Edward Eager’s Half Magic (1954)
Illus. N.M. Bodecker
Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985

Countless times, I borrowed the school library’s copy of this book but, to be honest, I don’t remember which, if any, of its sequels I read.

I do know that I borrowed some of them, too, when Half Magic was on loan to some other magic-loving child, but all that I remember for certain was my disappointment.

Whether that was because the book I’d wanted wasn’t there, or whether because the book I had borrowed instead wasn’t much fun, or whether because the book might’ve been fine except that it wasn’t about Jane, Mark, Katharine and Martha.

I couldn’t say. But I’m sure you understand all of those different kinds of disappointment.

Certainly Jane and Mark and Katharine and Martha understood all-too-well. They’d checked the shelves for E. Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle countless times and found it out all those times as well.
E. Nesbit’s stories were “surely the most wonderful books in the world” and they’d read every one.

Half Magic opens on a Saturday, which is library day for these children and, even better, it’s summer time.

“In the summer you could take out ten books at a time, instead of three, and keep them a month, instead of two weeks. Of course you could take only four of the fiction books, which were the best, but Jane like plays and they were nonfiction, and Katharine liked poetry and that was nonfiction, and Martha was still the age for picture books, and they didn’t count as fiction but where often nearly as good.”

And, even better than that, on this particular Saturday, the elusive copy of The Enchanted Castle is available, and Jane reads it aloud on their long walk home, finishing it the next day.

It’s like that with a good book: you have to read the whole thing in one go, or as close to that as you can manage. And that’s just how I used to read Half Magic, and, all these years later, how I re-discovered it.

“It began one day about thirty years ago…”: so begins the first volume in Edward Eager’s classic series.

It begins with talk of everyday things (not at all as exciting as the everyday things that characters in E. Nesbit’s story have happen to them), but then Jane finds something shiny in a sidewalk crack. That’s when the magic starts.

Indeed, much of the book still feels like everyday stuff, although of course it’s not. But, still, the chapter names give me a chuckle: How it Began, What Happened to Their Mother, What Happened to Mark, What Happened to Katharine, What Happened to Martha, What Happened to Jane, How it Ended, and, How it Began Again.

And here is Mark’s summary of events (which isn’t much fancier): “The fire was Tuesday and the desert was Wednesday, we met Launcelot on Thursday and went to the movies on Friday, Jane belonged to that other family on Saturday , and we rested on Sunday.”

But as a young reader, this sense of ordinary-ness only made it all-the-more-possible that I, too, could have adventures like these. After all, I went to the library quite often as well.

It began one day about thirty years ago…: so began my reading of Edward Eager’s classic series. My re-reading is bringing back lots of happy bookish memories.

What were you re-reading thirty (or pick a decade) years ago?