Having just written a book supposedly about magic with, well, no real magic, Edward Eager opened his final book in the Magic series, Seven-Day Magic, with five kids complaining about books that don’t have real magic in them, and particularly, books that claim to be about magic, but aren’t. The conversations have a, how shall I put this, suspiciously real tone to them, suggesting that Eager had received more than one comment from a disappointed young fan. Luckily, this time Eager gets it right, with not just magic appearing immediately, but also a dragon.
The dragon almost immediately takes them to—gasp—Oz. Oh, not the Oz I spent several months traveling through. At least, not exactly, either for copyright or other reasons. But almost Oz. Or what could be Oz. They more or less accidentally take along a not exactly real wizard (although he has worked in vaudeville) and somewhat less practically, Mrs. Funkhouser, the wizard’s landlady, who objects to the fairyland on the entirely reasonable basis that it’s not at all convenient and doesn’t have a supermarket. (Fairylands can’t have everything, you know, and Mrs. Funkhouser is hardly the first visitor to Oz to question its economics.)
This and subsequent trips are thanks to a magical book the kids just happen to have found in the library, which not only grants wishes (yay!) but also narrates the story as they go along, so they can read about their adventures while they are happening. As befits magical adventures granted by a book, most of these adventures just happen to be in worlds or with characters created by books: Oz, the Little House books, Eager’s own Half-Magic, and Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens.
The worlds, of course, are altered, primarily, it seems, to avoid copyright problems, although in the case of the chapters inspired by the Little House books Eager is skirting awfully close to slamming directly into said copyright problems and even has a character admit that he is mixing “real” history with the Little House books. And not for parody reasons, either. If Grannie (the grandmother of two of the children) is not quite like the real Laura Ingalls Wilder in her old age, like Wilder, Grannie remembers living in sod houses on the prairies, and when she returns to her teenage years, she is, for all practical purposes, Laura Ingalls: teaching in a one room schoolhouse, playing ball in a scene directly from The Long Winter, walking through a blizzard also taken directly from The Long Winter, just starting to date a young homesteader with a sleigh in a bit taken directly from These Happy Golden Years, and even using the name “Oleson,” after Laura’s infamous rival Nellie Oleson—switched to Clarence Oleson in this book. It’s made all the more obvious when Grannie asks Eager’s Laura to spell a word used in a spelling bee in Little Town on the Prairie, and Laura remembers reading the book, but not how to spell the word.
But skirting copyright issues or not, these scenes are pure fun, particularly the section where Eager revisits his own past book—perhaps in a response to other children’s letters wanting to know what happened after the girl picked up the half magic coin in Half Magic. (And now you know: she ended up in another Eager book.) Eager also explains some of the problems with magic, including the very serious logistical issue of dealing with a toddler in the body of a 37 year old. (Hint: Don’t let the toddler drive.) It’s all delightful fun.
More serious are the adventures that take place outside of the book world: an adventure in New York City where Angie attempts to use magic to help her father’s entertainment career (complete with some pointed comments on the television industry, which suggests that things have not changed much there since the 1950s) and the adventure Barnaby takes for himself, which eventually leads him down a road of self-discovery.
Barnaby probably needs this road, and yet—and yet—his punishment seems more than a bit harsh. Especially since at this point in the book Barnaby, apart from being described as opinionated, and apart from a small miscommunication problem with Laura, really hasn’t done anything wrong—in fact, he is the one character who tries to help out Angie when her adventure goes wrong.
It’s not entirely clear why her adventure goes wrong, beyond the need of the plot to provide some suspense: Angie’s motives are excellent, her mistake seemingly minor. But this does lead to a moment when Angie, too, gets to realize something important: that sometimes success can bring its own problems, especially if the success you (or, in this case, her father, through magic) gain is not really the success you were going for. And Angie gets to hear some comforting words about her poetry from a Real Life Poet (very loosely based on Robert Frost), who lets her know that at some point, she could become a real poet.
Although Susan and John do get to learn a little about the grandparents (although given the similarity of their grandparents to Laura and Almanzo Wilder, I question if they really learned anything other than, well, their grandmother really wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder), only Angie and Barnaby get to experience anything close to character growth during the book. It is perhaps not a coincidence that they are also the only ones to have adventures that take place mostly outside the book world—Angie’s in the very real if artificial world of television production, and Barnaby’s in a world of mingled history and fantasy that he has created himself. The other children, travelling to more comfortable worlds bound by books, learn less. But at the same time, much of this book is an argument for the critical importance of reading, and I can’t argue with that.
Oh, and did I mention it’s funny, with a welcome return to the humor that laced the first four books of the series?
I can’t recommend it as a good place to start with Eager, especially since so much of the book references one of the earlier books in the series. But if you don’t want to trudge through the entire series, of if you found yourself distinctly dismayed by the mostly magicless fifth and sixth books of the series, I can definitely recommend this as a delightful light read.
A couple of quick housekeeping notes: One, by the time you read this, I should be at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, Ontario, so chances are I will be slow to respond to any comments. Also, next up: Wombles of Wimbledon! WOMBLES ARE WE! I will try very hard not to sing. At least, not sing very much
Mari Ness has, in fact, been happily singing the Wombles of Wimbledon song for several days now, to the distress of all around her, and in particular the two furry cats who believe they should be sharing her laptop. She lives in central Florida.