Orson Scott Card draws much in his novels and stories from the oral traditions of mythology, legend and religion. His words seem to have the heft of weighty antiquity, that his are tales that have been around forever and he has merely recorded them in written form for his readers. Enchantment is a variation on that theme: a recognizable fairy tale told with a modern twist. In his take on "Sleeping Beauty," Card interweaves one of his favorite speculations -- a world where folk magic is a reality -- with the piece of common wisdom that says there is at least a kernel of truth to every legend.
In the pre-glasnost Soviet Union of 1975, ten-year-old Ivan "Vanya" Smetski is told that his family is embracing its Jewish heritage and applying for visas to Israel. His father, an esteemed scholar of ancient Slavic literature, and his mother, a homemaker who seems always possessed of some secret knowledge that she will not share with the men in her life, are sacrificing career and homeland so that their son might grow up in a free land. Their goal is not Israel, but the enemy, the rival, the land of hope and freedom: America.
When Russia cuts the number of Jews getting visas in reply to America tying most-favored-nation status to Russia's upping the number of Jews getting visas, Vanya and his parents settle in for the potentially long wait. They move from the city to a small dairy farm in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains (strategically unimportant hill country where Communism is mostly window dressing) to stay with distant relatives, Cousin Marek and his wife. Vanya loves to run through through the yet-wild parts of the forest near Marek's farm, the ancient and lost parts that are places of magic and dreams in the region where the fairy tales of his childhood sprung from. It is on one of these exploratory runs that Vanya first comes into contact with his destiny, discovering what looks like a beautiful woman lying on a pedestal surrounded by a moat of fallen leaves. A sudden malevolent and purposeful movement under the leaves badly frightens the boy, and Vanya races from the clearing back to the safety of Cousin Marek's farm.
When Vanya gets back, he has no time to relate his tale, for the visas have suddenly come through and he and his parents must leave that same night to catch the train to Kiev where their flight out of Russia takes off in two days time. Once out of the Soviet Union, Vanya's father is quickly appointed as a professor of Slavic languages in a university in western New York. Ivan (to the Americans) becomes an accomplished athlete, and a student following in his father's footsteps by gravitating to the history, languages and folklore of his native land.
Ivan's dissertation and glasnost conspire to take him away from his parents and fiancee, and to bring him back to Russia to study ancient Slavic manuscripts. When he realizes that he has completed his studies in the Ukraine with the manuscripts, his first thought is not of Ruth, nor of his parents, but of a leaf-filled clearing in the wild forests surrounding a remote dairy farm at the feet of the Carpathian Mountains. Ivan finds Cousin Marek's farm and, on a deliberate run early one morning to chase away the memory of a beautiful woman on a pedestal and to banish the nightmares of an unseen monster in a moat of leaves, Ivan finds the clearing. But instead of finding a perfectly normal clearing in a forest and laying his mind to rest, Ivan finds her, sleeping still and guarded by a monster churning up the leaves in the pit at Ivan's presence.
Thus the hero of Sleeping Beauty finds and rescues the princess, discovering that it's not all just quite that easy. Ivan steps back a thousand years to a Russia where the witch Baba Yaga holds a forgotten nation in a grip of terror, where the old gods still walk, and where a princess fights to save her people and land. Ivan finds himself caught in a comic, ironic, and deadly clash of cultures, finds too why his marriage to Ruth was never meant to happen, and is thrust into a twin ethical dilemma involving faith and faithfulness: the only way the princess Katerina can foil the evil machinations of Baba Yaga is to marry her rescuer.
Orson Scott Card has cast a perfect Enchantment here. As a retelling of a familiar tale, this novel succeeds. As an examination of the twin powers of destiny and free will, again it succeeds. As a perfectly compelling and original read, most importantly, Enchantment succeeds.