- Virginia Johnson
Sometimes it doesn't take years to become a great magician.
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Sophie talked to hats. No, they didn't answer her, but she talked to them just the same. "You have a heart of gold and someone in a high position will see it and fall in love you," she told one. Soon enough a plain-looking lass bought the plain bonnet and sailed off with the heart of the Count of Catterack.
"You are young as a spring leaf!" she told a caterpillar-green hat. The mayor's wife had to have that one, as did many other important town ladies. Business was good, so good that Sophie hardly had time to do anything for herself. She was working as her stepmother's unpaid apprentice. Not a penny of the money did she see, and soon enough she became pale with exhaustion. Making hats could be tiring work.
It wasn't her stepmother's fault. No, certainly not! After her husband's death, Fanny had to cope with the expense of three girls. Surely, the best way was for them to find their own fortunes. All three were pretty, but Lettie was the beauty, so she's off to apprentice in a pie shoppe, the sooner to catch a husband. Baby Martha, Fanny's own daughter, would be sent to study and live with wealthy wise women. That left Sophie to help her stepmother with the millinery shop. Ribbons, soft fabrics, flowers, and wax fruit, that was her lot in the work shed.
Yes, she'd inherit the shop one faraway day, but she had to admit that she found the work dull as well as tiring. She didn't meet anyone, and the workers were never exactly friendly. She found herself fading into the woodwork and wasn't entirely surprised when a handsome rogue in bright silks teased her for being a little, gray mouse. When her sister clues her in to her stepmother's exciting lifestyle at her expense, well, it's enough to make even a quiet, elder child stand up for her self.
All she meant to do was ask for a wage, but fate intervened in the form of a real Witch of a customer. In the blink of an eye, Sophia is cursed, ensorcelled, and transformed into a hideous creature who must find a way to reverse the spell before she dies of its effects.
Her painful steps lead her to Howl's Moving Castle, the smoking, black structure which appeared one day in the hills above the town. They say that wicked Sorcerer Howl devours maidens' hearts, but Sophie's luck has been so bad she's willing to take that chance.
Another Fine Myth by Robert Lynn Asprin
Skeeve was tired of playing with feathers. Yet ever since he'd come creeping out of the forest to take shelter with the old wizard, Garkin swore he wouldn't teach him any more magic until he could control what he had. That meant practicing moving a feather: up, down, sideways, slow, and fast. This much he could do, unless, of course, his concentration was broken.
Tired as he was of feathers, he dreaded the next exercise. Lighting a candle. A simple trick for a sorcerer, but Skeeve had yet to do it. He was supposed to draw the power out from somewhere inside him, but when Skeeve looked there all he saw was his own reflection: a thief and a runaway, yes, but not good material for a sorcerer's apprentice.
But on this day, he was able to look deep inside himself and find a new way of looking at Skeeve.
"I am Skeeve. I am stronger than any of them. I escaped my father's attempts to chain me to a plow as he had my brother. My mother died from her idealism, but I used her teaching to survive. My teacher is a gullible fool who took a thief for an apprentice. I have beaten them all. I am Skeeve. I will light the candle."
And, so he did.
Pleased with his success, old Garkin decided to show him a powerful piece of magic. Something to aspire to if he kept practicing his lessons. He drew a figure on the floor, muttered incantations, and at last spoke:
"To demonstrate the value of control, I will now summon forth a demon, a being from another world. He is powerful, cruel, and vicious, and would kill us both if given a chance. Yet despite this, we need not fear him because he will be controlled. He will be unable to harm us or anything else in this world as long as he is contained within that pentagram. Now watch, Skeeve. Watch and learn."
The smoke roiled, and inside the pentagram something began to take shape. However the voice that spoke was coming from somewhere else inside the hut, outside of the pentagram:
"Isstvan sends his greetings, Garkin!
It has been a long hunt. You've hidden yourself well, but did you really hope to escape…"
"You dare!?!" Garkin spun from his work, towering in rage. A sheet of flame engulfed the assassin, but not before he let his crossbow bolt fly.
"Garkin!" Skeeve looked over the two bodies and into the yellow eyes flecked with gold of a being from another world.
His teacher's body lay across an extinguished candle. The spell of protection was broken.
The demon curled its lips back, showing a double-row of needle sharp teeth. He licked his lips with a purple tongue and extended a taloned hand toward him. And when the demon saw Skeeve jump head-first into a wall with fright, he started to laugh hysterically.
Another Fine Myth is the first of Asprin's Myth Adventures series, a witty road trip through the magical dimensions.