the apple, tainted with dark magic causes her heart to wither. Her skin turns green as a side effect of the magic, while her nose becomes crooked due to her falling on it. Though Evanora offers to cover up Theodora's new appearance with an enchantment, Theodora embraces her new appearance and helps her sister attempt to kill Glinda, get revenge on Oscar, and take control of Oz. However, she and Evanora are defeated by Oscar's illusions. Theodora is forced to flee the city on her broom, but she threatens to return. Oscar tells her he knows her wickedness isn't her doing and, if she ever finds the goodness within her, she is welcome to return. However, she refuses and flies off to the West (at this point now officially beginning her reign as The Wicked Witch Of The West), vowing revenge.
The Wicked Witch appears as the main antagonist of the second half of the third season of Once Upon a Time, played by Rebecca Mader. This version goes by the name of Zelena (which means "green" in some Slavic languages). Zelena is discovered to be the daughter of the Cora, the Queen of Hearts (Barbara Hershey/Rose McGowan), making her the older, long-lost half-sister of Regina the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla). Zelena visited Rumplestiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and learned from him how to control her own powerful magic. Her storyline revolves around her efforts to create a time-travel spell that will allow her to go back and prevent the birth of Snow White's mother, Ava, who informed Prince Leopold (Cora's fiancé) that Cora was with child to sabotage Cora's attempts to infiltrate the royal family (before she can ruin Zelena's life), and thus Zelena would be raised as royalty. But despite Zelena's efforts to create the deadly time portal Emma Swan (supposedly the only wielder of light magic powerful enough to oppose her) her plans are halted when the Evil Queen masters light magic in time to oppose her (although her time-travel spell is completed, it takes effect after her presumed death, transporting Emma and Captain Hook (Colin O'Donoghue) back to before the original curse was cast). She was later thought to have been killed by Rumplestiltskin.
It was later discovered that Zelena's soul actually went back in time, where she managed to revive herself and assumed Maid Marian's (Christie Laing) place after killing her in the past and taking her appearance; to allow the heroes to take her back to the present, where she poses as Marian without Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) knowing. This way, she can resume making Regina Mills suffer by complicating her romantic relationship with the believed widower Robin. Zelena also copies the other villains' idea to try to force the Author to write them happy lives at the expense of the heroes. Zelena swaps out the Elixir of the Wounded Heart and when Mr. Gold (Rumplestiltskin) is dying, saves his life with it, but only after he agrees to drop his grudge against her and begins helping her. Regina is informed of this by Rumplestiltskin himself and rushes to New York with Emma. Upon arriving there with Lily, Emma and Regina confront Robin Hood. Even though Robin Hood is now aware of what happened to Maid Marian, he couldn't leave Zelena because she is pregnant. Zelena is taken back to Storybrooke and locked in the hospital basement's asylum. Regina almost has the Author write Zelena and the pregnancy out of existence and memory. Regina changes her mind after she realizes it is something their mother would do, and she can choose to be happy with Robin and the rest of her family, raising the baby herself after the birth. When the Author warps reality to serve his own purposes, the roles of heroes and villains are switched. In the alternate Enchanted Forest Zelena is the fiancé of Robin Hood and their marriage will make all the changes permanent. When Regina is slashed almost fatally by Rumplestiltskin, Zelena complains she is bleeding on her wedding dress and taking the attention away from her on her wedding day. She begins turning green again and runs off. When reality is returned to normal she is still pregnant in the hospital.
Zelena travels with the heroes to Camelot in search of Emma after she becomes the Dark One to save Regina from the same fate. She is told to pretend to be Regina's mute handmaiden (Regina having taken her voice). In Camelot, Zelena is threatened by Regina that her baby will be taken by Regina once it has been born. She later kidnaps Mary Margaret (Ginnifer Goodwin) as the rest of the group tries to sneak into Camelot (having been thrown out) and regains her magic with King Arthur's (Liam Garrigan) help. She enchants the main hilt of Excalibur to bind Merlin's (Elliot Knight) soul, allowing its holder to control him. Zelena, Arthur and Merlin hold Emma's friends captive with the Protheum flame and the Dark One Dagger as ransom. Before she can do anything, she is tricked by Emma and tied by magic around a tree. After a battle between Merlin and Emma, Zelena transports herself and Arthur back to Camelot. Arthur and Zelena plan to take a magical helm from the kingdom of DunBroch. After many failed attempts to reach the helm, including a battle between Arthur, Zelena and Red Riding Hood (Meghan Ory), Mulan (Jamie Chung) and Merida (Amy Manson, she transports herself back to Camelot, where Emma casts the Dark Curse, ripping everyone back to Storybrooke without their memories of ever stepping foot in Camelot.
