Sunday, April 21, 2013

Half Magic (1954)

In my mind I have a slight confusion between Edward Eager, the author of this and several other children's books about magic, and Edward Everett Horton, a character actor of the '30s who went on to narrate the Fractured Fairy Tales series in Jay Ward's Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. "Edward," I suppose, and all those Es. But there's also something in both of the kindly twinkly-eyed older man somehow privy to or at least aware of children's fantasy lives, and never disapproving. I know I am surely dating myself with reference to all these objects of affection from mid-20th century, but there you go. I won't say Edward Eager was the J.K. Rowling of approximately my generation—he never approached her ability to produce great slabs of tome, my single favorite aspect of the Harry Potter franchise—but he was dealing with kids and with magic all the same. Half Magic, the first of his so-called Magic series (I don't remember it having a name back in the day, but maybe that's me) is not surprisingly tentative, the product I understand of Eager's own frustration that there were no children's books he wanted to read to his his son Fritz, besides those of E. Nesbit. (As an aside, books by Nesbit were not available in the children's libraries where I obtained the Eager books, and thus I assumed they were just further fabrication.) With Half Magic, Eager started to write them himself. The basic premise here is simple and ingenious—a  mysterious found coin grants our heroes, a group of children who also appear in Eager's next book, Magic by the Lake, exactly one-half of each wish, though they can't predict how it will be divided in half, let alone which half they will get. But they try anyway to outthink it by doubling their wishes, with the kinds of results you can (or cannot) imagine. Eager was a native of Ohio born in 1911, a Harvard graduate, and a playwright and lyricist of some distinction as well the author of children's books. Not surprisingly the language in Half Magic is a perfect pleasure to read, simple and straightforward, out of the pellucid school of mid-century New Yorker. And everybody likes these books—certainly I do, still, very much—though I worry they may also seem antiquated. This would be the point where I heave a big self-satisfied sigh. "Oh, for the good old days again. Kids, get off my lawn with your fool smartphones," etc. But that doesn't mean it's not a good book.

In case it's not at the library.

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