Friday, July 27, 2007

Enter Three Witches by Caroline B. Cooney

I recommend this book for: middle and high school, fans of historical fiction, Shakespeare, the medieval world

I'm not normally a big Caroline B. Cooney fan, but I'm a huge Shakespeare fan, so I gave her take on the Scottish play a whirl. It wasn't the greatest thing I've ever read, but I liked it far more than any of her other books. Enter Three Witches is the tale of the doomed Macbeth, told through the eyes of three young people his story touches: Fleance, the son of Banquo; Seyton, a young lord who will do anything to advance; and Lady Mary, the 14 year old daughter of the Thane of Cawdor, who is learning how to run a castle - also, she is Cooney's invention, not Sheakespeare's.

For those unfamiliar with the play: Macbeth is a Scottish thane (earl) who yearns for greatness. After a battle where he defeats a traitor to the Scottish king, Macbeth and his friend Banquo meet 3 witches who tell them that Macbeth will gain more lands and titles and eventually become king, and that Banquo's descendants will become kings. Their first predictions about Macbeth's increased status come true, so he and his ambitious wife murder the king so Macbeth can take his place. Then a lot of bad things happen to the Macbeths and their supporters, as they have to keep killing people to keep their position, and eventually they die horrible deaths and the natural order is restored. Bloody? Oh yes.

Lady Mary is a great protagonist because she gives the reader insight into the daily life in a medieval Scottish castle as well as a feminine perspective on the situation - two things that Shakespeare wasn't really interested in portraying in the original. Cooney also created some characters in the lower class - a cook and a lady who was supposed to be a companion to Lady Macbeth and ended up as her maid. It's nice to see some minor characters like Fleance fleshed out, and to see the realities of what all these wars and battles mean. However, there were also a lot of things that were a bit of a stretch, like how Lady Mary always happened to be wherever Macbeth was during crucial moments in the plot. Cooney attempted to put snippets of the actual Shakespearean dialogue into her character's mouths, which I respect, but it sometimes came out sounding awkward and it didn't fit the style of the rest of the speech - after all, the Bard never worried about whether his characters sounded realistic. More successful was the inclusion of quotes at the beginning of each chapter, but I felt like they didn't always fit the content of the chapter, and that some of them were so severely cut that they didn't flow/weren't really Shakespeare. But hey, the book overall was an interesting read, and I enjoyed it.

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