The Hippo


Feb 27, 2020








Attend the Egg & Spoon book launch

Where: Barnes & Noble, 235 DW Highway, Nashua, 888-0533
When: Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. 

Oz to Russia
Wicked writer Gregory Maguire’s Nashua book launch

By Kelly Sennott

Author Gregory Maguire thinks children have a more difficult time reading long, complicated fiction today, so one reason he revisits old folk tales and fantasy stories — as he does in his newest book, Egg & Spoon, and as he did in his infamous novel-turned-Broadway-phenomenon, Wicked — is to invite them in more easily.
“What I want to say is, ‘This isn’t hard. You know these characters. Come along — it’s going to be fun,’” Maguire said in a phone interview last week. 
The Massachusetts resident’s book launch event for Egg & Spoon is at the Nashua Barnes & Noble Wednesday, Sept. 10. Location-wise, it’s close enough so that it’s not inconvenient — he’s the father of three teenagers, and the store is just an hour away from his home — but far enough that it’s exciting.
“Nashua is the closest exotic destination. There’s always Boston, which is bigger, but Boston is my hometown in a sense. I think that when you launch a book, there’s an excitement about going to a place a little bit outside your common ground,” Maguire said. “It helps the author to realize that what you’ve done is a little bit bigger than your desk and driveway. A book like Egg & Spoon is meant for the nation, meant for the world, and it makes sense that you should go a little outside that.”
In this book, the story itself is original, but a few of the characters — including Baba Yaga, a Russian folk legend — were borrowed. Reading Jack and Jill magazine as a kid had implanted the old witch into his memories. The old woman is a supernatural being, who is deformed and ferocious in appearance, and who lives in a house perched on chicken legs.
“Baba Yaga is a character from mythology that can be in lots of different stories, but at the same time, be herself. I got a sense she was like Santa Claus. She could be in 100 different picture books and always be Baba Yaga,” Maguire said. “The consistency is part of what made me think she was a good character to borrow.”
Maguire says this story is like “The Prince and the Pauper, except with girls, and like Frozen, except that the world is melting instead of freezing.” He set it in early 20th-century Russia and read books like War and Peace, Catherine the Great and Nicholas and Alexandra, aiming to create the “Russia of our imaginations,” in which Peter and the Wolf, Swan Lake and Doctor Zhivago might have happened simultaneously.
The book follows two young girls. One, Elena Rudina, lives in the impoverished Russian countryside with her dying mother. Her two brothers have left to fight in the Tsar’s army and work as a servant in the house of the local landowner. The other girl is Ekaterina, who is of the same age and arrives in the village with her family on the way to visit the Tsar in Saint Petersburg. Their lives collide, and this collision eventually comes to involve a case of mistaken identity, a monk locked in a tower, a prince traveling incognito and the wise-cracking Baba Yaga.
If all goes as planned, Egg & Spoon might travel a path similar to Wicked’s. Marc Platt, who produced the Broadway production originally starring Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, and Universal Studios have acquired rights to produce the film adaptation of the fantasy story. 
“I have total approval with what they did with Wicked, even though that in order to make it a successful play, they had to abbreviate it and, to some extent, change the plot. The novel was a big fat novel, like Gone With the Wind,” Maguire said. 
He was happy to see that the important themes and ideas that prompted him to write Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West in the first place weren’t taken out for the play.
Maguire worked for eight years as a professor and associate director at the Simmons College Center for the Study of Children’s Literature before receiving his Ph.D. in English and American Literature at Tufts. His favorite books growing up, he said, were A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.
“The best children’s literature is written with as much style and talent and devotion as anything written by Shakespeare or Dickens, or any of the other great writers of the ages. Charlotte’s Web is the perfect novel for that audience, and Hamlet is the perfect play for another. Once you realize that, it becomes a privilege to write for children,” Maguire said. “Children deserve the very best that’s available, and once I learned that what was available could be very good, I wanted to join those ranks of writers.” 

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