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Creator / Edward Eager

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"The best kind of book is a magic book, naturally."
Edward McMakin Eager (1911-1964) was a playwright, lyricist, and the author of seven children's fantasy books.

Eager started writing for children later in life, when he found that some of the books he remembered fondly from his childhood didn't hold up when he tried to interest his own son in reading. While searching for something for his son to read, he discovered the works of E. Nesbit and fell in love with them, considering her the greatest writer for children age nine to twelve. It is almost impossible to discuss Eager's books without mentioning Nesbit, as many of his books can almost be considered unofficial companion pieces to Nesbit's, expanding on and playing with ideas Nesbit introduced. Most of his books contain both a direct Shout-Out to Nesbit by name and a reference to one or more of her books, frequently in the form of having the characters themselves cite her as a favorite author. His books are characterized as low fantasy in which ordinary children in contemporary (well, The Roaring '20s) settings discover a magical item that allows them to have a series of (mis)adventures.

His books include:

  • Half Magic (1954) and Magic by the Lake (1957) star Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha.
  • Knight's Castle (1956) and The Time Garden (1958) star Martha's children Roger and Ann and Katharine's children Eliza and Jack.
  • Magic or Not? (1959) and The Well-Wishers (1960) star Laura, James, Kip, Gordy, Lydia, Dicky, and Deborah.
  • Seven-Day Magic (1962) stars Susan, John, Barnaby, Abbie, and Fredricka. Interestingly, within this book Half Magic appears to be fictional; the characters have read it, and the magic book that allows them to travel into fictional universes takes them to meet one of the minor characters.

Works by Edward Eager with their own page include:

