Mark Reads ‘So You Want to Be a Wizard’: Chapter 1, Part II

In the second half of the first chapter of So You Want to Be a Wizard, MAGIC. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.


(Except for when it’s terrifying, but we’ll get there.)


I like how Duane still includes a bit of the trope of wizards being “chosen” within this story, but it doesn’t come across as if this is a Chosen One narrative. There’s a huge difference, and this feels a lot more subtle. At any point, a young wizard can be nudged toward this path, but it’s still up them to choose it. There’s agency involved in the process, and I respect that a lot. Even in these early moments as both Kit and Nita struggle with their abilities, they’re allowed to choose how to use magic. Kit heals his dog’s stung nose (NOOOOO THAT IS SO CUTE, PLEASE STOP), and he talks to a rock. So when he combines his “powers” with Nita, their choice speaks a lot to their personalities. Kit wants to help others, but both of them also want to protect themselves. Nita wants something returned to her that gives her comfort, but she’s also interested in helping out Kit.

Their choices matter.

Magic is Physical

While Nita will later state that she sees magic as something that doesn’t exist in a physical sense that she understands, I think it’s still easy to examine this system through our physical universe. Unlike most of the magical systems I’ve read, Duane’s relies intensely on an understanding of our world’s science rather than just existing to be called upon with a fancy phrase or word. There’s no flashy flick of a wrist and then: MAGIC. No, this feels like a complicated physics equation, which is relevant when you consider that this is how Kit describes how magic works in the world:

“There was this one phrase that kept turning up, ‘spatial claudication.’ I think that’s how you say it. It’s something like, space isn’t really empty, it folds around objects – or even words – and if you put the right things in the right places and do the right things with them, say the right things in the Speech, then the magic happens.”

And I’m interested to see how the idea of repetition works. If I understood it correctly, a wizard doesn’t have to repeatedly follow a complicated spell after they’ve completed it successfully the first time. (Well, not for all spells, that is.) Certain spells don’t need a drawing after the first time. How does that work? Do they have to just think about it instead?

Regardless, it was obvious how difficult this kind of magic was after Duane took a great deal of this chapter just to explain all the different steps. It wasn’t boring, mind you; I felt like I was learning how to cast a location spell like this one as Nita was learning it, too. That’s a tough feat to accomplish, especially since this could have been hard to follow. But it’s not, and Duane grounds the magic through Nita:

For once, for the first time, the dream was real white Nita was awake. Power stirred in the air around her and waited for her to shape it.


RIGHT? RIGHT??? IT’S GODDAMN MAGIC. It’s physical, it’s metaphysical, it’s magic. And then, Diane Duane almost immediately demonstrates to these kids why this power is not to be messed with. Which isn’t to say that they are “messing” with magic; they did the spell correctly and they were respectful in doing so. (They moved! For trees!!!) It’s just that this world is big and scary and TOTALLY OUT OF THEIR HANDS. How so?

Quick as a gasp it slammed them both out of one moment and into another, a shocking, wrenching transition like dreaming that you’ve fallen out of bed, wham! Instinctively they both hung on to the spell as if onto a railing, clutching it until their surroundings steadied down.

A spell can have a mind of its own, almost. Now, I don’t know if that terminology is correct; perhaps there is no “life” to a magic spell, but there’s definitely a lack of control here. I suspect that’s mostly because these two wizards are inexperienced. Would they have been able to handle this situation better had they known more about how this specific spell would work? Admittedly, even I don’t quite understand what happened here. If the spell they cast was meant to help Nita locate her pen, then it intentionally dragged these two to an alternate Manhattan, a place where THE WORST THING IMAGINABLE was waiting for any sign of life to arrive:

Then abruptly she felt the something malevolent and alive that lay in wait below – a something that saw them, was conscious of them, and was darkly pleased.

I REALLY DON’T NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS PARALLEL WORLD EXCEPT I KIND OF DO AND I ALSO DON’T. No humans in Manhattan, y’all. Just a dark, “malevolent” force that is eager to GOBBLE UP OUR PROTAGONISTS. It’s because of this that Kit and Nita are able to pull in help through a hole in their spell, and I’m guessing that the spell knew this? Again, if the spell took them to this terrifying version of Manhattan just so that Fred could be pulled into these kids’ world, then this is starting to make more sense. It’s a seemingly convoluted solution to Nita’s problem, but who cares because FRED!!!

Hanging in midair about three feet away, inside the circle, was a spark of eye-searing white fire. It looked no bigger than a pinhead, but it was brilliant all out of proportion to its size, and was giving off light as bright as that of a two-hundred-watt bulb without a shade. The light bobbed gently in midair, up and down, looking like a will-o’-the-wisp plugged into too powerful a current and about to blow out.

YES. YES. With Fred’s first words, Diane Duane takes us to an INCREDIBLY WEIRD PLACE, one I don’t understand but which doesn’t take me out of the story at all. Do I know what an “Artificer” is? Or “quanta”? Or the “Good Place”? BUT IT’S SO EXCITING AND STRANGE! Y’all, a white hole. A white hole IS A CHARACTER IN THIS BOOK. I don’t even know what to say, aside from the fact that my own Fred plushie is going to make an appearance in the next video.


So what is the Naming of Lights? And an Advisory? Are there other beings like Fred out there? Do they all have such complicated names? Who names them? Do they merely stay in the same spot in space for eons? Why does Fred think they’ve “died”? WHEN DO I GET TO READ MORE OF THIS?

Now. Right now.

The original text contains use of the words “crazy” and “insane.”

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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