As much as I liked the Edward Eager books as a child, if I had to pick my least favourite, this would be it. I’m still not entirely sure why I like it less than his other books, maybe it had something to do with the fact it’s a historic adventure so I felt as if I were being taught things while reading it. The book is a lot better than I remember though, it follows Martha’s children from Half Magic – Roger and Ann, who have to stay with their cousins, Jack and Eliza for the summer.
Roger takes an old toy soldier with him, which comes to life and once every three days they shrink down to the size of the toy soldiers who have now come to life; so the children can help the knights win the battle of Torquilstone from the book Ivanhoe – the game they were playing before the magic happened. A little knowledge of the book Ivanhoe (knowledge which I don’t have) is useful at the beginning of the book, the fact I had no knowledge of the battle may have been what put me off paying attention at the age of six.
Katharine from Half Magic is also in the book, although grown-up, as she is Jack and Eliza’s mother, while I quite like that the other book is mentioned and we get to see how the four children from Half Magic turned out, it did annoy me as a child as it made it seem this was a particularly magic family, they had all the magic adventures, while my family never would.
“After all, every magic adventure he’d ever read had turned out fine for the hero in the end.”
So Roger is at first the only one who takes part in the magic, and while a lot is made of the way they talk – they say “thou” a lot, they are knights after all – they aren’t talking in old English. It upsets the linguist in me, I didn’t have all those boring lectures at university about the History of English only to be told it’s exactly like ours with more “thou’s”. This only annoys me as an adult though, I did not know any Old English as a child, so was perfectly prepared to believe this was it.
Anyway, if the toy soldiers really did speak in proper Old English, they would be impossible to understand and they are toys after all, I suppose they speak however their owners want them to speak.
The next day, Ann and Eliza decide to build a Magic City around the toy castle as they have been reading The Magic City by E. Nesbit. They decorate it with whatever they find around the house. This means the knights become modernised. They drive around in cars instead of horses, and everyone seems to have forgotten about the siege of the castle in favour of reading science fiction books instead.
It is very interesting to see how the various things change from when they are under the influence of magic and when they aren’t. Such as the moon, which turns out to be the lightbulb and the Giant’s Lair a dollhouse.
“Once you’re friends with people, it’s surprising how much you can find to do with them, even without magic to light the way.”
The knights seem convinced that the children come from Elfland and are therefore magic themselves, the knights are not aware they are the magic, unless someone shouts the Words of Power. The Words of Power cause the magic to stop and for the toys to all go back to being toys.
While I won’t mention the ending, or how the battle of Torquilstone is finally won, as it is better than I remembered and more likely to make sense if it’s read rather than described, I will say I am glad I read it again. It’s still my least favourite of the Edward Eager books, but probably one of my favourite books, whether it’s for children or not.