It’s been seven years since Gregory Maguire has been to BEA, he thinks, but he’s looking forward to it, comparing the show to the most festive New Year’s Eve celebration. “If you ever want to see a room in which you get a model of shaken-up champagne, it’s the Javits Center during BEA. Everyone is bubbly and bumping and fizzing about everything they see,” he says. “ I really like it.” Maguire is at this year’s BEA to promote his latest fractured fairy tale, Egg & Spoon (Candlewick, Sept.)
Egg & Spoon, Maguire says, is a take on Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, set in the waning days of czarist Russia, about a decade before the 1917 Russian Revolution. When a train carrying a noble family on its way to visit Czar Nicholas II in St. Petersburg makes a stop in an impoverished village, two girls—one a peasant, the other a child of privilege—accidentally switch places. The case of mistaken identity sets in motion a series of improbable events, with characters that include a monk trapped in a tower, a prince traveling incognito, and Baba Yaga, the legendary witch of Russian folklore, who previously played a role in Maguire’s 1983 middle-grade novel, The Dream Stealer.
Baba Yaga is “so attractive—she’s a witch from central casting,” says Maguire. “She has iron teeth and lives in a house perched on chicken legs” Pointing out that anyone who lives in a house with chicken legs would probably intend their home to be mobile, the author discloses that in Egg & Spoon, Baba Yaga’s house “goes on its own walkabout and has its own story line,” because, he adds, “the house has its own ambitions.”
Best known for his bestselling 1995 novel for adults, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (which was made into a popular Broadway musical that has packed theaters for more than a decade), Maguire laughs as he admits that he’s obsessed with witches. He suspects that his fascination with “powerful women who live a little off the beaten track and don’t care about conforming to anybody else’s sense of style, or beauty” extends back to his childhood in Albany, N.Y., when he attended a Catholic elementary school. He greatly admired the nuns who were his teachers there, he says. “They were omnipresent, swathed in black, and possessed a sense of justice that was hard to understand, but impossible to argue with.”
Maguire is autographing ARCs of Egg & Spoon at a ticketed signing this afternoon, 3:30–4:30 p.m., at Table 5 in the Autographing Area.