In the prologue of So You Want to Be a Wizard, I absolutely want to be a wizard. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to start Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of bullying, homelessness, homophobia.
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All right, y’all, let’s do this!
This book was originally published the year I was born. So, aside from the neat occurrence that the Young Wizards series is as old as I am, it also remains painfully relevant. I grew up in an age when the mere appearance of being smart meant that you were a target. Naturally, I would continue to hide in the library as much as possible because my bullies wouldn’t be caught dead there. I got my city library card fairly early, and my mother would take us there on Saturday mornings, and she soon had to limit me to eight books for each two-week rental period. I would devour the books that I got, usually taking two of them with me to school in the morning so that I could hide out near the willow and eucalyptus trees on the edge of the yard that sat behind my middle school.
Sometimes, I would finish two books in one day, and those were usually the days that were the hardest to get through. They were the days when people would make note of how tight my pants were and how gay that made me. We couldn’t afford new clothes for me, and I was rapidly outgrowing all my elementary outfits. So I hid away from everyone because it was the only way to avoid them. When people would make fun of me for knowing the answer to one of Ms. Hall’s questions in her science class, I’d disappear into a LeGuin novel or continue my obsession with Stephen King, or maybe I’d power through some Ray Bradbury. The more bullied I got, and the more isolated I felt from my own family and from my peers, the more I found a friend in The Diary of Anne Frank. The more I wished I could love openly and freely, the more I latched on to Genly Ai, who navigated a world where no one understood him or his sexuality. (Years later, as I came into better understanding of my queerless, the Gethenians made a lot more sense to me.)
By the time I got to high school, the bullying became more focused. It never really went away, but gone were the days when being a geek or smart were the justifications for the treatment I got. It was all about my perceived sexuality, about my disconnect with Mexican and Latino culture, about my white mother, about how poor we were… somehow, the more specific it got, the more pointed it felt. So when I discovered The House on Mango Street due to Ms. Alford, my freshman English teacher, I lost myself in it. I went out and bought a copy and wore it out by the end of my first year of high school. I’ve lost count of how many copies of that book I’ve purchased and lent to friends.
I still kept my library card, and during the time I was homeless in high school, I’d walk the three miles from cross country practice to the La Sierra branch of the Riverside Public Library, spending time reading whatever I could find until it closed at 7pm on most days. Before I shuffled off to find something to eat or somewhere to sleep, hoping a friend of mine might let me know if I could crash on a couch or a floor, I would fill my life with fictional characters or non-fictional stories. That’s where I discovered the three The X-Files novels by Kevin Anderson. It’s where I found other books by Jane Austen and discovered that my Edgar Allan Poe collection wasn’t complete; it’s where I read Frantz Fanon for the first time; it’s how I learned that there was a word and a system and an entire academic framework to explain the racism I’d experience at large and at home; it’s where I devoured Albert Camus after my AP English teacher gave us The Stranger; and it’s where Margaret Atwood and Octavia Butler comforted me through the worst days.
The manuscript for my first novel is currently sitting in the inboxes and hands and tablets of a number of close friends with discerning tastes, and none of them know that I spent months going to the San Francisco Public Library to research it, finding books on activist circles in the Bay Area, reading old news articles reporting on the Black Panthers and discovering the horrors of COINTELPRO all over again.
Libraries have and will always be a sanctuary for me. I am Nita because I finally started confronting my bullies with fierce and snappy words, and I also ran from them, too, knowing that my efforts had backfired, but enjoying the thrill that came from knowing that just for a moment, I hurt them back. I am Nita because my own father constantly told me to fight back, to defend myself with my fists, and never once did he or my mother ever tell me that I didn’t deserve to be bullied. (Hey, at least Nita’s mother silently offered empathy.) I am Nita because I could not possibly recall the number of times I used a library as sanctuary from someone or from something. I couldn’t because it was a prevalent motif of my life in Riverside, California.
If there is any place in this world of ours that provides a window to the world if wizardry, then I have no problem with it being a library. What a magical place.
In just half of a chapter, So You Want to Be a Wizard builds a magical system that is UTTERLY UNLIKE ANYTHING I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE. This is not a world of meticulous spells and showy productions of magical ability. Wizardry here is intricately tied to the lifeforce OF THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Duane’s magic sounds far more like a scientific process rather than an “occult” bit of fancy. Well, not all the time, I should say:
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.
So, despite there being this very scientific component to the magic, there’s still a great deal of room for an emotional aspect of magic, too! There’s even a bit of a fairy tale to Creation, though I get the sense that all of this is very much real, not something to be “believed” in, per se. Does that make sense? For example, in the Tortall universe, there’s no real issue of having “faith” in gods when those gods can actually visit you. (Well, I suppose it’s more that faith works differently than most people see it.) A wizard simply accepts this universe of death, entropy, and growth. These things don’t seem to be debatable, and I LOVE IT. This arrangement is something I can get behind.
Magic does not live in the unwilling soul.
MY BODY IS WILLING AND READY, Y’ALL.
Mark Links Stuff
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