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Frances Hardinge's Top Children's Books Featuring Curses
A writer of Young Adult fiction that has proved to have immense crossover appeal to adult audiences, Frances Hardinge's previous novels include the Costa Book of the Year-scooping The Lie Tree and the highly acclaimed Deeplight. In her latest work, Unraveller, a boy with the power to lift curses from others must contend with the one hanging over his head. This exclusive piece from Frances reveals her favourite children's and YA books that tackle the complex theme of curses and spells.
My latest book Unraveller is set in an imaginary country called Raddith, where anyone consumed by hatred, rage or pain may develop the ability to curse their enemy. A curse can transform someone’s shape, rob them of their shadow or their ability to sleep, set them on fire or turn them to stone. You cannot see a curse coming, and there is no way to ward against it.
There’s something compelling and chilling about the idea of a curse. On the one hand, it’s terrifying to imagine being struck down by somebody’s else’s hatred. On the other hand, how many of us have fleetingly wished that we had such a power, when our anger has no other outlet?
Here is a list of my favourite children’s and YA books featuring curses.
The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl
The nameless eight-year-old narrator of the book has an unusual and terrible power. When something makes her very angry, a tingling builds up inside her until it shoots out of her right forefinger and strikes whoever has enraged her.
Her neighbours are enthusiastic hunters, and when she shouts at them for killing a beautiful deer, the whole family laughs at her. Overwhelmed with rage, she puts the ‘magic finger’ on them all. Unaware of this, the family embark on a successful duck-shooting expedition… and wake up the next morning to find themselves winged and duck-sized. Worse still, they are soon driven out of their own house by person-sized ducks with human arms, who can be seen sleeping in the family’s beds, using their kitchen, playing with their toys… and looking speculatively at their gun collection.
The narrator can’t entirely control her ‘magic finger’, and sometimes feels bad about the consequences. However, there’s a guilty delight in watching an underdog wreaking poetic justice with the force of her own rage.
Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
In most respects, this isn’t a supernatural tale at all. It’s the beautifully written story of Carrie and Nick Willow, two young WW2 evacuees who are fostered in a Welsh mining town. There they discover an old country house called Druid’s Bottom, where the housekeeper is said to be a wise woman. According to a local legend, a curse will fall upon the house if a certain old skull is ever removed from within its walls. Tensions and misunderstandings build, until Carrie, in a moment of rage, flings the skull into a pond. The reader is left to decide whether the events that follow are coincidence, or the dread effects of the ancient curse.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, which in the fairy tale country of Ingary means that she will never amount to anything. To make matters worse, one day a witch curses her to look like an old crone. Sophie finds a job as a cleaner in the castle of the infamous wizard Howl, hoping that she might find a way to lift the curse.
Ironically, the curse has certain benefits. In her new form, Sophie cares less about what people think of her, and finds new confidence and willingness to stand her ground. And Howl, who has flung himself into countless infatuations and love affairs, gradually falls in love with Sophie for her personality, not her appearance.
The Light Princess by George MacDonald
Apparently the king in this story never received the memo about the dangers of leaving witchy types off the invitation list for princess christenings. Sure enough, his angry sister turns up uninvited, and curses her niece to have no gravity. The princess spends her childhood drifting around, and has to be tethered with silken cords so that she doesn’t float up into the sky or get carried away by the wind. She is also light-headed and light-hearted, and doesn’t really see her curse as an issue. She is utterly carefree, and that is rather the problem. She doesn’t actually care about anything or anyone at all. The princess always laughs but never smiles, and there is something wrong with her laughter, something missing…
Emotions may weigh us down sometimes, and force our feet to the ground, but without them we might as well be thistledown drifting on the breeze.
The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
Sixteen-year-old Twylla is the goddess embodied, and can kill with a single touch. She is treated with fearful reverence and avoided by all, brought out only to execute those found guilty of treason. Her holy nature sets her apart, and it seems she is destined for a lonely, loveless life.
Is she cursed or blessed? As secrets unravel, Twylla learns that she may be something else entirely. Appearances can be deceptive, and Twylla has not been told the truth about her own nature.
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