One thing I always used to like about these books as a child, and still do, was that the protagonists hardly ever believed in magic. They knew magic is something that only happens in stories and somehow that made it more believable and therefore more likely to happen to me.
“I Sherlock Holmsed the rest”
Another way Half Magic is made more believable is when the characters talk about other books, such as The Enhanted Castle by E. Nesbit, or Alice in Wonderland and the red queen, it somehow makes it feel less like a story, or at least a story that is taking place in your world rather than some far away place.
The book follows four children Jane, Mark, Katharine and Martha when they find a magic charm on the pavement. At first their wishes all seem to go wrong, as they can’t figure out how it works – as the title would suggest, the charm gives you half of whatever you wish for, so to get your entire wish, you have to wish it doubly so.
“I wish that Carrie the cat may in future say nothing but the word music”
On accidentally wishing that the cat could talk – and then finding out it could now half talk – they attempt to get her to “mew” again, but instead the poor cat ends up saying “sic” instead.
When I was younger, I could never properly understand the two times wishing that the children did, because as they mention; it is maths and I was never any good at maths, so could never understand what I would have to wish for to get exactly what I wanted if the charm ever came to me, something which may have put me off this book when I was first read it.
“People always wish those in stories, and it never works out at all! They either fly to close to the sun and get burned, or end up crushed under all the money!”
The children in Half Magic are very practical, and as they have read many stories about magic wishes – as all children have of course – they know not to wish for money or flying or world peace because wishes have a habit of not happening exactly the way you want.
The children do wish for the general sorts of things you may find in a story about magic. They travel back in time to King Arthur, and on making wishes they learn they have to be careful because their wishes can have repurcussions – such as Katharine wishing she were fighting in a joust, but not wishing she knew how to joust.
“It was like a story she had read somewhere and half forgotten.”
Having a charm that grants you half your wishes may seem easy, but as all the children find out, people wish things they don’t really mean, whether it’s that you could forget about something or wishing you weren’t there as Martha does at the cinema.
The children’s mother also accidentally makes a wish, and finds herself halfway home, but as she is a grown-up she does not understand that what happened was magic and instead thinks she must have fainted, she gets taken home by a kindly gentleman, who we later learn is called Mr. Smith – Jane does not like Mr. Smith at first, because she is the only one of the children who can remember their father and does not want him to be replaced.
Jane wishes she were part of another family, but finds her new family is nowhere near as fun as the old one, so she is rescued and restored to her rightful family by Mr. Smith, then she accepts him.
“Naturally you have to believe in magic – otherwise if it starts happening to you all sanity is despaired of!”
The story ends with a happy ending though I won’t say what – and the charm stops working for them as it has done what it came to do, they give it to another little girl, but don’t tell her you have to wish for things twice as much, because they think that is something you are supposed to figure out for yourself.
While I am sure this was not my favourite book I was read as a child – probably because of the maths -, it was one of the ones I remembered the most the image of a cat destined to say “sic” forever never failed to amuse me at six. Now I have read it again for myself, I think despite the fact it’s a children’s story about magic – as so many children’s books are – Edward Eager’s writing makes it very believable and therefore much more likely to happen to you, if you believe in magic.