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Wizard's Hall    by Jane Yolen order for
Wizard's Hall
by Jane Yolen
Order:  USA  Can
Magic Carpet, 1999 (1991)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Wizard's Hall is the story of Henry, whose mother suddenly looks up from the butter churn and decides that he should be a wizard. She sends him off to Wizard's Hall that same day. There he is called Thornmallow and finds friends in Willoweed, Gorse and especially Tansy. He also discovers that the Magisters have awaited his arrival and that the Hall is in great danger.

The Master, Nettle, rejected by the other wizards, has conjured a powerful Quilted Beast from the black side of their souls, and threatened the entire school with it on the night of the next full moon. Now, Thornmallow is full of doubts. He's tone deaf and can't chant on the dominant. He's not very good at Elementary Spelling or Names, but he is the one hundred and thirteenth student of the school and he does know how to try.

It is easy to empathize with Henry, his doubts about his abilities and his confusion in the new magical setting. Yolen does not lay out the school environment in detail but deftly sketches in delightful elements like the portrait that shows Henry his mother in motion or the ceiling star map that teaches as it puts him to sleep. She gives the reader Henry's perspective on the Hall and its inhabitants. The peril that they all face is real and frightening and its solution is just right.

Wizard's Hall is a charming tale, for young and old. Though this story was written earlier than Harry Potter's adventures, they have much in common from the school itself to the names Harry/Henry and the winking portraits. The other story that comes to mind in reading this one is The Little Engine That Could. Like the engine, Thornmallow persists through self doubt and danger and reaches his goal ... because "It only matters that you try."

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