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So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane

So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane
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Book Name: So You Want To Be A Wizard
Author: Diane Duane
Publisher(s): Delacorte Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Classic Fantasy / Middle Grade Fantasy
Release Date: 1983

I think it’s a safe bet that most people who visit this site have wanted to be a wizard at some point (and a safe bet that some of us still do). Unfortunately, as far as I know, none of those wishes have come true, which is why we turn to books. If we can’t be wizards ourselves, slipping into the mind of someone who can is the next best thing. It’s why we read and reread the Harry Potter series and, for those of us who like a cold slap of reality mixed in with our fantasy, The Magicians. To these series and many others, I would like to add another: Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.

I came to the Young Wizards series rather late, first discovering it when I was in high school. Before that, I only knew Diane Duane as one of the writers on my father’s bookshelf packed with Star Trek novels. He’d lent me Spock’s World which I started but never finished. (I did read and finish The Wounded Sky, which was a delightful book that I highly recommend to anyone who likes cheerful spider scientists.) That was during the time when I didn’t pay much attention to an author’s name, so seeing a book written by one Diane Duane only sparked a hint of familiarity in me, one which I didn’t know how to explain.

I wish I could say So You Want to Be a Wizard jumped out at me the way the eponymous book did for Nita Callahan as she took refuge in the children’s section of her library, but the truth was that I found it in the same way that I find most of my books even now: I saw it mentioned somewhere on the internet, requested it from my library, and forgot about it until I saw it sitting on the hold shelf. I wish too that I could say it drew me into a magical adventure and changed my life but, as with Harry Potter, I am content to travel along with Nita.

Nita Callahan is a bookish girl of thirteen who is, at the start of the book, trying to avoid Joanne’s bullying. She knows she can’t run forever, so she darts into the library, and the librarian promises to cover for her. In a moment of nostalgia (and because it’s downstairs and thus out of sight), Nita slips into the children’s section and there stumbles across a book called So You Want to Be a Wizard. On realizing the book doesn’t seem to be written as a joke but is completely earnest, she brings it home with her and, that night, takes the Wizard’s Oath, vowing to use her magic only for the ultimate good: putting off for as long as possible the death of the universe by entropy.

The next day, while trying to cast a spell to regain a pen Joanne stole from her, Nita runs into Kit Rodriguez, a preteen who has also come across a copy of So You Want to Be a Wizard. He too is bookish and bullied, and the two of them join forces, casting the spell together. They do find Nita’s pen, but they also temporarily step into a terrifying alternate New York and accidentally bring back a white hole, who they term Fred for lack of a more pronounceable name.

(A side note: Remember that scientist spider I mentioned earlier? Well, Diane Duane is a master at writing nonhuman characters who are simultaneously alien and empathetic. It’s one of the many reasons I love her work.)

As it turns out, however, there are no accidents: Fred swallowed Nita’s pen, and he has been on a mission of his own to find wizards who can help thwart the Lone Power, who wishes to remake the universe according to his own whims. Nita and Kit volunteer to help, and from there, their lives spin into an adventure that, in my opinion, is just as good as any that Rowling’s Golden Trio faced.

What I love most about this series isn’t the magic, though that in itself is fascinating. Diane Duane has created a system of magic which is based on science, mathematics, and precision. The mere fact that wizards are meant to slow entropy introduces us to the idea that, in this universe, science and magic can work in tandem rather than being opposed, which is a concept that I wish more writers would explore. It isn’t even the fact that Nita and Kit both have Hispanic heritage, though diversity in books is a common theme through many of my reviews. No, my absolute favorite thing about the series, and something to which I will likely return as I review the books over the next few months, is the idea at the core of the magic of this universe.

Anyone can be a wizard.

I don’t just mean that anyone could possibly receive a letter to Hogwarts; in the Harry Potter universe, you need to be born with magic, just as you need a powerful aptitude in Lev Grossman’s books. Nita and Kit do have an aptitude, but it’s the sort of aptitude any preteen or teen devouring fantasy books might have: a love of words. Besides, it’s their attitude which is more important. Throughout the book, they face choices. They each choose to take the Wizard’s Oath, they choose to help Fred, they choose to do so much that puts them in danger and yet is for the greater good of their universe. Wizardry is, at its heart, selflessness, and no matter where you stand on recent political issues, I think that’s something everyone can agree we should see more of in the world.

So whether you’re too old for these books, not old enough yet, or just the right age (which I would argue is any age), settle back with some escapism that feels true to this world. As for myself, I know a certain ten-year-old cousin who will be getting this book for Christmas.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (4 votes cast)
So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane, 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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One Comment

  1. Oh, I love this series so much! And for just the reasons you mention. The sciency magic is so awesome (just wait, it gets better!), the aliens are the best (LOVE Fred! And throughout the series we get more and more different and equally wonderful ones). And I, too, love that wizardry is a choice to protect the universe. I would so take the Wizard’s Oath if I ever ran across it! (I hope, in my own small way, I do make that choice in my life.)

    I’m so glad these books have been reissued and can be discovered by a whole new generation. Thanks for highlighting it!

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