Gregory Maguire

"Mirror, Mirror"

(Reviewed by Jenny Dressel OCT 05, 2003)

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”- Snow White, Brothers Grimm

Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire has done it again. He has taken a beloved, classic fairytale, and molded the story into a novel which has more texture, more feeling, and more heart; weaving for his readers, a brand new story.

This time we get to enjoy the Grimms Brothers’ tale of Snow White. In Maguire’s new novel, Snow White is called Bianca De Nevada. The time is 1502, and Bianca is seven years old. “Of her beauty, there was no doubt, and no description would serve. But the name was correct. Bianca, a name referring to the polished whiteness of her skin, almost a marble from the Carrara region…”

Her widowed father, Vicente De Nevada, owns a property called Montefiore, in Italy. “Montefiore was larger than a farmer’s villa, but not so imposing as a castle.” Vicente has purposely and successfully shielded Bianca from the outside world. She has grown to the age of seven with her father; the old cook, Primavera Vecchia; and the resident priest, Fra Ludovico, as her only companions.

Bianca lives happily enough, although her curiosity does get the best of her at times. Whenever Vicente had to leave Montefiore, Bianca asks to accompany him, and he always refuses. She is not allowed beyond the property’s boundaries, and her father often resorts to scaring the girl, in order to keep her from going beyond certain points. “You don’t see the ornery creatures who live under the bridge… If you come down here alone, a little slip of a thing as you are, one of them will leap from their damp burrow, and snatch you away.”

Enter the Borgias. Cesare Borgia and his sister, Lucrezia, traveled to Montefiore. Cesare has a mission for Vicente De Nevada to complete for him. Cesare, son of the Spanish pope, Alexander Vi, was one of the most famous mercenaries of the 16th century. He was ruthless and spent his life fighting against other families for territories across Italy and the rest of Europe. “Machiavelli won’t publish ‘The Prince’ for a decade yet, but he is busy scrutinizing the life and pursuits of that splendid soldier… Cesare Borgia.”

Lucrezia, aged nineteen, is Cesare’s biggest advocate, and traveled with him on a regular basis. She is incredibly beautiful, called “the flower of her time, the Roman Lily.” She is quite happy to travel with Cesare to help cajole Vicente De Nevada into accepting Cesare’s proposition.

Cesare, being a deeply religious man, ordered Vicente to obtain for him “a sprig of the Tree of Knowledge, out of the very orchard from which our kind has sprung.” This branch is housed in an ancient monastery on the Holy Mountain, placed on the shores of Agion Oros. Vicente is to steal the holy branch and return to Montefiore, and place it in Cesare’s hands.

Vicente doesn’t want to go on this impossible journey, as he is worried about his welfare and that of his daughter. He is sure his mission will end in death for him, and what is to become of his orphaned daughter then? Lucrezia told Vicente she would assume guardianship of Bianca, until he returns from his journey. Vicente knew he had no choice -- denying Cesare his request would result in immediate death; although stealing a holy relic would also result in death, if he is caught. But at least he had a chance in succeeding if he traveled to the monastery, so he accepts the duty.

Maguire goes on to tell his imaginative tale weaving all the pertinent parts of the classic fairytale, including the enchanted mirror, the hunter, the seven dwarves and the poisoned apple. This author never changes the core of the story, but he adds his own particular vision. He has the ability to make the work more substantial, opening up thoughts and feelings of all the characters which we are all so familiar with.

Mirror, Mirror goes a step further, as Maguire uses historical figures to help illustrate the novel. The Borgias were a real clan in the 1500’s, who were ruthless with the people they ruled and addicted to assuming as much power as they could.

I have had the opportunity to read two of Maguire’s previous novels; Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. In my opinion, Maguire has the ability to make those famous characters we “love to hate,” into characters who are not so despicable. When I'm finished with his books, Ifeel compassion towards these characters. I have to admit, I felt less sympathy for Lucrezia Borgia, the wicked stepmother in this tale. But I did come to understand her actions, after reading Maguire’s interpretation. Using 21st century terms, Lucrezia came from a highly dysfunctional family. She needed a great deal of therapy.

I loved this book, just as I loved Maguire’s previous novels. I have always been a fan of fairytales, and Maguire’s particular perspective tends to make well-loved stories into well-woven tapestries, much more descriptive and rich. Maguire has the ability to help us realize that people aren’t evil just to be evil; nine times out of ten, people’s circumstances and past histories mold them into what they become. I can’t wait to see what Maguire’s next work will be -- I have no doubt he will turn around one of our classic villains into someone we may actually grow a little fond of.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 91 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

Children's Books:

The Hamlet Chronicles (comic novels)

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About the Author:

Gregory MaguireGregory Maguire writes novels for adults and children. Though he is best known as a fantasy writer, Maguire has also written picture books, science fiction, realistic and historic fiction.

He has been the recipient of several awards and fellowships including artist in residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. He has also received fellowship residencies at Blue Mountain Center, New York; the Hambidge Center, Georgia; The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Vermont.

In addition to writing, Maguire is a national figure in children's literature education. He was a professor and associate director of the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College, 1979 through 1986. Since 1986 he has been codirector and founding board member of Children's Literature New England, Incorporated, a nonprofit that focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children.

Maguire received his Ph.D. in English and American Literature at Tufts University in 1990. He has lived abroad in Dublin and London, and now makes his home in Concrd, Massachusetts. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014