The Gleaming Sword
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The Gleaming Sword

Demons and Wizards and Witches, Oh My!

A Heavy Metal Inquiry: “Wicked Witch” by Demons & Wizards.

Momba in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910). Public domain.

The heavy metal band Demons & Wizards released Touched by the Crimson King in 2005. It’s one of my top five heavy metal releases of all time, but my favorite track on the album, the ballad “Wicked Witch,” has always intrigued me. What exactly are the lyrics about?

Who Is Demons & Wizards?

Demons & Wizards is a heavy metal supergroup composed of Jon Schaffer, rhythm guitarist of Iced Earth, and Hansi Kürsch, vocalist of Blind Guardian. Each band was formed in 1984 and had achieved legendary status by the new millennium. The band’s first release was self-titled and showed that supergroups can be better than their members’ original bands, which is saying a lot in this case. “Fiddler on the Green” from that album is an example of power metal at its finest.

What Is Touched by the Crimson King?

Touched by the Crimson King (2005) is the second studio album from Demons & Wizards. The source of inspiration for the album title and three tracks was Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, but other tracks draw upon literature such as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, as well as more mundane subjects. The album was remastered and reissued in 2019.

Who Is the Song “Wicked Witch” About?

The Wicked Witch of the West, of course. The children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) by Frank L. Baum says she rules over the Winkies, who have yellow skin. She’s known to most of us, however, from Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal of her with spiteful green glory in the 1939 live-action movie starring Judy Garland, in which the Winkies have green skin like their ruler.

Publicity photo for The Wizard of Oz (1939). Public domain.

What Are the Silver Shoes Mentioned in the Lyrics?

Dorothy’s famed ruby slippers were originally silver shoes. In the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, they belonged to the Wicked Witch of the East, who enslaved the Munchkins until Dorothy dropped a house on her. The Wicked Witch of the West wants the shoes because they “bear a powerful charm.” The 1978 film The Wiz, starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, has silver shoes, as do many other works related to the land of Oz.

To Whom Do the Silver Shoes Belong?

The lyrics to the song suggest they belong to the Wicked Witch of the West, but in the book and MGM movie, this is not the case. In Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked (1995), it’s complicated. The Wicked Witch of the West (Elphaba) and the Wicked Witch of the East (Nessarose) are sisters. Their father makes the shoes, which shift among many colors, for Nessarose. This awakens Elphaba’s envy, for she has always felt scorned due to her green skin. It’s possible to make the case that Elphaba, as the elder sister, has a right to the shoes, as well as to rule of Munchkinland, especially after the death of her sister. Elphaba has little interest in ruling, but oh how she wants those shoes!

Image by wurliburli from Pixabay.

Who Is Singing in the Song?

The lyrics to “Wicked Witch” mention someone singing, and I believe that Maguire’s novel is a significant source of inspiration for “Wicked Witch.” The Wicked Witch does no singing in either the original book or the famed movie. However, it’s noted in Wicked, which later became a musical, that she has a good singing voice. Maguire’s prose when Elphaba performs at a gathering of friends is eloquent:

The melody faded like a rainbow after a storm, or like winds calming down at last; and what was left was calm, and possibility, and relief.

So Is the Wicked Witch Actually Good?

The song’s mournful tone makes it sound that way. The argument is hard to make based on the book and 1939 movie, but in Wicked she’s a complex person with a strong sense of justice. Her wickedness gathers through twists of fate as well as her own choices. Further in keeping with the fashion of giving villains sympathetic backstories, the good witch Theodora, played by Mila Kunis is manipulated into becoming the Wicked Witch of the West in director Sam Raimi’s prequel film Oz the Great and Powerful (2013).

When Is Water Shed?

The first verse of the song sets an elegiac tone. It breaks off in mid-phrase, but everyone knows the word that usually comes next:

The Wicked Witch is . . .

Water is shed when Dorothy inadvertently kills the Wicked Witch of the West by tossing a bucket of water at her, thereby causing her to melt. In the beloved classic film, Dorothy does this to put out the Scarecrow, whom the witch has set afire. As the Wicked Witch dies, she casts a final remonstration at cruel reality: “O, what a world, what a world!” Like Captain Ahab, she suffers because she hates everything.

So Then Is Dorothy a Villain?

Some would say Dorothy committed manslaughter and then stole the magical footwear from the Wicked Witch of the East. A passage from Baum’s novel vividly makes the case for Dorothy’s unscrupulousness. After killing the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy sweeps “the melted, shapeless mass” of her foe out the door, extracts a silver shoe from the goo, wipes it off, and puts it on. Judy Garland never did that. It’s clinical and gross.

Publicity photo for The Wizard of Oz (1939). Public domain.

Will the Wicked Witch Come Again?

The lyrics of the song by Demons & Wizards say the witch has disappeared into nothingness and “there she waits.” To those her magic inspired, she could easily become a messianic figure, a White Buffalo promising an end to dark times, a return of miracles and the fulfillment of cosmic justice. However, nothing in the core literature or films explicitly raises this expectation.

Whatever Happened to the Silver Shoes?

At the end of Baum’s book, the silver shoes allow Dorothy to return to Kansas via three magical strides as if flying through the air. The shoes fall into a desert along the way, never to reappear in the 14-volume series.

Who Is the Narrator of the Song?

If Wicked did indeed inspire the song by Demons & Wizards, then the narrator could be someone who was at the party where Elphaba sang: her friend the wealthy Munchkin named Boq, her future Winkie lover Fiyero, her sister Nessarose or Nanny. Or are some of the lyrics from Hansi’s point of view as he reflects upon a moving experience watching the musical?

Are There Definitive Answers to All These Questions?

I hope not. Even if the band members could tell you what they had in mind when they wrote the song, there’s play, as philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer would have said, in the work of art as it stands on its own. Personally, I like to think the narrator is one of the Wicked Witch’s winged monkeys. Having adored and faithfully obeyed her for years, the monkeys feel a light has gone from their lives. Perhaps their tears are more water that is shed. No more will they hear her up in her castle tower merrily singing as she hatches her schemes.

Illustration by W. W. Denslow in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). Public domain.

Is the Most Recent Album from Demons & Wizards Any Good?

Yes, but III (2020) doesn’t reach the dramatic heights of Touched by the Crimson King. The themes are literary again, with some tracks based on more YA fantasy featuring a bold young heroine. My favorites are “Invincible” and “Universal Truth” about Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, now a television series on BBC One and HBO.

No band can equal Demons & Wizards at infusing literature with meaning and emotion through music. I wouldn’t want to hurry the band in recording its next material, but I do hope there isn’t another 15-year gap between albums.

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