HOOKED ON BOOKS: Music casts a spell
Many fantasy authors recognize a deep connection between music and magic.
The headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry once declared music “a magic beyond all we do here.” It’s a throwaway line, but it makes a point other authors have picked up on: There’s a deep connection between music and magic.
Here are some books in which music serves as more than a background to fairy tale, folklore, comedy-fantasy and world-building epic.
‘Troll Bridge’ by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
In this “Rock’n’Roll Fairy Tale,” the Three Billy Goats Gruff join the Twelve Dancing Princesses to fight evil by singing and songwriting.
It’s set in Minnesota, where a classical music prodigy named Moira meets a boy-band trio called the Griffson brothers. One of 12 “dairy princesses,” Moira is supposed to have her image carved in butter and left on a stone bridge north of Duluth. But the townsfolk have struck a sinister deal with a monster out of Norwegian folklore.
Moira and the Griffsons are in for a wild dance, tinged with teen pinup appeal.
‘Soul Music’ by Terry Pratchett
In 41 “Discworld” novels, a flat earth dishes up hilarious satire of modern life. In this book, a schoolgirl named Susan is surprised to learn she is grandpa’s little grim reaper.
Her first client proves to be the boy of her destiny. Unfortunately, he’s destined to die. The Discworld version of Buddy Holly, he’s just arrived in a city full of dwarves, trolls and wizards, ready to invent rock’n’roll.
Naturally, chaos busts loose. Screaming fans, greedy agents and brutal crooks join in a magical spoof of the music industry in which jokes, romance and danger harmonize beautifully.
‘The Harp of the Grey Rose’ by Charles de Lint
The first of four set in a multi-layered world of gods, wizards and talking animals introduces a young harper named Cerin, whose uncle pushes him out of a safe but dull village life and on course for adventure.
Captivated by a girl with a gray rose in her hair, Cerin resolves to follow her and try to save her from an ancient monster. He finds wonders and dangers. He struggles with his own identity. He shows courage and proves that a talent for music is a kind of magical power.
‘Cart and Cwidder’ by Diana Wynne Jones
The “Dalemark” quartet concerns a kingdom divided. Among the few who can cross the border are a family of minstrels led by Clennen, whose cwidder (a kind of lute) dates back to the age of legend.
When Clennen is killed before his three children’s eyes, it’s only the start of their troubles. Moril and his sisters must face danger, uncover deadly secrets and (in Moril’s case) learn to use an instrument of great power. As their enemies close in, he begins to weave thrilling musical spells.
‘The Crow’ by Alison Croggon
In the third of four “Books of Pellinor,” a boy named Hem goes off to study at a school for bards – people who do magic through music.
At first, Hem struggles. Then he opens his heart to friendship with a strange bird, and to caring for the diseased with courage and compassion.
When I first reviewed this book 10 years ago, I called it “so good that I hope nobody decides to make a movie out of it.” It’s a suspenseful, rip-your-guts-out emotional journey in a vividly detailed fantasy world.
‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix
There’s a wall on the border between Ancelstierre – a place like early 20th century England – and the Old Kingdom, where it’s always a different time of day, often a different time of year.
Sabriel has finished school in Ancelstierre and isn’t happy about going home to the Old Kingdom. But her father is dead, and she has inherited his bandolier of bells, whose music keeps the dead quiet.
Now it’s up to Sabriel to stop a great evil from destroying both kingdoms. Aiding her are a talking cat, a paper aircraft and a young man who has slept for 200 years. And, of course, those bells. It’s a breathtaking adventure, full of warmth and humor, fights and frights.