13 November 2010

Correction: When Edward Met Edith

Months back, I wrote an analysis of how Edward Eager’s 1954 fantasy Half Magic addressed history—in its setting in the past, in its depiction of change over time, and in its explicit allusions to E. Nesbit’s novels from decades earlier. I wrote that Eager set Half Magic around the period when he had first read Nesbit.

Fellow Oz fan and scholar Dee Michel recommended that I read Eager’s thoughts on the Oz series in his 1948 Horn Book essay “A Minority Report,” and in doing so I came across evidence that my supposition about Eager’s childhood reading was wrong.

Eager didn’t read Nesbit’s books as a child. He discovered them as a young father in the 1940s, and in this essay he thanked the “learned ladies” of the American children’s book establishment for cluing him in. Those ladies included Anne Eaton, Anne Carroll Moore, “Mrs. Becker, Miss [Bertha E.] Mahony and the rest.”

Their praise for Nesbit’s books sent Eager “vainly chasing through New York’s thrift shops and secondhand bookstores.” The books had gone out of print in America, and their owners apparently still treasured their old copies. By great pre-Amazonian effort Eager found enough to declare Nesbit’s “magnificent works” to be “the best children’s books, I am quite sure, in the world!”

An editorial note with Eager’s essay in the 1959 Horn Book Sampler says that Coward-McCann had reprinted Nesbit’s novels in the US only the year before. By then, Eager had made his own name in children’s books.

So my original argument stands: that Eager set Half Magic in the period of his own childhood, and that the book comments in part on that period and historic change. But Eager didn’t choose that setting because it reminded him of first reading Nesbit.

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