Hard Knocks School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

A review of Lesley Livingston’s Trippingly Off The Tongue (in Misspelled Ed. Julie Czerneda, Daw 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Competition at magic school can be killer… and I mean killer… Michaela faces her final exam with a lab partner who vastly outpowers her and has a playful sense of what is appropriate when handling dangerous spells. Vinx has a devlish side… being, of course, a demon.

In the school Livingston creates, spelling bees are deadly and involve actual spells, but Vinx treats them as something no more dangerous than baking cookies. He knows the nature of spell-casting and it isn’t something he needs to focus on or worry about as Michaela does.

Lesley Livingston’s short story Trippingly Off The Tongue explores the over-competitive nature of schools and the roots of competition in the educational system. She magnifies these by having a curriculum in which one of the goals is to rid yourself of your lab partner.  Although Michaela is unconfident with her spell-casting and has been known for her occasional errors, and Vinx is supposed to be something evil and ugly, the two develop an intercultural friendship, working cooperatively in opposition to the school-enforced competitive framework. They face stereotypes about each other, playing and teasing each other for their difference and for the assumptions society has imposed on them. This attitude of play overrides the deadly competition of the educational system, pushing them into attitudes of antagonism that they struggle to resist.

To find out more about Lesley Livingston’s work, visit her website at http://www.lesleylivingston.com/ . To find out more about Misspelled, visit http://www.us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781440633508,00.html

Derek Newman-Stille

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