14 March 2020

The Magic Wand of Tudor Jenks

I’ve been enjoying the Magic Wand book set by Tudor Jenks, published in 1905.

This collection of modern fairy tales first came to my attention because the volumes were illustrated by John R. Neill in between his work on L. Frank Baum’s Marvelous Land of Oz and John Dough and the Cherub. His style is immediately and delightfully recognizable.

Tudor Jenks was Baum’s near contemporary, born in 1857 and dying in 1922. He was a child of New York City rather than Syracuse, however, and he enjoyed the benefits of Yale College and Columbia Law School.

Jenks started a career in the law, interrupted that to spend fifteen years as an associate editor of St. Nicholas Magazine, and then went back to the law. But he continued to churn out books for young people, mostly nonfiction.

It was shortly after stepping away from the editorial desk that Jenks wrote the Magic Wand series for the Henry Altemus Company. The series consists of six short books about magic:
Each volume is a little over 100 pages long, printed in black and red, with many simple line drawings by Neill. None appears to have been in print for a very long time, but I’ve linked to scans of them all.

The stories are all independent. Some are set in what seems like modern America with a touch of magic. Others take place in countries with kings, queens, dragons, fairies, witches, and similar elements of European fairy tales—but also party line telephones, bicycles, and corporations that offer princess-rescuing services.

The tales show lots of fondness for traditional fairy stories but not too much reverence. They remind me of E. Nesbit’s “The Deliverers of Their Country,” George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, and some of Baum’s American Fairy Tales from the same years.

The plots can be perfunctory, possibly cut off once word or page counts had been achieved. Jenks had what feels to me like a lazy habit of naming his characters after roles from Shakespeare or everyday objects, as in Duchess Darningneedle or the pony Gallopoff. But his narrative voice is charming.

It’s also striking how often Jenks tells stories from an adult’s point of view, even though the protagonists are almost always children or teens. The result is a series of magical tales that kids of 1905 might well have enjoyed but that really reflect the sensibility of adults who would rather not be working office jobs.

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