Sunday, November 05, 2006

Reading. Eager.

In my middle-school library, hardcover novels were shelved in tall bookcases along one long wall; paperbacks were housed in spinning racks tucked away in various corners. During free periods I would browse these selections for new books, read them in the car on the way home from school, or while eating an afternoon snack, or in bed before going to sleep. Return them the next day and take home something new. There are so many writers I discovered here, so many writers that I came to love, still love, still read, even now I am grown up, writers I plan to read aloud to my children in that far-off distant future. Edward Eager is one of them.

The books of Edward Eager are about magic. The children in his stories are taken from their own ordinary world into the magic world, with the help of a coin that gave you half of whatever you asked for (Half Magic), a lake that granted your wishes (Magic By the Lake), an old figure of a knight that led your imaginary battles of toy soldiers into a world where they became real (Knight's Castle), or a garden overrun with thyme (The Time Garden) (there are other stories, but these are the ones I loved best). Their secret fantasies come to life, their real lives change through a widowed mother finding new love, or a father's illness casting a shadow over their youthful innocence. (Whenever I read the part of Knight's Castle where Roger and Ann's father tells them that he is ill and must go to the hospital for an operation, I remember all over again the night my father told me he had cancer, remember the wave of misery that swept over me at his words, the reassurances that he would be all right - and he was - not at all reassuring).

While in these stories the children get to live their dreams of fighting pirates on deserted islands, or helping Ivanhoe escape from the dungeon, or travel to the time of Elizabeth I, or have your adventure cross paths with those of your parents when they were children, they are grounded by the realities of life - the prospect of a new stepfather, the illness of a father, the everyday battles between brothers and sisters, the petty squabbles, the trials and unfairness of being the oldest or the youngest or the middle child or the only boy. When I read them now I find myself drawn back into childhood, if only for a moment, the sweetness and innocence of being young again. I would not wish to be back in that time, not for anything, but it is a gentle pleasure to find myself read of others having their own magical adventures in that distant past of youth.

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