“A Lion Among Men”
by Gregory Maguire
read by John McDonough
Published by Harper Audio (2008)
Approx 12 hours

Well I just finished listening to the third installment in Gregory Maguire’s take on the Land of Oz.  “Wicked” took the world by storm, and has been a hugely successful Broadway production.  “Son of a Witch” told of Liir, the son of the Wicked Witch, Elphaba, who was melted by Dorothy, as he hunted for his half-sister Nor.  It seems as though Maguire has closed up his version of Oz, but has left himself some room in case he wants to revisit this land.   This time around we learn more about the Cowardly Lion, Brr and even more on how Elphaba became what she was.

Before we get into the story, I have to say that John McDonough does a superb job narrating this book, giving voice to all the characters.  I was so happy to hear that he didn’t try to give the lion the same voice Bert Lahr did.  In all of Maguire’s books all the characters have a bit of a darker side to them and the Bert Lahr Cowardly Lion just would not have worked.   While still able to show some of the cowardly, lacking of nerve aspect to the lion he also gave him a bit of a scholarly sound in his voice.   After all when the book opens the Lion is seeking information on behalf of the Emperor of Oz.   McDonough does a great job representing the voice of Yackle who has been trying to die and failing and therefore holds a bit of snarkiness in her voice.

As the book opens  the armies of the Emerald City and Munchkinland are marching toward each other in what will be the battle of battles.  In the middle is the Mauntery, which has been the epicenter for Elphaba, Yackle, Liir, and Candle. Yackle still lives despite losing her eyesight and longing for death. At her request, the Maunts bury her in their crypt alive with only a few candles and some wine. She’s eventually forgotten, but not by all.  The Lion arrives wanting to question her regarding Elphaba, and eventually we find out also the Grimoire, in which the power of all powers could be attained.  One of the sisters at the Mauntery is explaining that Yackle is dead just as Yackle comes walking into the room.  The sister faints at the sight of the dead Yackle, who is now blind and very very old.

Yackle and Brr begin a bit of bartering to tell stories so Brr can gather the information he’s seeking.  In this we learn more of Brr’s beginnings, how he was abandoned and alone in the forest and taught himself to talk while listening in on humans (he had the ability but no one to teach him).  In his early years he comes across one of the Wizard’s soldiers caught in a trap that was meant for an Animal like himself.  He is too cowardly or maybe just excited about making his first friend and cannot find himself leaving the soldier alone.  Brr stays with the man until he dies and sets out with the soldier’s medal of courage and some books to tell his family.

By the end of the book the Clockwork Dragon Oracle makes its return and reveals all to the players involved just before the war comes to them.  Allowing each to make a decision about their pasts and futures.

Maguire could end his Oz saga here, but he did leave the door open for further exploration.  This book really allows you to emphathize with all the characters, even the ones who seem bad/evil and is a great addition to Maguire’s stories.

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