Zelena awakens in Granny's Diner and is almost immediately put back in her cell. Zelena is met by the Dark Swan (name for Emma as the Dark One) and is told she will need an ally in the town after people learn the truth. Zelena eats darkly enchanted onion rings (made by Emma) and as a result, her pregnancy is sped up from two months to nine. She gives birth to a baby girl and is taken away by Emma into her basement with Hook at her side. She is freed from her cuff once again by Hook and leaves Hook in Emma's house, wanting to get answers. Zelena steps back inside after Emma finds him. She brings in an enchanted dreamcatcher, which holds the memories of Hook becoming a Dark One (in Emma's fault) in order to save him. Zelena learns that Robin and Regina are allowing her to see her baby, as long as one of them is with her. This is when she shares a bonding moment with her child. During the Dark Siege of Storybrooke, Zelena plans to take Regina's place in Storybrooke including her office. After claiming full custody of her baby, Zelena is transported by Regina (using the Apprentice's Wand) back to Oz, and she claimed they will see each other again.
On Zelena's return to Oz, she confronts Dorothy, who is currently in possession of the silver slippers which can transport her to any realm. She holds Dorothy's dog, Toto, hostage in exchange for the shoes. Dorothy tries to knock Zelena out with poppy powder, but before she does, Zelena puts her under a sleeping curse. Now in possession of the silver slippers, she goes back to Storybrooke and assumes the form of the Blue Fairy to trick Belle into giving her back her daughter, who is residing at the convent with the fairies. During their conversation, a portal to the Underworld appears and Belle, holding the baby, goes through it. In a desperate attempt not to lose her daughter again, Zelena jumps through it. However, due to a sprained ankle and her diminished magic in the Underworld, Zelena is helpless as Belle runs away with her daughter. Regina reunites with Zelena in the underworld where it is revealed that Zelena and Hades have a romantic history. The sisters eventually become close as she tries to change for her daughter. She shares True Love's Kiss with Hades, which allows him to go to Storybrooke and the two go together with the baby as she believes Hades has changed. However, Hades kills Robin Hood, proving his evil to Zelena who kills him with the Olympian Crystal. She names the baby Robin after her father.
In season 6, Zelena and Regina get into a fight where Regina reveals that she blames Zelena for Robin's death; Regina's dark half, the Evil Queen has now become a human manifestation and she and Zelena work together until the Queen tries to kill her. Regina saves Zelena from the Evil Queen but does not forgive her for Robin's death. Later in the series, the town is threatened by Rumplestiltskin's mother, the Black Fairy. Zelena goes into the mines to confront her, but is held back by Regina, who does not trust her to take care of the situation. The Black Fairy takes control of the unstable magic Zelena uses to attack the fairy, and uses it to fuel crystals with dark magic. Regina takes her frustration out on Zelena after they leave the mines, and tells her to go back to Oz. In a distressed state, Zelena takes the Apprentice's wand and creates a portal to Oz, but instead of going though, she retrieves a magical artefact and uses it to take away her magic, which removes the dark magic fuelling the crystals, therefore ruining the Black Fairy's plans.
After the Black Fairy's dark curse is broken, Zelena remains in Storybrooke and raises Robin. Zelena eventually regains her magic after a confrontation between herself, Robin, Mother Gothel and Captain Hook.
The Witch of the West appears as one of the main characters in the television series Emerald City, portrayed by Ana Ularu. Here she is one of the last Cardinal Witches of Oz and the "Mistress of the Western Fields, Vessel of Truth and Solace", along with her sisters Glinda of the North and the Witch of the East. West seemingly obeys the Wizard of Oz's law against magic, owns a brothel in the Emerald City and is a poppy opium addict, deteriorating her magical skill. She is very emotional, especially when compared to the reserved behavior of Glinda's. Despite claiming to hate magic because it could not save her mother and sister witches during the Beast Forever's last attack, she resorts to it quickly when in pursuit of Dorothy after she accidentally killed East.
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