Alice Hoffman’s Most Magical Novels

“There are some things, after all, that Sally Owens knows for certain: Always throw spilled salt over your left shoulder. Keep rosemary by your garden gate. Add pepper to your mashed potatoes. Plant roses and lavender, for luck. Fall in love whenever you can.” 
― Alice Hoffman, Practical Magic

practical magic

The Owens women from Practical Magic  (film version) were a little formative for me as a teen and young adult. Being a Christian, it may seem a little weird to some of my friends that I found a film about witchcraft to be so influential, but there it is.

(BTW: If you have never seen this film, Halloween season is the best time to watch it.)

Practical Magic is a wonderfully 90s (I love the clothes) fantasy/drama is about two sisters whom  rely on one another and ultimately set themselves free from a centuries-old curse. The curse? Any man they fall in love with will die. (There’s also a really evil boyfriend who gets killed, necromanced, and then killed for good.)

I fell in love with facets of the film: eccentric, maiden aunts in a Victorian house,  chocolate cake for breakfast (and midnight margaritas) , a garden by the sea full of lavender and rosemary,  the strong bond of sisterhood,  potions in the form of lotion and shampoo (before EOs were cool), and notion of cursed love.

For me, these elements wove a spell of mischief, whimsy and melancholy that my young INFP heart found undeniable appeal in. Despite the B-rating Rotten Tomatoes gives this movie, I don’t think I was alone in this. I know so many people who still love this film today, and I’d argue that it is possibly even a cult classic.

So, when I finally started reading Alice Hoffman’s book Practical Magic (the inspiration for the film) a few years ago, I was initially a little disappointed. Sally and Gillian, the sisters, did engage me in the way that I expected.  I actually preferred the film characters to their literary counterparts, which is an extremely unusual occurrence for me.

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But by the time I finished reading Practical Magic, I decided that I actually loved the book. I just loved it in a different way than I expected.

“Writing itself was a magical act in which imagination altered reality and gave form to power.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

 Hoffman often writes in the genre of magical realism, and she nails it.  She blends together the real world and elements of magic so completely that, as a reader, the whole thing becomes seamless.

It is all real. It is all magic. 

Something that definitely helps with this is her ability to craft a vivid setting for the worlds in her books. In the case of Practical Magic (and the prequel, The Rules of Magic), much of this hinges on the Owen’s family home: an old house, on an ordinary street, where even the dust motes seem brimming with magic.

Even more so,  Hoffman excels at crafting the world of her story around a theme.  The way she does this, especially in conjunction with the genre of magical realism, gives the adult reader a special gift: a novel that speaks to the heart in a way that only a true fairy tale can–revealing truths dark and deep, bright and sparkling. As someone who devours fiction, this is what I love.

rules of magic

So when The Rules of Magic, long-awaited prequel to Practical Magic, came out a couple of years ago, I had already pre-ordered it.

Almost as soon as I Rules of Magic, I was hooked. I loved many of the same things about it as Practical Magic: the world-building, the  omens, raw bits of wisdom, the whimsical tone.

But there were new things that immediately drew me in, too. The setting of 1960s New York was fascinating, and I found myself much more engaged with the characters (younger versions of the aunts in Practical Magic, and their brother, Vincent.)

What I loved the most, though, was the way Rules of Magic took the web of themes that we find in Practical Magic and went deepersimultaneously dissecting  and expanding upon them. 

There are many kinds of love explored in this work and – at the center of it all – heartbreak and startling truth. Two truths, especially, spoke to me in both of these books.

  1. Love is a curse.
  2. The only way to survive the curse of love is to love more.

If you’ve lost someone that you love, you’ll recognize this “curse” and the way it plays out for the Owens sisters within their fantastical setting.  You know what it is to lie awake at night and fear the inevitable: that this curse of love is one that you will meet again and again.

There is nothing you can do to escape it. It is a fearful, heavy thought—more than sadness: horror. It does feel like a curse. It’s something that not everyone understands–until they experience a major loss for themselves. At some point, we all realize that it’s a curse we will have to live with.

“I’m fated to lose everyone I ever love,” April said. “I already know that.” “Of course you are,” Jet responded in her calm, measured tone. “That’s what it means to be alive.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

It is tempting to reach the same conclusion that the characters in Practical Magic/The Rules of Magic do at various times in the the narrative: don’t love at all, and the curse will be irrelevant.

However, as Hoffman explores in this duo of grown-up fairy tales: to attempt to resist love totally is to truly fall under the power of the curse. Yes, the curse of love is real, but the only way to break free of the curse it to continue to choose love, over and over again.

“Know that the only remedy for love is to love more.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

It’s a hard lesson to explain, one of those things you don’t get until you feel it. One of the reasons I love fiction is that it allows us to feel and understand things as though we’ve experienced them. It creates empathy with others and helps us to understand ourselves more deeply, too.

Don’t take my word for it though. Read it. I’d say read them both, but if you have to pick one, I’d go with The Rules of Magic.

Furthermore, read them now, because Alice Hoffman’s newest addition to this collection, Magic Lessons is coming out on October 6th!
(I don’t know if you can tell, but I’m a little excited about it.)
“Love someone and they love you in return, you ruin your lives together. That is not a curse, it’s what life is, my girl. We all come to ruin, we turn to dust, but whom we love is the thing that lasts.” 
― Alice Hoffman, The Rules of Magic

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