Chris Mori­ar­tys The Inquisi­tor’s Appren­tice is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing all week.

When I try to explain why I wrote The Inquisitor’s Appren­tice – and why it’s emphat­i­cal­ly not a Jew­ish Nar­nia à la Michael Wein­grad — I always end up telling peo­ple that this is the book I wrote for my children.

Basi­cal­ly, I wrote it because I was a frus­trat­ed moth­er who want­ed my son to be able to read a boy wiz­ard book where the Jew­ish kid got to be the hero. That was the first ker­nel of the idea that has become the NYPD Inquisi­tor books: me reread­ing the books I remem­bered from my child­hood, and then read­ing the new books that had been writ­ten since then, and real­iz­ing that the book I want­ed my son to be able to read still wasn’t out there.

I want­ed a children’s fan­ta­sy about a Jew­ish kid. And I want­ed a book with all the mag­ic, adven­ture, and humor of my child­hood favorites, but whose mythol­o­gy, world­view and char­ac­ters would cel­e­brate our family’s roots, beliefs and values.

I might as well be hon­est about it and admit that those val­ues were hot pink. I grew up in left-wing New York polit­i­cal cir­cles, in a pre­dom­i­nant­ly Jew­ish but sig­nif­i­cant­ly mul­ti­eth­nic com­mu­ni­ty that had its own dis­tinc­tive hagiog­ra­phy (the Lin­coln Brigade and Free­dom Rid­ers), fam­i­ly sto­ries (the Rosen­bergs, the McCarthy black­list, the Peek­skill riots), music (can you say Hoo­te­nan­ny?) and even sum­mer camps (my Mom went to Camp Red­wing. Get it, wink, wink, Redwing?)

My hus­band grew up only a few miles away from me. Until the most recent Man­hat­tan con­struc­tion boom you could actu­al­ly see my par­ents’ apart­ment build­ing from his par­ents’ apart­ment build­ing if you knew where to look. But he grew up in a New York that embod­ied a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent ver­sion of the Jew­ish-Amer­i­can expe­ri­ence. His grand­fa­ther emi­grat­ed from Rus­sia, went to work in the gar­ment dis­trict, saved up his mon­ey, went into whole­sale, and had two sons who both grew up to be car­di­ol­o­gists. My grand­par­ents were athe­ists, his were Ortho­dox. My grand­par­ents marched on Wash­ing­ton, his retired to Flori­da. And — this last sen­tence says it all, real­ly — I grew up on the Upper West Side, he grew up on the Upper East Side.

I want­ed to share both sides of that New York her­itage with my chil­dren. I want­ed to tell them about the Vaude­ville musi­cians and sweat­shop work­ers, the rab­bis and the wob­blies, the grand­fa­ther who grew up on Avenue J, and the grand­moth­er who grew up in Green­wich Vil­lage. I want­ed to take my kids back to the Low­er East Side a hun­dred years ago, and let them see first-hand the lives, the strug­gles, and the val­ues of their great-grand­par­ents. I want­ed to cel­e­brate the spe­cial mag­ic of New York — and the equal­ly spe­cial mag­ic of the loud, zany, eccen­tric and argu­men­ta­tive New York­ers I grew up around. I want­ed to get my son excit­ed about being Jew­ish, excit­ed about the Low­er East Side, and curi­ous about the vibrant inter­sec­tion of Judaism and left-wing pol­i­tics that con­tributed shaped not only our own family’s his­to­ry but much of Amer­i­can his­to­ry through­out the 20th century.

And … well … if he devel­oped a taste for klezmer, too, I wasn’t exact­ly going to cry about it.

In one sense, of course, this was a deeply Nar­nia-esque project. Because, let’s be hon­est, it was all about pros­e­ly­tiz­ing. But the pros­e­ly­tiz­ing wasn’t aimed at oth­er people’s kid’s, only at my own. And it was about telling my chil­dren where they came from, not telling them where I thought they should go in life. I want­ed to write a sort of fam­i­ly ori­gin myth, one that went to the heart of what I hope my chil­dren will val­ue in their own com­plex, mul­ti­eth­nic, but emphat­i­cal­ly Jew­ish her­itage. And if there was any preach­ing going on, then it had a lot less in com­mon with C. S. Lewis’s Chris­t­ian apolo­get­ics than with William Goldman’s The Princess Bride – a book that uses humor, romance and mag­ic to dri­ve home the under­ly­ing moral of Hey, would it kill you to turn off the TV and lis­ten to your grandfather’s sto­ries once in a while?”

Those sto­ries are what it’s real­ly about for me. Sto­ries of grand­par­ents and great-aunts and uncles that were passed on around kitchen tables over three gen­er­a­tions, that made me and my hus­band who we are, and that will con­tin­ue to shape our chil­dren long after we our­selves are gone. Build­ing fan­ta­sy out of those sto­ries is not about res­ur­rect­ing a myth­i­cal lost medieval world in which my chil­dren can escape from the com­plex­i­ty and moral ambi­gu­i­ty of real life, but about shed­ding the trans­for­ma­tion­al light of fan­ta­sy on this world: the one my chil­dren will build their future in. And recast­ing our family’s sto­ry as fan­ta­sy is the best way I’ve found to share my own ques­tions about faith, pol­i­tics, eth­nic­i­ty, and what it means to be Jew­ish in Amer­i­ca with my chil­dren.

I say ques­tions instead of answers because, as every par­ent knows, we can­not force our chil­dren to accept our answers in life. We can only share our ques­tions with them. We do this in the hope that they will find bet­ter and wis­er answers than we can yet imag­ine. And one of the ways we do it is by telling them the sto­ry of where they come from. 


The Inquisitor’s Appren­tice is my attempt to do that. And if it’s wrapped up in a New York fairy tale, with a lit­tle romance, and a big dose of slap­stick humor? Well … love, laugh­ter, and fan­ta­sy are some of the best ways humans have of mak­ing sense of our world.

Chris Mori­ar­ty’s chil­dren’s fan­ta­sy debut, The Inquisi­tor’s Appren­tice, received starred reviews from Pub­lish­ers Week­ly and Kirkus. The New York Times praised its suc­cess­ful blend of mag­ic, Judaism, and New York his­to­ry, and Book­page called it a book for any­one who has ever thought that maybe there is more to this world than what we can see.” Chris sci­ence fic­tion nov­els have won the Philip K. Dick Award and been nom­i­nat­ed for numer­ous oth­er awards.