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The Magic Circle [Paperback]

Donna Jo Napoli
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
Price: 3.53 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Product details

  • Paperback: 118 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin; Reprint edition (29 Jun 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140374396
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140374391
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 10.7 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,536,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The story of the sorceress who is forced out of her healing capacity and into one far more sinister is the classic journey of the soul theme. Napoli skillfully weaves fantasy and human emotion and her descriptions - especially of the inner turmoil suffered by this anti-hero, "the Ugly Sorceress", are compelling. However, I would like to add a cautionary note - especially to educators - that I do not necessarily feel that this book is appropriate for 11 years and up. I would put it more at 13 or 14 and up. The level of sophistication of the plot and language is perhaps a bit overwhelming for an 11 year-old to handle. In the multicultural world we live in, there are also a number of references which I think might cause philosophical differences with parents as well!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Written but Badly Researched 26 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Although I enjoyed reading this book for its twist on the folktale of "Hansel and Gretel" I couldn't quite stomach Ms. Napoli's misuse of vocabulary. In this book the Ugly One begins as a midwife and then becomes a healer of all types of sickness&pain. Napoli uses the term "sorceress" to define the character at this point in the story, yet later when "Ugly One" is tricked by demons into being in their power she is called a "witch." In the ancient times, as well as currently, a Witch was a healer- not a demonic figure. The term "sorceress" was used for those who delved in the black arts and summoned demons (or were summoned by them as in Napoli's book). I enjoyed the dark imagery that Donna Jo Napoli used to evoke her scenes and the attention she paid to details. I think it is her attention to detail in all other aspects of this book which make her misusage of terminology so disturbing to me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A work of great strenght and powerful emotion! 19 May 1999
By A Customer
The Magic Circle, written by Donna Jo Napoli is a book filled with beauty and terror, and a sense of compassion. This is a story of a poor midwife in a midevil times, how is convinced by her neighbor, bala, to become a healer. It is a sort of twist off of the folktale "Hansel and Gretel ". Just like many other of the finest horror novels, this chilling tales looks at another side of the well-known story of two children and a candy house. Although I liked her great attention to detail and discription describing the physical features of the characters in the book. In the story a good healer is turned bad, because of greed and trickery by the devils. She then runs off to a fairytail forest where she lives alone as a witch. After 9 years suddenly two children show up unexpectedly. Despite all of her efforts the devils still seem to find out they are living with her. All in all i think this book was good and worth reading.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No children eaten here! 17 Mar 2000
By Stephen Richmond - Published on Amazon.com
Donna Jo Napoli writes tasty little morsels derived from myths, legends and fairy tales. Here the Grimm's HANSEL AND GRETEL provides her a magical springboard for a short, but pithy essay on the extraordinary strife the human spirit will endure for the sake of doing what's right. The witch here is not inherently evil, but is herself a victim of simple ignorance and substantial bad advice. As mentioned elsewhere, this reviewer always enjoys new and imaginative explanations for all those fairy tale elements which are as familiar as gingerbread houses and wicked stepmothers, but never are quite entirely elucidated in the classic tales. Napoli's take on the candy house, while entirely logical and appropriate for the story, is nevertheless a bit bizarre and unsettling, descriptors most apt for this short novel. As another reader said, you'll never again see this tale in quite the same manner. Napoli is generally considered a young adult author; this reviewer is not so certain that this would be much help for those average "troubled teen readers." Still, Napoli's style is like a thread-dense Egyptian cotton bedsheet for smoothness and comfort, even if, again like those bedclothes, it feels a bit chilly to the touch.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark, psychological take on a classic tale 21 Jun 2000
By Emily J. Morris - Published on Amazon.com
I'm a devoted fan of fairy tales, and this one does not disappoint me. It has a deep, intriguing story line, undeparted from the original plot, polished with simple, yet powerful, prose. I am quite certain that everyone is familiar with the story of Hansel, Gretal, and their visit to the candy cottage. In this amazing retelling, we are priviledged to see the tale from the *witch*'s side, and the torment she suffered through. It is extremely phsycological, yet is not overbearing. The Ugly One, otherwise known as the Witch, is a kind, God-fearing midwife in a small village in medieval Europe. Through her innocence and good heart, she is slowly, unwillingly, lead down a dark path, where she is finally under the power of demons. Yet through it all, her good heart manages to keep her out of trouble. She hides from human contact, fearing the demon presence would become too powerful. That is, until two children become lost in her woods. This is a finely crafted novel about a poor soul who is tortured, and I shall never be able to look at "Hansel and Gretal" the same way ever again. It is beautiful, delightfully creepy, and sprinkled with symbolism. Napoli, as stated at the beginning of the book, researched medieval European culture, spirituality, and superstition before writing this book. While I really wouldn't recommend this for children, it is deeply satisfying for anyone else.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short but poignant tale. 24 Nov 1999
By Margaret Fiore - Published on Amazon.com
This is a haunting little story of courage, pride, and redemption. Although the story sits loosely on the framework of the tale of Hansel and Gretel, it is a different story altogether.
This is the story of an ugly, hunchbacked woman, with a deep appreciation of the beauty which she will never have. Through love for her beautiful daughter, and the wish to give her beautiful things, the Ugly One (as her neighbors call her) is tempted into the dangerous healing arts, and dealings with devils. And devils are always tricky...
The story is told in lyrical, lovely prose which adds to the sense of magic and antiquity. It is a gripping, short book, that is difficult to put down until its wrenching end. The story examines the concept of personal pride closely, with some religious overtones.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A Visit in the Damp and Dark Will Serve Much Better than the Lark..." 17 Nov 2005
By R. M. Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Donna Jo Napoli's trademark technique of fleshing out a fairytale is in fine display in "The Magic Circle," her retelling of "Hansel and Gretel". Napoli's stories often reveal motivations behind some of the action that takes place in the traditional fairytales, reasoning out some of the fantastic elements and explaining the behaviour of the familiar characters; which usually results in the villain becoming more sympathetic and understandable. Such is certainly the case in "The Magic Circle", in which she explores the background of Hansel and Gretel's wicked witch.

