I got ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’ by Diane Duane years back, in the middle of the Harry Potter fever. It has been lying unread since then. After I finished reading the wonderful, but chunky and tiny-fonted ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’, I thought I will read a book which is a light-read and which has a big font. The ‘light-read’ part of it was not that important. But the ‘big font’ part of it was crucial. Diane Duane’s book had a nice big font and so I started reading it. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is what I think.
Nita is in high school. She is nerdy and bookish. She is frequently bullied by her classmates and sometimes she is physically beaten up. One day while trying to escape from her classmates’ blows, she ends up in the library. And while browsing through the children’s section, she discovers a book called ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’. And before she knows it, she has immersed herself deep into the book. Nita has read about wizards in stories, but she didn’t know that they existed in real life. This book seemed to describe how to become a wizard and how to have a career as a wizard. She borrows the book, goes home and she continues reading it. From the next day she discovers that the world is different and it is the end of life as she knew it. She is able to hear the trees talking. And one of the trees tells her about another wizard nearby. Nita searches for this other wizard and finds a boy nearby who is practising spells. His name is Kit. They become friends. While they are practising spells, something strange happens, and they end up with a spot of light which floats in front of them. It speaks to them in the language which all of nature understands – the trees, all living things, and even things like stones and statues and doors and buildings. It tells them that it is a white hole. They call it Fred. Nita, Kit and Fred go to school the next day. They use magic to thwart bullies. Fred helps them. They meet senior wizards, go into a portal which takes them into an alternate universe which is dark and has bad creatures around, they discover that there are two books in the world – the book of light and the book of darkness – and there is a dark creature which is trying to convert all the light into darkness. They get into one scrape and adventure after another and in the end they save the world. Well, I don’t want to describe the whole complex story and spoil the fun for you. For the details, you should read the book.
Sometimes we fall in love at first sight, whether it is a person or a book or a piece of music or a painting or a house or a dog or a cat or literally anything. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. We get to know people or things and we are polite and try to put on a façade, but then suddenly one day, the flash-bulb moment arrives and something opens in our heart and we are in love. At other times, love slowly seeps into our heart through time and we don’t even know it, and then one day we discover that we are in love with this person or with this book or with this dog. For me, ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’ was not love at first sight. It was a combination of the other two things. The love seeped through my heart without me realizing it, and the flash-bulb moment also arrived during the middle of my reading. I put on a polite face and read the book – after all I was reading it more for the light story line and the big font – but at around page 60, something happened. It is the time when Nita and Kit practise a spell for the first time. Duane’s prose suddenly touched a chord in my heart and then it refused to let go. And then that happened again and again and my heart started responding to the music and then it became the music. And I loved every page of the book from there till the end. It was like falling in love for the first time. There were so many charming moments in the book which I loved – the first time Nita and Kit practise a spell, the first time Nita talks to Liused, the rowan tree in her yard (a tree on the branches of which she has been playing since she was a kid), the scene in which Fred, the white hole, makes his appearance and all the scenes in which he comes, the Lotus Esprit car and the way its hostility towards Kit and Nita turns into love, Duane’s description of the train’s joy – they were all so beautiful. One of the things I loved about the book was that there were just two main human characters – Nita and Kit (there was a third one, the villain and the dark power, who looked human. There were two other magicians, who make a brief appearance and then there were Nita’s bullies, her family – but they all come only in a scene or two). All other characters were not human but they were no less fascinating. My favourites were Fred, the white hole, Liused the rowan tree and the Lotus Esprit car. The action scenes in the story were nicely done but not necessarily brilliant. But there was a beauty and warmth in the story, which was difficult to define and articulate, and which I loved. I also loved the way the story paid homage to many of the giants – Madeleine L’Engle who wrote magical fantasy stories with a scientific backdrop, Tolkien, because the villain and his backstory in Duane’s book clearly resembled the story of the Dark Lord of Tolkien’s story and also there is a dragon sitting in its lair guarding its gold, which looked like the scene straight out of ‘The Hobbit’. When I finished the book, I was sad that it had ended. After all, how many times do we get to read a story, in which one of our favourite, characters is a charming white hole which is hundreds of thousands of times massive as our sun?
When I started reading Duane’s book, I thought it would be a regular magical fantasy story, but after a while, I realized that it was no ordinary magical fantasy book. It was unique, because there was a lot of science in the book – black holes and white holes and gravity and alternate universes, warping of space and time, an investigation of the Moebius strip and how it applies to space. It is very different from Madeleine L’Engle’s series and it is also very different from other wizard stories like the Harry Potter series. I wish I had read it when I was in school. I would have loved it even more.
I think though this is a comment which is coming thirty years too late, I have to say this – this is a charming debut by Duane. I hope to read other books in this series.
I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.
“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip.”
Very faintly Nita could hear what Kit heard and felt more strongly; the train’s aliveness, its wild rushing joy at doing what it was made to do – its dangerous pleasure in its speed, the wind it fought with, the rails it rode.
Kit :“If they know about us, do you think they’ll send help?”
Nita : “I don’t know. I get the feeling that maybe we are the help.”
She reached out a hand to Fred. He bobbed close and settled at the tip of one finger for a moment, perching there delicately as a firefly, energy touching matter for a moment as if to reconfirm the old truth that they were just different forms of the same thing.
Nita : “You ever swallow anything accidentally before, Fred?”
Fred : “Not for a long time. Not since I was a black hole, certainly. Black holes swallow everything, but a white hole’s business is emission. Within limits…anyway, all that emission makes me nervous. Too much of that kind of thing and I could blow my quanta.”
Nita : “Really? Have you emitted that much stuff that you’re in danger of blowing up?”
Fred : “Oh, not really – I’d have to lose a lot more mass first. After all, before I was a black hole, I was a respectable-sized blue-white star, and even these days I massed a few hundred thousand times what your cute little yellow-dwarf Sun does. I wouldn’t worry about it – I’m nowhere near the critical threshold yet.”
Have you read Diane Duane’s ‘So You Want to be a Wizard’? What do you think about it?