Sunday, August 07, 2016

Seven-Day Magic (1958)

I like all the ways Edward Eager works bookish qualities into this light fantasy for kids and adolescents. The magic book at the center of it is found on the weekly jaunt to the library taken by a gang of five kids from two families on their summer vacation. It's a "seven-day" book, meaning it's in high demand and can only be borrowed for a week. The magical adventures it bestows are rife with obvious references to the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, E. Nesbit stories (Eager's favorite), Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, and even an earlier book by Eager, Half Magic. The magic in Eager's books is always a little tricky. Barnaby, the oldest boy and leader of the gang, outlines his theory of the practical applications: "learn its rules and tame it and make the most of it." At 8, I was envious of kids like this in books like this and went out riding my bike around but never found any mysteries or magic the way Nancy Drew or these kids do. As a grown-up, I can better appreciate what a careful and precise writer Eager is, which helps ground all the weird stuff. But it's pretty good weird stuff—almost meta, you might say. Or recycling, if you were in a less charitable mood. On one of their adventures, for example, they encounter the girl who finds the coin at the end of Half Magic, and we get a revisit with that difficult magic, in which you only get half of what you wish for, so you have to think carefully about what to multiply by two. The girl is minding her baby brother and wanted to go into future times and meet children there, but she forgot to include her brother in the wish. When she tries to correct the mistake, what appears is a full-grown man of 37 who is dressed and can speak. And this is what he says: "I know you now. You're that big one that keeps picking me up and carrying me away just when it's getting interesting and putting me to bed. But never again any more of that from now on!" So, yes, apparently some kind of hideous man / baby hybrid that dresses and talks like a man but behaves like a selfish baby. Insert endless obvious jokes here. Eager reminds me a little of Philip K. Dick, and even more of Fredric Brown, with characters and settings and events that occupy their own universe, ahead of us a step and a half and throwing back bewildering developments to distract, or for some reason. Except Eager intended his work strictly for kids, and made a point, as here, of calling out the writers he considered better than himself, such as his beloved E. Nesbit. The result is actually very charming.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. Another book and author from my childhood I have purchased for the bookcase and re-reading