The hunchback woman is known as the Ugly One by all her neighbours, but has the gift of healing which she uses to aid pregnant women and sick people in her medieval Europe community. She is the proud mother of a beautiful little girl called Asa, and enjoys her simple life as midwife in her country cottage. But her friend Bala has other ideas, getting her work with wealthy families and in researching demonic activity so that Ugly One may earn some more money - with much of the proceeds going to Bala of course.

Ugly One is unsure about extending her talents to exclude exorcisms, knowing the danger is extremely great, but as a devout Christian and a healer she feels compelled to comply with Bala's wishes - surely God will aid her, and no harm will come to her if she places herself within a magic circle that will protect her from the demons' tricks. After cleansing a little boy from a demon's influence, Ugly One knows that she has found her new calling in life.

But once several years pass, her confidence in her own abilities grow and in a mistake that will haunt her forever, she is careless with the protective magic circle. What follows is an escalating series of events that has her transformed into a witch by the vengeful demons and tied to a stake by the terrified villagers. Bartering with the demons for her daughter's life, Ugly One manages to use her newfound malevolent powers to escape and hide in the forest.

In Napoli's book the term `witch' is used in the traditional Christian sense, not the New Age one, so be prepared for a negative usage of the word (personally I found it quite refreshing this way - evil witches are so rare these days!) However, it's not so black and white, for though Ugly One can no longer shed tears, bleed or sleep, has demons whispering in her ears and an appetite for children, she is determined to not give in to her weaknesses. Living in isolation, she manages to keep the demons at bay - until she hears the voices of two lost children outside her home...

Napoli's story is poignant and thought-provoking, as she raises questions concerning the nature of evil, the will of God and the strength of the individual against temptation. Like all her other books, her spin on a traditional folktale is fascinating and will change your perception of "Hansel and Gretel" forever. Although her interpretation of the gingerbread house is a little weak and a revelation concerning Bala is raised only to be ignored, "The Magic Circle" is an intriguing little book. The demons and magical rituals mentioned are all based in real Biblical and Occult study (so you'll learn something practical alongside the retold fairytale!) and its length means you can probably finish it within a day. Though it is not my favourite Napoli novel (that would have to be "Zel" and "Spinners"), "The Magic Circle" is a great little read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful retelling 11 Nov 2001
By "celticstorm16" - Published on Amazon.com
While the short length of this book may make some people believe that this is a book for children, quite far from it. A dark retelling of the traditional "Hansel and Gretel," Napoli shows true talent in the twists of this story. She manages to combine the beautiful with the evil, telling the story of a good woman who sells her soul to save her daughter, and then hides herself so she won't be forced to do horrible things to people. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under eleven...its very dark, but uplifting and touching, too.
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