Sep 9, 2016

The Magic Circle

by Donna Jo Napoli

I often enjoy re-tellings of fairy tales that have some new twist to them, or that tell it from the villain's point of view, like this one. It's the story of a midwife in a small village, a medieval setting as far as I could tell. She has a weakness for beautiful things, jewels in particular, but can rarely afford them. Which desire enables a manipulative neighbor to push her into seeking new skills of healing. This didn't mean using herbal remedies, but driving devils and evil spirits out of ill people. One mistake lets her fall into the clutches of the devils, and to flee their influence (voices in her head demanding that she eat a child she has just healed) she runs away to a remote forest, where by keeping her house meticulously clean (because spiders and other small creatures have eyes that spy for the devils) and shielded with homemade candies (not sure of the significance of this part, it might have just been nostalgia) she stays free of their controlling influence for years. Until two lost, starving children come across her sweet-bedecked house. Their names are Hansel and Gretel.

This story did not unfold the way I expected it to, and I enjoyed that. Some of the intuitive actions the midwife made while trying to heal people surprised me, I wondered if a person in her position would really have guessed at such measures. But no matter. It's the kind of intense, thought-provoking story you can read in one sitting. And the ending makes you want to cry.

Some parts of the story reminded me a lot of Barbara Hambly's Dragonshadow.

Rating: 3/5       118 pages, 1993

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