A Little Magic

10Feb10

Currently reading Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia. I love it so far and I’ll talk about it when I’m done. I loved the Aeneid, so I was a little apprehensive, but my fears do not appear justified.

Fairy tales are just folk tales with a magical element, and magic is important: it isn’t just confined to kidlit and fantasy. Think magical realism, too. (Like Water for Chocolate is a favorite, but there are so many others). I love Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and American Gods, but those are fantasy.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

NPR recently reviewed The Magicians by Lev Grossman and I was intrigued enough to buy it and read it. They pretty much called it what would happen to Harry Potter in the real world. So, you can get anything you want by moving your fingers correctly, and you’re one of the few people in the world who can . . . what happens to you as a person? Especially if there isn’t a monster to fight, a monster evil to give your life meaning. Good book.

But I’m really more interested in magic when it isn’t what’s being examined. Think something more along the lines of Matilda by Raould Dahl.

Matilda, the tiny, brilliant daughter of unthinking, uncaring, dishonest TV addicted un-parents, the child who must take on that hate-filled and unnatural Mrs. Trunchbull . . . . What chance could she have without magic?

Well, she has proven herself a formidable opponent to her nasty father, so we know she’s spunky and smart, but Trunchbull is smarter than her father, and  bigger, stronger and meaner. Trunchbull is evil. Trunchbull throws girls over fences by their braids, and she doesn’t mind doing permanent physical damage to kids—in fact, she enjoys it.

But Trunchbull can be bested. She was bested by Bruce Bogtrotter in the Chocolate Cake incident. So we feel that there’s hope, and that our Matilda may be just the person to do it.

Is magic necessary to the plot? Matilda could have found other ways to make Trunchbull think there were supernatural forces at work, and she certainly didn’t need the water-cup incident to push Miss Honey to ask her home for tea. Why magic?

Allison Lurie, in Don’t Tell The Grown-Ups, talks about magic in E. Nesbit’s wonderful books. “Why, in a world that is so wonderful and various and new to them, should children want to read about additional, unreal wonders?”

More next time.

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