Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Magic School!

I love autumn, and I ADORE Halloween. And books. So I am always pleased to mush all those delightful things together and read a great book about going to school to learn magic. Believe it or not, Harry Potter isn't the first kid, or the last (or - and no throwing rocks at the bloggers- necessarily even the best) to head off for Amazing Adventures at an institution of magic and/or academia. If you dig this sub-genre, here are a few recommendations to get you started:

1. In Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea novels, the young blacksmith's apprentice Ged is noticed by a traveling wizard and taken off to the wizarding school on the island of Roke, where he surpasses expectations and becomes the Archmage (sort of like the principal of the school plus master wizard) as well as some other inconsequential achievements like, oh, reversing death and making friends with dragons (who are wild and fierce and not at all cute or whimsical).

2. In T.H. White's classic The Once and Future King, Arthur grows up believing himself to be an orphaned charity case- certainly not a future king- until Merlin takes him in hand and tutors him in politics and magic. In addition to reforming the world's concepts of  strength, chivalry and justice, Arthur gets to turn into animals and wield a magic sword.

3. For the girls, we have authors Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede, who, separately and together, have written a ton of great books about learning magic in smarter, snarkier versions of girls' finishing schools, in situations ranging from Victorian England to alternate-reality Wild West (such as: Sorcery and Cecelia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot; The Thirteenth Child; A College of Magics; A Scholar of Magics; Mairelon the Magician; and quite a few others).

And speaking of snark, there are a few very mentionable books in this category with main characters at boarding school learning only the usual academic subjects, but who are so smart it just seems like magic: The Mysterious Benedict Society and its sequels, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and Special Topics in Calamity Physics all spring immediately to mind.

And special mention goes to the following books as well::

1. Knightley: a blatant (but non-magical) Harry Potter knockoff, but pleasant to read;
2. A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett, wherein the intrepid Tiffany Aching learns to be a witch, though not at boarding school;
3. Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, in which a young lady goes to college and has to fight the Faery Queen to save her boyfriend;
4. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, which is about a girl who is surprised to learn that magic even exists, and then is shocked to discover just how good she is at it;
5. Ella Enchanted, which is about learning that willpower is stronger than magic; and
6. The Goose Girl, in which a girl discovers that magic and willpower are each very important, but not as important as the two combined.

- Marcy

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