Magic Lessons: A Prequel to Practical Magic

Magic Lessons takes us back in time, to the 1600s, when the tale of the Owens matriarch, Maria Owens, begins. While it ends on a whimsical, if not movie-esque, note the novel is cloaked in a sort of hopeful darkness. 

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In 1998 Practical Magic was released in theaters. I was only a child when it came out but I immediately fell in love with the story. A tale about the fiercely independent Owens women bloodline (starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman), mystical in nature and enamored of love. Decades later, I still watch it every Halloween season (as I cuddle with my very own black cat), intrigued as though I were seeing it for the first time.

So, when did I discover that the movie was, in fact, adapted from Alice Hoffman’s book, Practical Magic? This year, and perhaps at the right moment. In the time since Practical Magic first hit bookstores in 1995 Hoffman has composed an entire Practical Magic series, four books in total—Practical Magic, The Rules of Magic, Magic Lessons, and The Book of Magic. Magic Lessons is chronologically the first novel in Hoffman’s tale of the Owens women, and the reason why I chose it as the first book to read in the series (rather than publication date, as listed above). And now that I’ve been exposed to Hoffman’s literary world I can never go back. In every tea I drink, in every herb I eat, in every act of love I feel, I am reminded of the Owens family. The book captured my attention like a magic spell, pulling me closer with each detail. As a result of my exposure to the film, I was able to truly immerse myself in the world Hoffman created but went deeper as the story unfolded, through the ebbs and flows of each emotion—courage, hope, despair, innocence, darkness, love, heartache, anger, and freedom.

Magic Lessons takes us back in time, to the 1600s, when the tale of the Owens matriarch, Maria Owens, begins. We follow her worldly journey as an orphaned child in Essex County, England; as an indentured servant in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao; as a scorned woman in Essex, Massachusetts; and as frightened mother in New York. Hoffman writes about witchery and the uses of practical magic through herbalist spells found in a garden, particularly those in relation to matters of the heart. Maria Owens cures the sick and lovesick, only to find that no good deed goes unpunished and what she puts into the world inevitably comes back to her threefold. 

If Practical Magic were a single movie, by today’s standards Magic Lessons would easily be three or four part limited Netflix Series— several stories intertwined into a single novel, without feeling overwhelmed—and just as binge worthy. As we watch Maria navigate her way through the world, spells, motherhood, and love we are introduced to several intriguing characters, each with their own backstory, and a child named Faith with a fate of her own. What’s bound to captivate the attention of some readers is how the story stitches in bits of history (though clearly embellished and fictionalized): such as the love interest of John Hathorne, a real judge in the Salem witch trials. There seems to be just enough historical reference in the novel to spark a newfound interest in colonization, King Philip’s War, and, of course, the Salem witch trials. It begs the question: where does Hoffman’s world end and where does the accuracy of such a dark time begin?

Though a book about witches and magic in the 1600s, it’s easy to read between the lines in Hoffman’s writing and draw tangible meaning to every day life. The power of love between man and woman, mother and child. The value of knowledge. The necessity to break away. The courage in adventure. The patience in time. As a woman, Maria Owens journey becomes one’s own, out of sheer life experience— in the year 2022 women are still waging a war in the battle of the sexes. But don’t be fooled, the tone in this book is not for the faint of heart. Magic Lessons reads like a dire warning for independent thinkers, a devilish world for women. Its passionate prose lacks compassion, in a way readers might crave relief, but that very well could be the historical accuracy coming into play of the political, religious, and societal wickedness of that time. A time when women were persecuted and hunted. While it ends on a whimsical, if not movie-esque, note the novel is cloaked in a sort of hopeful darkness. 

Hoffman’s writing will leave you spellbound. Don’t save it for October. If you’re anything like me, Magic Lessons will be one novel you’ll have wished you picked up sooner, and very likely attempt to make some Courage Tea soon after.

1 comments on “Magic Lessons: A Prequel to Practical Magic”

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