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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE BOOK OF SPELLS (article first published : 2008-01-13; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

Pieter Scholtz is Emeritus Professor of Drama from the University of Natal, Durban campus, where he headed the Drama Department for more than 20 years. He has written and published 25 plays for young audiences, most of which were presented in the University Open-Air Theatre which is now named after him. He founded the Kwasuka Theatre and produced a number of highly successful children’s theatre productions during his period as Artistic Director. More recently, he has written two novels for the young (Tales of the Tokoloshe and The Demon of the Curry Powders), published by Struik Publishers.

Pieter Scholtz flatly refuses to “talk down” to young people, keeping his language at a fairly adult level, encouraging them to either look up words they don’t understand or by supplying a glossary at the end of his books. It was this refusal to bow to pressure from publishers regarding stereotypical language for the young that made him go it alone. He has self-published his latest novel, The Book of Spells : Journeys into the Past , as Horus Publishers.

“Horus is one of the most important Egyptian deities: a falcon god hailed as ”Lord of the Sky”, whose wings stretched to the very limits of the heavens”, states the notes on the flyleaf which go on to explain that the eye of Horus came to symbolize the process of healing and the concept of making something whole and perfect again”.

Pieter Scholtz describes The Book Of Spells, which is aimed at teenagers and young adults, as “magical realism”. The cover design by Anton and Merle Scholtz is based on the ram-headed creator god Khnum. According to Egyptian mythology, he created humans of clay on a potter’s wheel.

The first chapter is intriguingly titled A Wigwam for Goosey’s Bridle. In it we are introduced to the book of spells which the main character, Kevin, discovers in a second-hand bookshop. Translating the Roman numerals, he arrives at a date of 1719. The publisher’s inscription and the preface provide further fuel for the imagination, the preface talking about spells culled “from sources of antiquity”, some “discovered in long-forgotten manuscripts, others from notes left by apothecaries and mortals who described themselves as Wizards.”

The word “transmogrify” catches his attention – an example of Pieter Scholtz’s attention to the search for the meaning of words – as well as a spell relating to a love potion. Diana, who sits a couple of desks in front of him at school is beginning to occupy his thoughts more and more but she seemed beyond his reach. A love potion, he thinks? What if …?

After some tentative approaches, he fires her imagination by the contents of the book and so they set about trying out the spells. The journey takes them to three separate periods of time: Ancient Egypt and the times of Geoffrey Chaucer before being catapulted into the 20th century to witness the release from prison of Nelson Mandela. It is at this historic moment that Kevin helps to avert an assassination attempt. Who knows? It might indeed be true. Who are we mere mortals to think we know everything that happens in the universe?

In today’s world of technology where youngsters are locked into sms communication, I-pods, Xbox and Facebooks, The Book Of Spells provides a welcome reminder of the simple and easily accessible pleasures of reading. The Book Of Spells is available at Adams and other leading booksellers. It retails at R99.95. ISBN 978–0–620–39861-9. Caroline Smart




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