It Only Took a Decade or So

So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane, B+

I’ve owned this book for many years, at least a decade. I tried to read it shortly after acquiring it, but I got bogged down at a turning point in the story and never got back to it. It’s been gathering dust since. I’ve recently been trying to clear some space on my shelves, so the time seemed ripe to revisit the book and decide if it’s worth keeping for another ten years.

So You Want to Be a Wizard is the story of Nita (short for Juanita), who is bullied by some of her schoolmates, one of whom goes so far as to steal Nita’s favorite pen. While hiding from the bullies in the library, Nita discovers a special book called So You Want to be a Wizard. She doesn’t take it seriously at first (who would?), but then she gives it a try, and whoa! It works! Not only can she perform the spells in her book, but she also has the power to hear the speech of all living things. As she’s out and about practicing her new skills, she meets Kit (short for Christopher), another wizard-in-training. Kit has the power to hear the speech of inanimate objects. He also gets teased a lot at school, so he’s sympathetic to her plight. Together they come up with a plan to get Nita’s pen back. Their attempt to recover the pen leads them to New York City, where they find magical trouble brewing.

The beginning part of the book really pulled me in. I sympathized with Nita. I understood and shared her love of reading. I was interested by what she read in her magical book.

Wizards love words. Most of them read a great deal, and indeed one strong sign of a potential wizard is the inability to get to sleep without reading something first. But their love for and fluency with words is what makes wizards a force to be reckoned with. Their ability to convince a piece of the world–a tree, say, or a stone–that its not what it thinks it is, that it’s something else, is the very heart of wizardry. Words skillfully used, the persuasive voice, the persuading mind, are the wizard’s most basic tools. With them a wizard can stop a tidal wave, talk a tree out of growing, or into it–freeze fire, burn rain–even slow down the death of the Universe.

If that paragraph doesn’t make avid readers want to read this story right now (and become wizards themselves), I don’t know what will!

But, as a whole, the story just didn’t work for me. Some of the characters, events, and certain elements of the magical world (such as the language of wizardry) deserved a little more ink. Oh, I know not everyone can be J.R.R. Tolkien and get away with it. Developing the fictional world and characters more would have added pages, and maybe the extra length would have lost the book some readers. Would it have been worth it, though? Probably.

What bothered me most, though, was an alternate reality in which inanimate objects were alive and behaved like animals. I couldn’t quite believe in it. Toward the end of the book, as the magnitude of the problems facing Nita and Kit became apparent, the story got more interesting to me, but by then I just wanted to be done, so I rushed through it. The ending, which ought to have been moving, left me cold. This might have been my fault. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. Sometimes the reader fails the author, not vice versa.

Ultimately I decided to give the book a B+ grade. It wasn’t bad, and it had a lot of elements that I would typically love. It was first published in 1983 (yes, silly reviewers who compare Duane to Rowling, it well predates Harry Potter). It has either stayed in print all this time or come back into print repeatedly, and there are many sequels. This suggests that the series has a following. So, while it’s not for me, it could well be for you.

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