I found my way to an abandoned garden behind the Northern Palace, a walled-in area where women came to look for garlic and herbs that had been planted long ago and had been forgotten. There were larks there, pecking at the greens, but they all fluttered up when I came upon them, my breathing hot and ragged. I took off Adir’s garments. They were nothing but a fool’s disguise. There was rosemary growing where I stood, said to be the herb of remembrance, a gate to the past. My heart hit against my chest, and my limbs shook. I wrapped myself in my scarf as I wept for who I was.
— from The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, 2015
This is the first book I ever picked up and purchased while standing in the grocery store line. My sister-in-law told me about it when she saw it on television, but I hadn’t known the book was written by Alice Hoffman, one of my favorite contemporary authors. It’s a thick book, consisting of four stories, four women. The above quote comes from Aziza’s story, the girl whose element is iron, the warrior girl, the girl whose name changed too often during her life.
I could have picked any paragraph from any part of the book; they are all beautifully written. Heartache and bravery, blood and feathers, spells and religious devotion: they all weave together to form this story about a people chased from their homes by the Romans in 70 A.D., and gathered together in a fortress on a mountain. I won’t forget this book. It is one I will read again.
I knew that some people don’t want their children to read fairy tales or other books that involve magic, but I didn’t know anyone like that personally. Until recently. So I’ve thought more about that. It puzzles me. Magical elements in literature have never been denied me, and honestly I can’t imagine a life without fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White. My kids and I are reading Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen right now, and it is full of cool (shiver!) magic.
I don’t know all the reasons behind choosing to filter magic out of a child’s exposure, but I’m guessing part of it is because the magical powers do not come from God. Perhaps it comes from the devil? I rather admire these parents for sticking to their guns because it must be really difficult to keep magic away from a child. So many fairy tales and other books involve magic in some way.
I believe the imagination is magical (and I also believe it is God-given). The imagination can conjure entire fantasy worlds, plot game after mysterious game, and create pictures in the mind that could never exist in real life. And I believe fairy tales stretch our imagination in really good ways. Real life can feel so limited sometimes! I love falling into the realm of the imagination, and I want that for my children too.
On the grown-up level, magical realism might be my favorite genre. I’m thinking of authors like Alice Hoffman and Toni Morrison. I want to write magical realism. I’m practicing.
Yesterday was my birthday, and in the tradition of my elementary school years, I am offering you a treat to celebrate the special day. It has food in it, but it’s more magical than edible. It is a short quote from a novel I’m reading, The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman (2011). I enjoy Hoffman’s magical stories very much, and I’d love to write as well as her someday. This quote is only a small taste of what she can do with words, the natural world, and strange and lovely people fulfilling her fairy tale plots.
They had reached the garden, ignored for many years. It was a wild tangle filled mostly with thistle. A clutch of larks and sparrows took flight when the women approached.
“It must have been lovely,” Emily said.
There was still some scarlet amaranth and a stray crimson larkspur, nearly six feet tall, the likes of which Emily had never seen. There was a scraggly row of ruby lettuce and some bright radishes that Olive had put in, which she now pulled from the ground to have with their dinner. The family lore insisted that only red plants would grow in this stretch of ground. Even those blooms that went in as white or pink or blue turned in a matter of weeks. Emily took a bite of a small, muddy radish. The juice in her mouth was red.