School of Wizardry by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald (1990)

Okay, so I started out the new year by reading a Christmas gift… That I gave to my husband! I haven’t read my own gifts yet. But I promise, it really is a great gift for him, even if it was, in part, purchased and wrapped because I also wanted to read it.

So the story behind this selection is:

Once upon a time, there lived a family of avid readers who loved fantasy books. In the middle school library there was housed an obscure series of books and most of the older children in this family all checked them out and read them when it was their turn to patronize that little library.

And now, they’re all grown up. And sometimes at family reunions, this obscure little series of books is mentioned (usually by my husband, kid number four in this family) and some of the other grown-up kids pipe up: “Oh yeah, I remember those books! Those were AWESOME!”

And then, since I’m there, my insides start twitching madly. There’s a series of fantasy kids books that are amazing, and I haven’t read them or even heard of them? This must be remedied!

So yes, I checked my libraries. Alas, no. They’re seriously obscure, so I can’t check them out.

And then we found books #2, #3 and #6 at a used book sale. Sadly, they’ve been republished, only with much lamer titles and  revoltingly pathetic cover art. It’s a shame we never found #1.

So I finally broke down last year and scoured the web for all six of the original books with the original intriguing titles and original pretty cover art.

And now I’ve finally read book 1 of the obscure Circle of Magic series by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald: School of Wizardry.

I enjoyed it. It was an easy chapter book, but I found plenty of vivid and beautiful descriptions in the simple words, which is one of the first things I look for in books.

But the ideas also had me thinking and pondering–that’s the other thing I look for in books.

A common trope found in fantasy is the extraordinarily gifted new adventurer. We have a new adventurer, Randal, and more than anything else in the world, he wants to be a wizard. Now, here’s the interesting thing about Randal: he has an exceptional untapped potential for raw wizarding power, somewhere. But he sucks at magic. Like, flunking kindergarten, sucks at magic. Oh, and he’s completely illiterate. And he’s never even heard of the Latin-equivalent necessary to study old tomes of magical theory.

And then he works his tail off. And after two years of working at remedial level, he’s still practically flunking.

Does he eventually get any good? Yes. By the end of his third year of school, where the book ends, he still kinda sucks, just not as bad as before.

Randal is persistent, thoughtful and friendly, but hardly successful. By the end, barely successful, but there’s no huge triumph. And yet, there is much to be admired… These are great ideas to expose children to.

Oh, and the ending. Randal is in a terrible, no-win scenario. And he has to act anyway.

Ideas galore.

So, since I hope to count this toward Amy’s Up and Coming Classics Challenge in the children’s fiction category, I need to decide whether it will become a classic or not.

And sadly, given that it is already so obscure and was only published in 1990, I’ve got to say… No. This will probably never be a classic, despite its merits. Alas, that Twilight will be remembered and this won’t.

But it’s staying on my shelf, and I’ll be reading its sequels before long!


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