WISE CHILD by Monica Furlong


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This author's first venture into children's literature is a tense character-study of a child caught between the varieties of medieval witchcraft. After the death of the grandmother who has been caring for her, Marget, known as Wise Child, is taken in by Juniper, since both her parents are absent--her father is a sailor and her mother abandoned her long ago. Juniper is a doran, a believer in the healing and unifying powers of nature. Her practices lead her neighbors to suspect her as a witch, though they call upon her for healing. Wise Child goes to live with her in fear, but stays to learn and love, beating back the siren call of her mother, who, it turns out, is a cailleach (sorceress) practicing witchcraft's evil arts. When smallpox comes to their island off Britain, the villagers turn on Juniper and Wise Child, and, led by a superstitious priest, put them on trial for witchcraft, forcing them to escape to a new life. There is suspense here, a good sense of atmosphere and interesting characterizations, but the author focuses on the contrasting belief systems of her characters to the exclusion of much plot. The major interest in Wise Child's struggle to find her identity, though sophisticated readers will catch interesting reflections about witchcraft and the position of women. An unusual but not entirely successful effort.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Knopf