Half Magic by Edward Eager

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time picking things up I found on the ground. Coins, bent nails, stones, seashells, sticks, weird pieces of metal and discarded tin cans. Stuff like that. Many child development psychologists will lead you to believe that children are marvelous at noticing the ordinary since they haven’t yet become jaded adults with more important things to think about and that their minds are more open to the wonders of the world… and all that blah blah blah.

But my own personal theory is that when you are a child you are simply shorter…and therefore lower to the ground, hence you naturally notice a lot more of what goes on down there than the adults, who are taller and busy looking out for buses and talking to each other about boring things, leaving you free to entertain yourself with sticks and stones and notice things nearer to your line of vision.

I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.

What I never told the adults in my life was that the feathers and rocks and tabs from soda cans I was busy collecting served the unique purpose of being carried home in my pocket and then wished on when no one was looking. I can’t remember what I wished for. A unicorn maybe. Or that the next time we went fishing we’d see mermaids. Or that I’d find a hollowed out tree and move into it, like that boy in that one book; he had a raccoon for a pet. Maybe I wished for a raccoon.

Edgar Eager must have remembered about being shorter and finding things on the ground you hoped were wishable, because the first book he wrote was about just that. The children find a magic coin and it gives them wishes. Of course, it only has so many wishes, and it has the trick of making you wish for things twice over in order to get them once – hence the name Half-Magic –  but once the children figure that out they have a terrific time and lots of adventures. They travel to Saudi Arabia and join a caravan and they go back to King Arthur’s court and hang out with Merlin. Through a series of mishaps they start a fire, Jane becomes someone else for the day, and Martha wishes herself half-there and people think she’s a ghost, which starts a riot. In the end they land themselves a nice stepfather who owns a bookshop, their mother gets to quit her poorly paid job and stay at home with them, and they get to spend the rest of the summer by the lake, which is kind of all they wanted to begin with.

The next book takes place at the lake and while they are there they have a run in with a turtle, who gives them a whole lakeful of magic.

All these books Eager wrote were based loosely on his experience of reading his favorite children’s author E. Nesbit. (She’s terrific, too...Five Children and It) He said that he, just like Nesbit, wanted to write stories about ordinary kids who get side-swiped by magic occurrences. So he did. When he ran out of stories about Mark, Katharine, Jane and Martha, he jumped into the future and wrote about their children having magic adventures.

I’ve sort of giving up excerpting since I didn’t want to have copyright issues with anything, but Eager’s books are pretty old, so I feel comfortable sharing this bit. I have to share it. It’s both funny and charming.

Excerpt:

Katharine was the middle girl, of docile disposition and a comfort to her mother. She knew she was a comfort, and docile, because she’d heard her mother say so. and the others knew she was, too, by now, because ever since that day Katharine would keep boasting about what a comfort she was, and how docile, until Jane declared she would utter a piercing shriek and fall over dead if she heard another word about it. This will give you some idea of what Jane and Katharine were like.

…A woman named Miss Bick came every day to care for the children, but she couldn’t seem to care for them very much, nor they for her. And she wouldn’t take them to the country or a lake; she said it was too much to expect and the sound of waves affected her heart.

“Clear Lake isn’t the ocean; you can hardly hear it,” Jane told her.

“It would attract lightning,” Miss Bick said, which Jane thought cowardly, besides being unfair arguing. If you’re going to argue, and Jane usually was, you want people to line up all their objections at a time; then you can knock them down all at once. But Miss Bick was always sly.

So there you have a sample of Eager’s awesome humor. Reflecting: I think that he is a big influence on the way I write. When I read his stuff, I notice that my fiction scribbling has the same tone as his. It’s not deliberate, but there it is. Writers. We all plagiarise each other, but what can you do? While it is about finding your own voice, sometimes your voice is just heavily influenced by those who have gone before.

I still pick stuff up. Being taller now, I don’t notice as much near cracks in the sidewalk and on the side of the road. But I still notice lots of things. Sometimes I go through my storage boxes and I find old keys, old coins, tiny, empty bottles of perfume, odd pendants – the best ones have weird symbols on them – broken pieces of ceramic, plastic figurines, bottle openers and all kinds of odds and ends I’ve picked up. Most of it I throw away in a fit of cleanliness and adult reason, but sometimes – especially when its an old coin from some far off place – I look around to make sure I’m alone – and I wish.

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