Other works by Edward Eager contain examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Knight's Castle parodies Ivanhoe and E. Nesbit's The Magic City.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Martha and Deborah sometimes annoy their siblings.
  • Army of The Ages: Knight's Castle has a variation: the protagonists, four children, have been shrunk to a tiny size and the world of their toy knight figurines has come alive. They win the day in the end by bringing in one child's collection of toy soldiers, which includes soldiers from several different historical wars
  • Author Appeal: Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers are set in New Canaan, Connecticut, where Eager lived as an adult.
  • Author Catchphrase:
    • He will frequently have a character make a statement, followed by evidence of that statement happening "just to prove it."
    • He also seems to be fond of annoyingly childish adults, who will invariably want to play make-believe type games involving "a dear little fairy" with the various protagonist children.
    • He also likes "s/he said ungrammatically."
  • Big Fancy House: The house they stay at in The Time Garden.
  • Britain Is Only London
  • Cool Big Sis: Jane.
  • Darker and Edgier: While still very much at the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, the books Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers are this relative to the other books. For instance:
    • The plots in these two books deal with more serious subject matter, including racism and a mortgage foreclosure, as opposed to the more fantastic adventures of the other books.
    • Compare the treatment of emerging teenage hormones in The Time Garden as opposed to The Well-Wishers. Jack turns into a moron whenever a teenaged girl shows up, which is Played for Laughs. James, on the other hand, treats teenage romance more seriously, talking about how it is a sign that he and his friends are growing up.
    • The plot of Knight's Castle kicks off when a family vacation is unexpected derailed due to the father's rather serious (though unspecified) illness, which requires emergency hospitalization. It's what goes unsaid that becomes dark, as the children grasp through the conversations the adults are not having with them that their father came very close to death.
  • Crossover: Roger, Anne, and Eliza turn up in Magic By The Lake to help the protagonists (their future family members) get out of a jam. In turn, Jane, Mark, Katharine, and Martha turn up in The Time Garden, showing Roger, Ann, and Eliza's perspective on the same scene.
  • Exact Words: Eliza and Ann wish to look at the Queen of England. They don't say which, and end up meeting Elizabeth I and Victoria. Another time they wish to see their mothers, and are thrown into a scene from Magic by the Lake, where they meet their mothers as children.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: In-universe, the kids in Knight's Castle ship Ivanhoe/Rebecca and Jo/Laurie.
  • Fix Fic: It's evidently not just the kids who have a preference; Knight's Castle has Ivanhoe end up with Rebecca.
  • Generation Xerox: Jane and her niece Eliza are both bossy and stubborn, as Katharine points out.
  • Her Code Name Was "Mary Sue": In Seven-Day Magic, Barnabas, one of several children who happen to check out a magical library book, spends his spare time working on a fantasy story called "Barnabas the Wanderer."
  • House Fey: The Natterjack who is the guardian of the Thyme Garden.
  • Housewife: Martha and Katharine as adults, since they were written in The '50s.
  • Ill-Timed Sneeze: Lampshaded in Magic by the Lake when the children are hiding from pirates. "Katharine, like so many heroines in other stories, chose this time to sneeze."
  • Incredibly Lame Pun:
    • The Magic that takes them back in time in The Time Garden comes from sprigs of Thyme found, guess where?
    • The castle only comes to life at night.
  • In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: In The Time Garden, the children occasionally do this. Though they do wish for some of the things, a lot of meetings are still entirely accidental. For example, at one point they wish to see "the Queen of England" (Elizabeth) and wind up meeting Victoria (who is not amused).
  • Kid from the Future: Roger, Ann, and Eliza, the future children of Katharine and Martha, help rescue their mothers, aunt, and uncle in the past in Magic By The Lake. How they got there is explained in The Time Garden.
  • Lady of Adventure: Jane as an adult. She can't look after her nieces and nephew in Knight's Castle because she's on safari in Africa, and the text implies that she's always doing these sorts of things.
  • Make a Wish: Most of the books revolve around getting around the rules of wish-granting (In Half Magic, the charm only grants half a wish; in Magic By The Lake, wishes are only granted by touching the lakewater, etc.). Occasionally the workaround is unexpected or unintentional: In Magic By The Lake, the children can't figure out how their wish got granted when they didn't touch the lake, until Mark realizes that their clothes are soaked from a storm and that the rain must have contained a good deal of recycled lake water.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • In Half-Magic, the book claims the charm came out of retirement to grant Jane's final wish, but the means by which the wish comes true are heartbreakingly sweet, sad, and ambiguous.
    • In Magic By The Lake, the magic's real throughout, but the children can't decide if the buried treasure they find was caused by their wishes or if it was always there.
    • In Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers, the main characters never find out if the wishing well was really magic or if everything that happened was just coincidence.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Katharine complains that Jane is the eldest, Martha is the baby, and Mark has his own status as the only boy, leaving her stranded in the middle.
  • Numerological Motif: The talisman in Half Magic works by halves. The book in Seven-Day Magic lasts seven days. The castle in Knight's Castle comes to life every three nights.
  • Overnight Age-Up: In Magic by the Lake, Jane and Katharine are turned sixteen for a night.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Queen Elizabeth and the Southern Belle in the illustrations for The Time Garden.
  • Public Domain Character:
    • In Half Magic, the children are whisked into the time of King Arthur.
    • Characters from Ivanhoe appear in Knight's Castle, and Jo, Meg, and Laurie appear in The Time Garden.
    • Seven-Day Magic does this a lot too; the characters meet a man that they believe will go on to become the Wizard of Oz, and there's a chapter where they find themselves in a scene that's deliberately very similar to Little House on the Prairie.
  • Reality-Writing Book: In Seven-Day Magic, the children find a magic book that not only lets them wish themselves into other books, but also records everything that happens to them as it happens. And whenever anyone else picks it up, it appears as whatever book they would most like to read.
  • Recursive Canon: The magic book in Seven-Day Magic actually is Seven-Day Magic. It transcribes everything the characters say and do as it happens.
  • The Roaring '20s: Half Magic and Magic by the Lake are set in 1924, though the year doesn't have a lot to do with the plot (save for a particular scene in which Martha keeps bothering her siblings by asking them to read the captions on a silent movie, which inadvertently causes her wish).
  • Samus Is a Girl: Katharine gets so angry with Sir Lancelot that she wishes herself bigger, stronger, and more skillful than he in order to humiliate him in battle. Unfortunately, she forgets about wishing herself not to be a nine-year-old little girl anymore, resulting in mayhem when she pulls off her helm.
  • Scatting: In Seven-Day Magic, the father of the protagonists works as a backup singer, and it's because he's short not because he doesn't sing well enough for a star. So the kids make a wish that he'll be noticed during a TV show... and all the other music falls silent, leaving the father's voice to ring out, singing the lines that the backups had been scatting: "Chickadee tidbit, chickadee tidbit, skedaddle skedaddle pow!" It's a sensation, of a sort: the newspapers rave about what a novel comedy idea that was, and how "the look of surprise on the little man's face was priceless." And he gets an offer to sing "piccalilli kumquat, piccalilli kumquat," which he turns down; but it comes out all right in the end.
  • Shout-Out: The children frequently reference their favorite books, especially in Seven-Day Magic. In Half Magic, the story begins with the children falling in love with the works of E. Nesbit and reference several of her stories.
  • Spin-Offspring: Roger and Ann and their cousins, Eliza and Jack, are this, since they are the children of Martha and Katharine from Half Magic.
  • Strictly Formula:
    • In all of the books except Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers. The kids all go on various fantastic adventures, but there is one point in each book where they use the magic to help their parents out with real-world problems.
    • Additionally, the above-mentioned books also have a point where at least one of the characters breaks the rules of the magic (or contemplates doing so), resulting in adverse consequences.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: When wishing the children home, Merlin specifies that they should have been gone no longer than two minutes in their own time, meaning they come back one minute after they disappeared, "but that minute was packed with memories."