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Authors: Donna Jo Napoli

The Magic Circle

BOOK: The Magic Circle
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Voices hiss around my ears. “We have you. At last. . . . You will no longer summon devils. Instead we will summon you!” The laughter is like the screaming of wildcats. “You are no longer the Ugly Sorceress. You are the Ugly Witch.”

The light is fading. I feel darkness about to overtake me. I want my ears to go deaf. I must not allow myself to hear the words I know will come. I have been pronounced a witch. There is an order to come—I must not hear it. I hold my palms tight over my ears.

But the voices are too clever for me. They bypass my ears entirely. They speak inside my head. “Eat the child.”

“Never,” I say.

The laughter is deafening. “You have but one choice.”

“I will never serve the forces of evil,” I scream.

And suddenly footsteps are loud and multiple. The baron’s men rush at me from every direction. They come out from behind every tree.

“She’s a witch!”

“She works with devils!”

“Burn her!”

“The author’s extraordinary craftmanship and originality never flag. . . . A YA novel of genuine magic and suspense, this will captivate adults as well.”

Publishers Weekly
, starred review


Kirkus Reviews
, pointer review


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Emily Brontë




Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Books USA Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England

Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia

Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

First published in the United States of America by Dutton Children’s Books,

a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 1993

Published in Puffin Books, 1995

Copyright © Donna Jo Napoli, 1993

All rights reserved


Napoli, Donna Jo.

The magic circle / by Donna Jo Napoli.—1st ed.  p.  cm.

Summary: After learning sorcery to become a healer, a good-hearted woman is turned into a witch by evil spirits, and she fights their power until her encounter with Hansel and Gretel years later.

ISBN: 978-1-101-66565-7

[1. Fairy tales.   2. Witches—Fiction.]   I. Title.

PZ8.N127Mag    1993    [Fic]—dc20    92-27008    CIP    AC

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.


For Lucia Monfried, who told me, “Just write it down.”

With a sea of gratitude.


1. T

2. T

3. H

4. B

5. F

6. C

7. C

8. J

9. T

I thank the following people for their comments on an earlier draft: Barry Furrow, Curt Kallas, Stephen Lehmann, Bob Schachner, Judy Schachner, Don Swearer, Nancy Swearer, Chuck Tilly, Louise Tilly, Eric van der Vlugt, and Gill van der Vlugt. All of them kept me from making errors of history, culture, and geography. Errors that remain are evidence of my own stubbornness.



ummer comes over the hill like a hairy blanket. Asa rolls onto her side, and her light brown hair falls away from her pink cheek. Her coloring gives evidence of the north country of her grandmother, dead now many years. Her nose twitches, rabbitlike, as though she realizes, even in her sleep, that the warm weather is finally here. I run my fingertips across the fine fuzz of hair on her temple.

“Ahhh,” says Asa. “Good morning, Mother.”

The air around us is calm. I do not want to disturb it by rising. Instead, I reach over to the basket in the corner near our bed. “Look,” I say, holding up the treasure.

Asa opens her mouth in awe. The amber ribbon
matches the highlights in her hair. She plucks it from my hand eagerly. “Where did you get it?”

“Tzipi gave it to me, for birthing her.”

“You shouldn’t take a ribbon,” says Asa. “You should take something we need. You should take wool.” Her actions don’t match her words. She is brushing the silky ribbon against her cheek.

Her words are grown-up for her age. I don’t marvel at that fact, and I don’t fight the inevitable. Poor children are always more grown-up in that way. But I am gladdened that she can hold the ribbon against her cheek and allow herself to want it. “It’s summer,” I say, “summer at last. I’ll take wool when it’s closer to autumn.” I smile. “For now, you have a ribbon for your hair.”

Asa wraps the ribbon around her fingers. “It’s beautiful, Mother.”

“No more beautiful than you.”

I weave the ribbon into Asa’s hair, and she runs from the cabin to show the world.

Before I have time to finish straightening our things, a neighbor bursts in upon me. It is Bala. “Ugly One,” she says to me, “have you no sense at all? You trade your midwifery skills for a ribbon?”

“More than a ribbon,” I say. “For beauty.”

“Tzipi is seducing you with her non-Christian ways,” says Bala.

I laugh away her hatred of the outsider, grateful my mother taught me this use of mirth. “Beauty is not dangerous to those who truly love God. It is a joy, Bala. I must have it in my home.”

“For Asa,” says Bala, finishing with the very words that were on the tip of my tongue.

“She deserves emeralds,” I say, “rubies, even gold.” I smile at the thought. “Oh, decorative visions.” I wave my hands at the walls around our small room. I breathe deeply of the woody air. These walls are covered with wreaths made from tiny spruce cones with dried goose-berries and holly berries attached with balsam fir resin. A collection of colored feathers overflows a clay bowl on the floor. In a dish nearby are thin slices of mica. I pick one up now and hold it to the window. The sunbeam breaks into colors that dance on my arm.

Bala sighs. “How did such an ugly one as you get such an eye for beauty?”

That question is easily answered. I have only to think of my mother’s hair, always arranged this way or that to show the fine line of her jaw. She was too poor to have ribbons. But she had wildflowers in her hair. Purple
heather and golden gorse. I could tell Bala this. But I don’t. It is not good to remind Bala that I have different blood in me. It has taken many years to find my place in this village. I fit now.

Bala moves closer and whispers. “How did such an ugly one as you have such a beautiful daughter?”

Now I remain silent because I have no answer. I have asked myself that question many times. My mind touches briefly on Asa’s father, the one my memory has named the Patient Scholar, the one who opened for me the world of letters. I see his face, square and plain, gray—not beautiful to anyone’s eyes but mine. I can almost touch it in my memory. I have not visited him since my belly first became round with Asa. For an instant I almost believe I can know that he lives still, that he thinks rarely and briefly of me, alone in his scholar’s world. Steeped in the perfection of his mind and soul, he is unaware of his offspring.

“Tell me,” comes Bala’s insistent whisper, now raspy. “He glows in your eyes. Tell me about him.”

BOOK: The Magic Circle
7.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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