Children’s Book Blog Tour – Something Wicked, 2

Another reminder: for those of you wishing to vote for the October CSFF Top Blogger Award, you can find the poll HERE.

Yesterday I left off the discussion of Alan Gratz’s young adult novel Something Wicked (Dial Books) with the suggestion that something besides the sexual innuendo and acting out, something else besides the murders (yes, there is more than one) needs attention when making a determination whether or not to recommend and/or read this latest Horatio Wilkes mystery.

Be aware, in order to discuss this subject, spoilers are necessary. If you know the story of Macbeth, you already have an idea about the plot, so the spoilers are already loose anyway.

The final cautionary item I wish to mention is the part the supernatural plays in the story. Yes, “supernatural.” I know some who have read the book may be scratching their heads wondering what I’m talking about.

Here’s the point. In Something Wicked , just as in Macbeth, the inciting incident is an encounter with a spiritist. In Shakespeare’s original, it was actually three spiritists—three witches who chanted

Double, double, toile and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

as a chorus to their prophecies about Macbeth and his friend.

Just so, Horatio, Mac, and their sidekicks visit a palm reader who makes predictions that set in motion the events of the story.

Interestingly, Horatio considers the palm reader to be a complete fraud and refuses to pay good money to hear her “flimflam.” And later in the story, he pays the woman to recite a script he writes. Yet both times, she adds predictions free of charge, and as it turns out, each one of hers comes true.

So the question is, Was author Alan Gratz making a statement about the supernatural? The more accurate question would be, Was Shakespeare making a statement about the supernatural, for it appears to me, Mr. Gratz was faithfully following the story outline of the great English playwright.

As I see it, the answer is yes, there is a clear, though subtle, statement about the supernatural. The basic assertion seems to be that supernatural influence, whether foreknowledge, understanding, or actual power over events, is real.

At first that may not be apparent because protagonist Horatio Wilkes is a disbeliever and remains so to the end, though others recognize how Madam Hecate’s words about Mac and Banks came true. What no one in the story comments about is how her freebie, unsolicited words about Horatio were true, not once but twice. How her words about Beth were true as well. And most sadly, how her words about Megan were true.

In other words, it’s hard to chalk up Mac’s reaction to what Madam Hecate said as the sole reason her words came true. In Shakespeare the same dual effect of the witches’ predictions is present. One prediction came true, and Macbeth reacted, which seemed to bring about the other predictions—as if the prophecies were self-fulfilling to a degree.

Madam Hecate may have had more of the prophetic touch even than the Shakespearean witches.

My point with this discussion is simple. Here’s where discernment should come into play. Should a book be taboo because it introduces an element of the supernatural? I certainly don’t think so. But I also don’t think that element should be ignored. My guess is, if Madame Hecate had been called a witch, the supernatural would not have been ignored. But since our hero considers her a flimflam artist, it’s easy to slide by what she actually did in the story.

That would be a mistake. Identifying the supernatural element, examining it, weighing it against Truth is what a discerning reader should do.

Stop by the other blogs on the tour:
the 160acrewoods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Hyperbole,, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower.

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 7:37 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. Hey Becky,

    As usual you dig a little deeper than I do.

    I slid by the spiritist because Horatio thought she was a hoax.

    And if I recall, she was a hoax. She took money to give false prophecies.

    But just as the Witch of Endor did summon Samuel, and the girl in Acts did speak the truth about Paul, and Caiaphas did prophecy correctly, sometimes people who aren’t on God’s side do speak the truth even when they don’t know they are doing it.

    So I’m wondering what you make of the spiritist in Something Wicked. Do you think by putting her in and having her prophecies come true Gratz is promoting the psychic telephone lines? I think he didn’t want to do that so he showed her to be a hoax. But I suspect he wanted to do something fun and so he had some of her stuff come true despite the fact that she was a hoax. I just saw this woman as a device used in literature. The mysterious beyond. Fate. Something bigger than us that drives the universe, that knows the future. So I thought the inclusion of something beyond us that oversees the affairs of men was a positive thing.

    heh heh I mean I think that now. Now that you’ve called the woman to my attention. Before I didn’t give her a passing thought.

    Thanks for the provocation!


  2. Hi Rebecca –

    Thanks so much for the in-depth and considered reading of Something Wicked!

    As you note, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is full of the supernatural, and while many of his plays featured ghosts (“Hamlet” immediately comes to mind) and spirits (likewise “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), the Scottish play is often considered his MOST supernatural, primarily due to the witches. I knew going in to the writing of Something Wicked that I couldn’t do justice to his story without bringing in that element, and so the roadside psychic (of which there are many in that part of East Tennessee!) was born.

    I myself, like Horatio, am a disbeliever. I don’t believe in ghosts, or psychics, or anything “paranormal.” I do, however, enjoy reading those kinds of stories, and I also like to poke at my own beliefs with a stick, if you will. Madame Hecate in my story is clearly a flimflam artist, as she herself, when pressed would acknowledge–from her tarot deck down to her fake Eastern European accent. That she is nonetheless correct in every one of her predictions is me just having fun in the story, poking at my, and Horatio’s, surety that such things aren’t real. It was merely a writerly device, something to throw a curveball at my main character, rather than a statement about the veracity of psychic claims.

    I did, as both you and Sally get at, mean for the book to be an examination of the idea of “fate.” Fate is a major theme in “Macbeth.” Macbeth believes his fate has been laid out for him from the start, and thus chooses, again and again, to walk down a darker and darker path to his doom–despite all evidence to the contrary that this is a BAD idea. Mac similarly blames his actions on “fate,” to which Horatio (and I) say, “balderdash.” While Something Wicked (I hope) invites us to examine our feelings about predetermination, Horatio leaves us with his answer–that “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves.”


  3. Very in-depth as usual, Becky! Thank you for this. Since you have addressed paranormal, and since you are a fantasy expert, I appreciate your thoughtfulness about this.

    I appreciate all of your posts! You make me think!



  4. […] read. It’s only mindless reading that is dangerous and destructive, I think. As my friend Becky Miller likes to point out, we have to read with discernment. We have to look at what we’ve read and not allow things […]


  5. Sally and Kim, thanks for taking the time to comment. One think I think is important in a blog tour is to say something that maybe others aren’t saying. Mir taught me that by her example.

    Anyway, maybe living in SoCal makes me more aware of the numbers of people who do believe in the paranormal. Of course, I do too, but I don’t see the kinds of prophecies Mac wanted to fulfill as anything I want to listen to. He actually reminded me of Saul and and the witch of Endor, but also of a couple other Israelite kings who received prophecy before they took the throne, then went out to make it happen. In those cases, the prophecy was from God, as opposed to a flimflam artist who “just happened” to get it right.

    What are the odds?

    Of course, Mr. Gratz said he was poking some fun at his own beliefs, which I can believe since he did other such poking. 😉



  6. Mr. Gratz, what a privilege to have you stop by and leave such a thoughtful comment. I love closure, so you satisfied my curiosity by stating your own views of the paranormal.

    Now “fate” is another topic I wish I could have taken time to explore.

    As far as I’m concerned, one of the signs of a good book is how much it makes you think. I know you said you didn’t write a deep book, but Mr. Shakespeare wrote deep plays, I guess, because there was lots and lots to think about in Something Wicked.



  7. […] read. It’s only mindless reading that is dangerous and destructive, I think. As my friend Becky Miller likes to point out, we have to read with discernment. We have to look at what we’ve read and not allow things […]


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