Reading traditions sometimes just happen. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman is the first novel I read this year. Last year my first novel of the year was Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic, the first novel published in her Practical Magic series. It was an enjoyable, thought provoking, and heartwarming way start to the new year. I wanted to do the same this year and so planned to read Hoffman’s Magic Lessons as my first novel of 2022.
The Practical Magic novels are about various generations of Owens women. Their publication order is:
- Practical Magic – 1995
- Rules of Magic – 2017
- Magic Lessons – 2020
- The Book of Magic – 2021
As for reading order, Hoffman says they can be read in whatever order you wish.
I went back and forth about which novel to kick off 2022 and decided to go with the next in publication order, because chronological order is my jam. However, I was surprised to learn that there were holds on all of the formats in which Rules of Magic is available through my local public library. Not bad for a book that was published in 2017.
Fortunately, I had a digital advance reader copy of Magic Lessons patiently waiting to be read on my Kindle.
Origin of the curse
Magic Lessons is the origin story of the Owens women. Set in the 1600s, it begins with Hannah Owens who finds an abandoned newborn baby. She raises the baby, Maria, and teaches her the Art with No Name. We learn why and how Maria leaves Essex County in England for Essex County in Massachusetts. Her life takes some detours. We see her cast the curse.
Maria has a daughter named Faith. The story gently morphs into Faith’s coming of age tale as she learns to deal with the storm that is brewing within. “The dark was rising in her soul and she was glad of it. She was at the age when innocence seems like a flaw.”
Hoffman incorporates the historical figure of John Hathorne, one of the judges of the Salem witch trials who, unlike other men that had sat in judgement of the accused, never expressed regret for his role in the murder of innocent women.
Hathorne was the great, great grandfather of the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne who added the “w” to his family name, probably as a way to disassociate himself from his murderous ancestor. [See also Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.] John Hathorne is no whipping boy in this tale but is an integral part of the seemingly simple but emotionally complex tale that Hoffman weaves.
Also fascinating for this history buff and maritime enthusiast is the Jewish pirates in the story. Due to raging antisemitism, Jews, Hoffman writes, “had often lived at sea, especially when there was no country that would allow them entrance.” Jewish navigators and mathematicians were also part of the sailing exploration tradition.
I don’t know if the characters of Dias and his father are based on specific historic persons, but they do represent the Jewish people who were murdered during the Spanish Inquisition and driven out of Spain and Portugal. Like Maria, Dias witnessed a loved one being murdered due to irrational hate.
All of this historic hate and murder is somehow balanced and even overshadowed by the tremendous love and wisdom that infuses the characters and the story they find themselves in. Hoffman is a beautiful writer. I have now twice been left feeling better about humanity after finishing one of her novels. Hate and murder are still with us, but Hoffman reminds the reader that love can overcome. We often just don’t understand what love is or how it works.
Maybe a good start is following Hoffman’s rules of magic:
- Do as you will, but harm no one.
- What you give will be returned threefold.
- Fall in love whenever you can.
Regarding that last rule, I think it would be wise to ask yourself this question which a character asks in Magic Lessons: “Is it the man you want, or the feeling inside you when someone cares?” How different the world would be if we each replaced the word “man” with whatever we were craving (food, money, power, etc.). I do believe it is love that makes the world go ’round.
However, I don’t know if I can wait until next January to read another entry in the Practical Magic series, but that’s the plan. Of the two novels I’ve read in the series, both are filled with so much truth about human nature and our multitudinous foibles with love.
Magic Lessons is an infusion of hope in a world gone mad with hate.
Title: Magic Lessons
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: October 6, 2020
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