What would you do if you found an talisman that granted wishes – but only half of the wish you requested? That’s the dilemma faced by a quartet of children in Edward Eager’s delightful Half Magic. When Jane, the eldest of the four siblings, picks up what looks like a nickel, strange things begin happening, because whoever touches it and voices a wish finds that it partly comes true. Eventually, they catch on to the secret of the charm, but only after Jane accidentally causes a fire (a small fire, a playhouse rather than a real house), their mother wishes to be home and ends up halfway there, and Martha, the youngest, makes her cat halfway able to talk (mostly, Carrie the cat sputters nonsense, with a good number of “fitzes” thrown in). When the children catch on, they pass the charm around and embark upon a number of strange and wonderful adventures. The secret, of course, is to wish for two of whatever you want, or for twice the result. The real escapades result, of course, when the children speak hastily, forgetting double their wishes!
The four children follow the standard pattern in children’s books: you’ve got Jane, the bossy eldest, Mark, the boy, Katherine, the bookish middle child, and Martha, the youngest who gets herself into trouble. Individual characterization is not so good as in, say, The Penderwicks, but the focus of this book is the magic and the adventures, rather than on character and growth. That being said, Eager really understands children, their fundamental good nature and slight tendency to mistrust adults and rebel against them. For example: “All of the four children hated Charlie Chaplin, because he was the only thing grown-ups would ever take them to” (100). Yet, adults aren’t all bad. Their mother is a lovely if somewhat overworked woman…and who is that strange, short man who keeps popping up?
I read and enjoyed this book as a kid, but I think I appreciate it even more now. I recall thinking it moved a little too slowly, that it took a little too long to figure out how the charm worked and to get to the adventures. Now, of course, I read much more quickly, and was sad to reach the end. (Luckily, I know that Eager wrote several more, and I look forward to getting my hands on them!) I’m also certain that I didn’t pick up on the frequent literary allusions as a kid, and now, I consider them to be one of the best parts! Robinson Crusoe, The Once and Future King, E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle, and the poem Jabberwocky all play a part in Eager’s charming narrative. Of the four, I’ve only ever read the poem, but the other three are all on my list!
Things to consider:
Did you ever pick up a book as a kid because it was mentioned in another book you loved? I don’t think that ever happened to me, but I’d love to think that other kids noticed and took these sorts of suggestions!
If you had a charm like this, what would you wish for? (Don’t forget to double it!)
Things I’m reading:
The Awakening, Kate Chopin
Silence, Shusaku Endo
The Housekeeper and the Professor, Yoko Ogawa
Musicology and Difference, Ruth Solie, ed.