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Book excerpt: "Magic Lessons" by Alice Hoffman

In "Magic Lessons" (Simon & Schuster, a division of ViacomCBS), a prequel to "Practical Magic" and "The Rules of Magic," author Alice Hoffman tells the story of the origins of the Owens family's history of curses and intimations of witchcraft.

Read an excerpt below.

Simon & Schuster

She was found on a January day in a field where the junipers grew, wound in a blue blanket with her name carefully stitched along the border with silk thread. There was a foot of snow on the ground, but the sun was strong and whoever had named the child Maria had most assuredly loved her, for the wool of the blanket was of a very fine grade, certain to keep her warm, and she'd been well cared for, not lacking for comfort or food. She was a quiet baby, but as the day passed she began to fuss and then, at last, to cry, doing so unfailingly and with great effort, until at last a crow came to perch on her basket, peering at her with its quick black eyes.

That was how the old woman discovered the abandoned child, staring at a bird nearly as large as herself, fearless and wide-eyed from the start. Maria was a beautiful baby, with pitch-black hair and pale grey eyes, a silvery shade so unusual the old woman wondered if she wasn't a changeling, for this low-country in England was a place where strange things happened and fate could be a friend or a foe. Changeling or not, Hannah Owens carried the baby back into the woods, singing as they went, the first human words the baby would remember.

The water is wide I cannot get oe'r it 
And neither have I wings to fly 
Give me a boat that will carry two 
And I shall row, my Love and I.

O down in the meadows the other day 
Agathering flowers both fine and gay
Agathering flowers, both red and blue, 
I little thought of what love could do.

In the child's first days at Hannah's cottage, the insistent bird beat his wings against the cloudy, pitted glass window, doing his best to be let in. He could not be chased off with pails of vinegar and water nor with shouts and threats. One could hardly toss stones at such a loyal, insistent creature. The crow had been allowed to stay and was called Cadin, a name derived from Maria's baby talk name of Cawcaw. Whenever the weather turned foul, he settled onto the wooden perch kept beside the sooty fire. There he cleaned his gleaming feathers and kept a sharp eye on Maria.  "I suppose he's yours," Hannah had said to the baby in her basket when seven days had passed and the crow had not left his post on the fence surrounding the garden, not even to eat or drink. "Or perhaps you're his."

From "Magic Lessons" by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster). Copyright © 2020 by Alice Hoffman. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, N.Y.

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