Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Half Magic, Books 1 to 4
Half Magic, The Time Garden, Knight's Castle, Magic by the Lake
Edward Eager
Harcourt Brace, 192, 193, 198 and 190 pages

All by Quentin Blake
Half Magic
The Time Garden
Knight's Castle
Magic by the Lake
Edward Eager
Edward Eager was born in 1911 in Toledo, Ohio, and died in 1964. He attended Harvard University and is perhaps best known as a playwright and lyricist. He had childhood fascination with L. Frank Baum's Oz books and then, while reading to his son, he became a devoted admirer of E. Nesbit, whose children's books influenced his own Magic stories. Half Magic, the first of the series, led to 6 other Magic books in the same style.

ISFDB Bibliography
Edward Eager Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

Would you like to take a little voyage in time? If you're like me and started culling through your local library long before you were 10 years old, I bet I can send you back in time within one paragraph. Are you ready? Here we go!

The Princess and the Goblin. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Alice in Wonderland. The Wind in the Willows. Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet. The Phoenix and the Carpet. Freddie Goes to the North Pole. The Patchwork Girl of Oz. Half Magic, The Time Garden, Knight's Castle, Magic or Not?, Magic by the Lake, Seven-Day Magic. The Well-Wishers.

Did you have a nice trip? Well, it's not over yet.

When I was growing up in suburban Connecticut in the 50s, I was fortunate in that my hometown, Fairfield, had not only an adult library but also one devoted entirely to children's books. Consequently, once I graduated past Dr Seuss and other picture books, it was only a short step (literally) to the fabulous works of George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, Eleanor Cameron, Walter R. Brooks and Edward Eager.

Eager died in 1964, but not before he had penned several charming and witty books for the 7 to 12-year-old set. His formula was most always the same: Take four children with time on their hands and put them in an out-of-the-way place, and before you know it, they're uncovering magical talismans and having adventures.

In the first and possibly most delightful of Eager's books, Half Magic, the talisman in question is a coin whose magic is so worn out that it grants wishes only by halves. This results in such prodigies as a cat that can half talk, a half-alive lawn statue, and so on. In Knight's Castle, a magic toy soldier transports Roger, Ann, Eliza and Jack to the time of Ivanhoe and Robin Hood. The talisman is a turtle in Magic by the Lake, in which the children must deal with an entire lake full of magic and search for a treasure, and sprigs of the herb thyme -- and a magic creature called the Natterjack -- in The Time Garden.

Reading several of these books at once gives a splendid sense of how meticulous Mr Eager was in their construction. For example, two of them, Half Magic and Magic by the Lake, have as their main characters Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha, and take place in the 20s. The other two involve two brother and sister combinations, Jack and Eliza and Roger and Ann as mentioned above. In case the titles aren't a clear enough indication, Eager likes to play with time and space. In Magic by the Lake the two groups of children actually meet briefly on a pirate island. This adventure, told from the viewpoint of Jane, Mark, Katherine and Martha, is later recounted in The Time Garden from the point of view of Jack, Eliza, Ann and Roger. The books were written several years apart, but Eager obviously had the idea in mind all along.

And he doesn't do this just with his own characters -- the children from The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit make a cameo appearance in The Time Garden. Many Arthurian characters as well as some of Sir Walter Scott also appear in the books.

All of which ought to give some sense of the delightfully light-hearted manner in which Eager tells his adventures. There's some swordplay and derring-do, and some onstage violence, but it is very cartoonish and obviously not to be taken seriously. There is nothing here that will give nightmares to even the most tremulous child.

The most notable thing about these books, to me, is that these are very literary adventures for the most part, and less fantastical than their initiating factors would lead one to suspect. We not only visit Camelot (with nary a dragon in sight), we are also taken back into Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Eager had a deep love for literature, and it shows. Not that these books are at all stodgy or dull -- far from it. Eager's touch is deft and light, making these volumes as easy to take as any confection. Their literate subtext is what elevates them from the common run of children's books. Eager assumes that his readers are educated and even, dare I say it, cultured. But a background in the classics isn't required. For my money, Eager's books can serve as a painless introduction to deeper literary waters, making them a rare commodity.

While we're at it, a word about the intricate, appealing pen-and-ink illustrations by N.M. Bodecker. The word is, enchanting! I actually remembered some of the drawings across a span of 40 years. Bodecker draws snooty people better than anyone else.

If you know a child who loves to read, any one of these books would make a wonderful gift. Like their protagonists, the recipient will find him- or herself entering a larger world through a magical doorway.

Copyright © 1999 by A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide