Happy Halloween! The Rules of Magic

636425476301544428-Rules-of-Magic      Celebrating the power of witches in Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic seems an appropriate way to celebrate Halloween.  Hoffman reveals the back story of the two witch aunts who raise Sally and Gillian Owens in her novel made into a movie – Practical Magic.  This prequel dates back to the childhood of Frannie and Jet,  played in the movie by a feisty Stockard Channing and an aerie Dianne Wiest.

The premise of the family curse bequeathed from the seventeenth century –  that any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will die – controls the romance in the story, but thankfully Hoffman spins this tale with less horror and more introspection.  History plays a big role with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War changing the direction for some of the characters.  And, if you were wondering how two maiden aunts could have nieces?  Hoffman writes in a brother for them in the prequel, a handsome wizard who resists going to war.  The children in Practical Magic are his grandchildren.

A fast and entertaining read – try it while you are munching on your Halloween stash.

And, if you’d like to try Aunt Isabelle’s Chocolate Tipsy Cake for breakfast, the recipe is here.


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More Books About Witches:

River King by Alice Hoffman

With her trademark mix of magic and trauma, Alice Hoffman’s The River King has an uncanny scary quality that marks how the world deals with injustice.  First published in July, 2000, sadly, the world has not changed and Hoffman’s cautions are still relevant.

As a fan of Hoffman, I’ve read Practical Magic and The Red Garden, but found this Gothic tale of high school bullies and small town rivalries through a recent review by a fellow writer.  The story is set at a New England boarding school, centered around Carlin and Gus, the misfit scholarship students who have trouble connecting with their wealthy fellows;  Abel, the handsome local police detective; and Betsy, the photography teacher who snaps a picture of a ghost. A death, with some supernatural aftereffects, initiates the action – revealing the underbelly of society in the small town and the exclusive institution.  With characteristic attention to the true nature of her principals, Hoffman weaves a tale of romance and mystery – solving  a crime in the end as well as connecting those seeking true love.

Full of ghosts and mysterious happenings – appropriate for this time of year – a spooky Halloween tale, with a little social conscience thrown in – and Hoffman’s lyrical descriptions of people and places.

Related ReviewThe Red Garden

The Red Garden – Alice Hoffman

… for events are as much the parents of the future as they were the children of the past…(John Galsworthy)

I kept waiting for the events in Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden to come together, connecting characters and historical incidents as she follows the town of Blackwell from inception to middle age.   Instead, her chapters become a series of short stories,  following each generation in this small town in the Berkshires with a leap into the next.   It really doesn’t matter if you remember the names of who was married, who died, or whose daughter married the one-legged man.  Each chapter could stand on its own, and Hoffman will mark them somehow if you need to know – with a strange name like Azurine or an other worldly gift like shapeshifting.  This is Alice Hoffman, author of Practical Magic and Blackbird House.  You should expect strange, mystical, sometimes weird – but always fascinating.

Historically, Hoffman stays true to the time for each chapter – colonial hardships, Civil War trauma, the Depression, World War II – but never really lingers on the facts of that era; she uses history as a place marker.    Although I could suspend belief when reading about floating ghosts, bears becoming men, eels turning into women, red blossoms from yellow rose bushes, I found her purpose hard to follow and  her chapters seemed to stall in the middle of the book, some resembling children’s fairy tales – like Kate, the beauty, a kind friend to the monster beast poet in the woods.

Strong women sprinkle the narrative, beginning with Hallie Brady, the founding mother of the town, who communicates with bears and helps the small group of the town’s first settlers survive their first hard winter with bear’s milk.  Lots of messages here in stalwart women and brave children; many seem to reach a turning point into maturity at age ten; some are dead by 25.  No one character is revealed completely; rather, the book has a series of vignettes with a cast of characters – lots of heroes, heroines, and villains – not quite enough information about any of them.  Sometimes, the chapter would end with no resolution, until you’d find a grandson or niece in the next chapter.

Did I like it?  Alice Hoffman has a writing style that draws me in – simple, lyrical and soothing.  I can connect to her phrasing:

“Don’t worry, I’m not afraid of words…when you read, the time flies by…”

“A story can still entrance people even while the world is falling apart…”

and she talks of cake

The Red Garden is a change of pace – but not for everyone;  after I stopped trying to place the characters together and make sense of a plot, I lost my frustration.  When magic came into the stories, I was drawn in.  If you decide to read the book – like other Hoffman books –  just go with her flow and believe whatever she tells you.

And the red garden that can only grow bloody red flowers and vegetables in red dirt? It’s mystery from the beginning of the book returns in the next-to-the-last chapter with that title, and all is revealed – sort of…