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The Wicked Enchantment

The Wicked Enchantment
Margot Benary-Isbert
1955. Harcourt, Brace & World Inc., New York

I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you that this book has been one of the most influential on my life and beliefs around magic. I first read it when I was eight years old. Except for a few years in my early twenties (when I thought I was much more sophisticated than I was) I've continued to read this book each year for — oh dear — roughly 47 years now. And with each reading, the book's magic never fails.

It seems like a simple story of tyranny, magic (good and bad), the power of love, and the magic of common sense. It is all these things and so much more.

Anemone Florus and her dog Winnie live in the beautiful, if somewhat eccentric, town of Vogelsang. They and her father have lived peacefully, tending the garden and animal friends left behind when her mother died. Then a mysterious woman and her wicked little son find their way into the once-happy home and Anemone decides that her father has chosen the wretch Erwin and his mother Ilsebill's dumplings over Anemone and Winnie. It's time for action and so she runs away. But where to go?

The pair find the perfect hiding place with her mother's friend, Gundula Immofila — confectioner, painter, and sensible woman with her own form of magic. Her cat Minnette, parrot Lora (who greets visitors with the phrase, "Come in unless you're a man!"), mouse Snow White, and birds from all over the countryside speak to her and help her in her work. And the bees who live in a hive above her dreamship of a bed appear to be magical as well.

Anemone is not the only one in Vogelsang with problems. The happy little town is beleaguered under a new mayor and his cronies who bring tyranny and fear to the inhabitants. The mayor and council have declared eggs illegal for the townsfolk to possess. All eggs and the fowl who lay them must be turned in to the city government. How will people get their beautiful, magical Easter eggs painted by the famous Gundula Immofila?

The problems do not stop there. A statue of a foolish virgin has gone missing from the local cathedral, along with an ugly waterspout that sat above the statue. The mayor blames Anemone's uncles, threatening to have them imprisoned and put to death if the statue is not returned by the first full moon of spring. It takes all the ordinary sorts of magic possessed by Anemone, Gundula, the animals, and the members of a wonderful circus to counteract the forces surrounding the mayor and the mysterious statue.

As a child, I thought this was a perfect book. Each time I opened the pages to begin the story again I felt I was coming home to a wonderful, familiar, totally magical place. The real magic comes from the fact that, forty-seven years later, I feel the same way.

An interesting aside is the fact that Ms. Benary-Isbert and her family lived through the horrors of Nazi Germany and later moved to the U.S. A child doesn't have to know this history, but as an adult reader I found it deepened my insight into her story.

The Wicked Enchantment may not be categorized as a traditionally pagan book, but it definitely set me on the path toward nature worship and a belief in the magic of the mundane. Though written in the 1950s, the story seems timeless, and contains wonderfully strong women characters.

Though this book is no longer in print, used copies are readily available through such sites as Amazon.com and AbeBooks.com. Try to get the early hardcover edition, which includes beautiful illustrations by Enrico Arno. I read this book aloud to my children each year until they were too old and sophisticated to be read aloud to anymore. (They're in their twenties now; so I suspect that soon the magic will draw them back in, too.) I've lent a copy to many people, both children and adults. And now I pass the magic along to you. Enjoy.

Graphics Credits

  • book cover, courtesy of the reviewer
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