The Wicked Enchantment, by Margot Benary-Isbert

One of the pleasures of moving to my current house (12 years ago--yoiks. Why is there still so much to be done?) was exploring the library four doors down. A new library is always an exciting thing, and this one was especially so to a devotee of older children's books like myself. It hadn't had a children's librarian weeding the collection since, at a guess, the late 1970s, and so was chock full of vintage books.

As a result, I met an author who became a favorite of mine--Margot Benary-Isbert. Her book about German children in the aftermath of WW II, The Ark, is brilliant. I happily read all the books my library had of hers, and snapped up the ones that got deaccessioned once we had a new (and most excellent) children's librarian in place. And I put the books of hers the library didn't have on my Christmas present list. 8 years later, and I had all but one--no-one had managed to find me a copy of The Wicked Enchantment....and I had pretty much forgotten about it.

But then The Enchanted Inkpot had a feature on "Little Known Fantasy Gems," and Kate Coombs of Book Aunt picked The Wicked Enchantment as her gem. And I had the brilliant thought that some other library in the state might have it and lo! one did, and now I have read it.

Here's what it's about:

Vogelsand is proud of its famous medieval cathedral, even though its inhabitants know that their cathedral is the reason why strange goings on, of a spooky sort, are apt to happen in their town...When the statue of a Foolish Virgin, along with one of the more horrible gargoyles, disappear from their accustomed place, strange things begin to happen with a vengeance! The new mayor is wrecking all sorts of havoc (snaring the song birds! forbidding the sale of Easter eggs!). And young Anemone, and her dog Winnie, are driven from their (formerly) happy home by the invasion of a scheming new housekeeper and her horrible son.

Fortunately, Anemone and Winnie find refuge with a wise woman named Gundula, who not only has supremely intelligent pets of her own, but also is the best Easter egg painter for miles around. But the housekeeper's son is bent on tracking her down for sinister reasons, and has enlisted gangs of boys to join the hunt, and money is tight in Gundula's household....and the mayor seems more unhinged and evil every day.

Winnie's talents lead her to employment in the circus that has come to town (solving the money problem), and Anemone's pluck and cunning makes her more than a match for her adversaries. Together, Anemone, Gundula, and the animals work together to find the explanation for the magical evil that has invaded Voglesand--and to overthrow it, winning freedom for the songbirds and the rights of the people to their Easter eggs!

If you are in the mood for a lightly old-fashioned fantasy of colorful brightness and charm, this would be one to try. It's not all that Deep or Haunting, but it is fun. The German setting makes it a pleasant change from the ubiquitous British Isles, and Benary-Isbert has a lovely way with descriptions and setting.

I'd especially recommend it to a dog person--Winnie gets a lot of page time. I myself liked, but didn't love it--I think I would have loved it more when I was young. In short, I'm going to take it off my Christmas present list now that I've read it, but I will still be keeping my eyes open for it. It got republished as a paperback in 1986 (that's the cover at right), but I want to hold out for the original edition, illustrated by Enrico Arno in a nicey detailed black-and-white way.

That being said, there are lots of people who love this book, as well as the reviews at Amazon and Goodreads (where I found that Sherwood Smith loved it when she was a child), here's another at MatriFocus.

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