Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Minister's Daughter (Julie Hearn)

I had a passing fascination for Wicca back in my university days. I never went all The Craft on anyone (much to my very Catholic mother's relief), but I did come to respect this often-misunderstood religion. But Wiccan fascinations aside, I confess that I was drawn to Julie Hearn's The Minister's Daughter, also known as The Merrybegot, more by the half-mischievous, half-sinister expression on this edition's cover.

It's no surprise that a tale such as this ends in Salem. But the real story--Nell's story--happens somewhere in west England. Nell is granddaughter to the village's cunning woman, already the subject of the Puritan minister's disapproval. Nell not only has to worry about her grandmother's fate and failing health; she also has to contend with the minister's daughter, Grace, the village's golden girl. Nell and Grace share a secret, but it is not long before one accuses the other of witchcraft.

Readers of young adult fiction might enjoy the historical facts embedded into this well-written family drama. The core of this tale really lies in the relationships of the characters--their weaknesses and their heartbreaks, their loves and their desires. I expected The Crucible and got something else entirely. Another thing I didn't expect was the mix of piskies and faeries in these pages. The introduction of the supernatural as truth lent the story a slightly different guise from the plain historical fiction narrative. Did I like it? Not so much, since I thought it detracted from the severity of the topic, but the story wouldn't have moved in the direction that Ms. Hearn intended without its presence.

One interesting element is the inclusion of spells and herbal remedies in the story. Throughout the story, Nell recounts the various charms she has learned from her grandmother. Here is one such spell, though its effectiveness was never shown:

A Spell to Make a Lad Swoon with Desire
On a spring or summer's morning--
and best it be a Friday, on a waxing moon--
follow the one your heart is fixed upon
until he maketh a clear footprint in the earth.
Dig out the earth and bury it beneath a willow tree
with a lock of thine own hair and a sprinkle of petals
from a pink geranium. Tilt thy face toward the sky,
and declare, in utter certainty:
"As many earths on earth there art,
so shall I win my true love's heart."
So mote it be. (p. 94)

Sadly, there are no willow trees where I live. Maybe Nell would have taught me more than I thought.

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