by Edward Eager
The seventh magical book by mid-twentieth-century American author Edward Eager pays homage, once again, to his favorite children's author: E. Nesbit
. But it also makes references to the Oz stories
of L. Frank Baum, The 13 Clocks
by James Thurber, the Narnia tales
of C. S. Lewis, the Little House
books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the author's own Half-Magic
. It also visits the world of Charles Dickens
, the desert island of Robinson Crusoe, and the wanderings of a medieval knight errant... but the "magical world" in which we find the heart of this adventure, is a 1960s (then present-day) television studio.
Barnaby, Abbie, and Fredericka are the children of a singer who specializes in "background vocals" on TV variety programs. Their mother sells real estate. Their neighbors, and best friends, are John and Susan, who are being raised by their spunky but slightly crazy Grannie. In this group of interesting young characters, Barnaby is the idea man. And one summer Saturday at the public library, his idea of the kind of book they need leads them to a magic book that they can only have out of the library for seven days.
Essentially, this magic book is whatever the person holding it wants it to be. But because of what the children wished for, it turns into a book about them. Yes, they can read about themselves in it (kind of Neverending Story-ish). But only up to the present moment; after that the book is blank, waiting to be filled with their wishes and the amazing adventures they lead to. Adventures with a wizard, a witch, and a dragon. Adventures with a baby suddenly grown into a man. Adventures in the wild west, and more.
But as I said, the central adventure has to do with a TV studio, and the mixed results of the children's interference with the singing career of Barnaby, Abbie, and Fredericka's dad. This episode is a hilarious send-up of "show biz" but also a very poignant story of a child's love for her father, and the unanticipated side-effects of having your wishes come true.
Two passages in this book come up for special consideration. The first one puts the "magic" of this kind of story-- and, I think, many of the other stories we love-- in the context of religion. One of the children insists on putting the magic book away on Sunday, even though they only have it for seven days. Her reasoning: "Magic's not a Sunday thing. Not that it's sinful or anything, I don't mean. But they just wouldn't mix."
Another passage hints at an attitude toward books and television that I believe I share with Edward Eager, and I quote...
"I heard somebody say," put in Fredericka, "that someday pretty soon there won't be any books. Television'll take their place."
Everybody shuddered at this thought.
"It won't," said Barnaby. "It couldn't. And I don't think we ought to do anything to encourage it and make it think it can."
Recommended Age: 8+
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