So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane. ★★★★
So You Want to Be a Wizard is the 1983 fantasy YA novel which started off The Young Wizards series, which has the tenth book coming out next year. I’ve always loved this series, but I’ve never done a complete read through of the series. Time to change that.
Nita Callahan is an intelligent thirteen year old girl who likes looking at the craters of the moon and learning the different constellations. One day, she is running from a group of bullies who are constantly giving her black eyes. This time, she hides in the library. While Nita’s in the library, she comes across a book called “So You Want to Be a Wizard?” She finds a section entitled “The Wizard’s Oath,” and, feeling a bit silly, says it. The next morning, she wakes up to find herself listed in the book as a novice wizard. She soon encounters another young wizard, a boy named Kit Rodriguez. But every new wizard must go on an ordeal, and Nita and Kit soon plunge into theirs, where they will face the Lone Power itself, the Being who brought death into the universe…
“In Life’s name and for Life’s sake, I say that I will use the Art for nothing but the service of that Life. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so—till Universe’s end. I will look always toward the Heart of Time, where all times are one, where all our sundered worlds lie whole, as they were meant to be.”
Like a lot of ongoing fantasy series, the books age with the protagonists. So You Want to Be a Wizard is definitely the first book, and it would probably be considered middle grade today. The book’s short and the plot line relatively simple, especially compared to what I remember of the later books. It reminds almost more of a novella, even though it is longer than that.
The Young Wizard series is definitely a fantasy series, but it owes a lot to science fiction. Yes, there’s wizards, but there’s also aliens. Heck, there’s alien wizards. One of the three major characters in So You Want to Be a Wizard is a sentient white hole named Fred. Even the magic in the Young Wizard series has the feel of science, with the wizards having to write and balance equations to work spells. Of course, the simplest magic is enacted simply by speaking to the world in the wizardly language, asking a lock to come undone or air to harden and let you walk on it.
“A warp,” Nita whispered. “A tunnel through space-time. Are you a white hole?”
It stopped bobbing, stared at her as if she had said something derogatory. (Do I look like a hole?)”
Wizardry in the Young Wizard series is all about life and slowing entropy. Wizards are devoted to life and growth and sworn to stand against death and entropy. Sometimes, this can lead to difficulty when one organism is growing at another’s expense. The overall ethics and mythos of the series is a huge underlying part of what makes it so great. So You Want to Be a Wizard introduces many aspects of this, but it is explored much more fully in subsequent novels.
“And this was what being a wizard was about. Keeping terrible things from happening, even when it hurt. Not just power, or control of what ordinary people couldn’t control, or delight in being able to make strange things happen. Those were side effects – not the reason, not the purpose.”
I really love Nita as a female lead. She’s undeniably intelligent with a keen interest in the world around her. I also love how her and Kit’s relationship is based on friendship, not romance. Through the course of the book, the both save each other, and both play important roles in developing plans or working spells, which they often say together.
So You Want to Be a Wizard is one of those books that you can read at any age but might very well appreciate more when you’re older, especially when it comes to the themes of working for life versus death. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light, fun read, a novel that is at the crossing point between science fiction and fantasy.