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Wizards of Mars, New York, and England

January 12, 2011

I am reading, and thoroughly enjoying A Wizard of Mars: The Ninth Book in the Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane. I love the way the series has progressed.

Kit and Nita are young wizards, trying to balance the demands of their magic with ordinary teenage lives in the New York area. I love the series for its keen sense of geography and place. Anchoring it in Long Island and New York city, and Ireland gives the narrative a solid substance to balance forays into imaginative settings, like undersea worlds, the moon’s surface, or Mars. I also love the series for the way emotional complexity has evolved. Kit and Nita are growing into teenagers, as well as being able to do more complex wizardry. Diane Duane incorporates both facets into the plot with a fearlessness that shows respect for her readers.

Comparisons to the Harry Potter universe are inevitable. It surprises me when I hear from Harry Potter fans who haven’t read, or heard of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards. When I think about Diane Duane’s worldview of wizardry in comparison to the Harry Potter universe… I see that Diane Duane has crafted a more thoughtful, nuanced wizardly concept, where magic comes with social and environmental responsibility as well as fun special effects. Magicians work with concepts of physics and mathematics, and with ethical dilemmas in very complex ways, to get their wizardry right. It feels like a respectful way for magic to coexist with the normal world. Wizards are engaged in the real world, not separated into a shadow world via Platform 9 3/4.

I set up a chart of the differences, but will put it behind a cut tag, for those who haven’t read Diane Duane yet. If you haven’t read Diane Duane, get to it! Start with So You Want To Be A Wizard and keep reading.

Because Diane Duane’s mythology evolves over time, and there are no movies to act as refreshers (I wish there were! Or a TV series!), it’s a really good idea to read the books in close succession. They’re so good that you wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

Characteristic Harry Potter Young Wizards
Onset of Wizardry Age 11 12 or 13
Notification of wizardry Owl with Hogwarts enrollment letter. Take oath to defeat entropy of universe
Big Baddie’s Motivation Vendetta against Harry? Entropy of universe, death.
Magic fueled by: Spells, potions, whimsy. Physics, math, anthropology.
Real world interaction? Completely separate: Muggles. Fully integrated, though secret.
Magic Language. Fake Latin: “accio.” The Speech. Linguistic roots unknown.
Adult themes tackled Epic death in battle. Death curses. Real death from natural causes, autism, environmental destruction.
Humor Vomit flavored jelly beans. Teen banter. Talking parrot. (Somewhat more plausible.) Teen banter.
Non-humans Mythic: centaurs, giants, werewolves. House elves and thestrals. Real: whales, sharks, trees, machines. Scifi: Various aliens.
Consistency of series Good til book 6. 7 disappointed. 9 books and still eager for more please!

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library.

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