When I last visited my family in Michigan, I found that my brother Dan was in possession of the family’s copy of Mostly Magic – or at least what remains of it. Some pages are missing, many pages are covered in crayon art or otherwise defaced, and the cover is barely hanging on. Still, it brought back a lot of happy memories to see it. Well, in an idle moment earlier this week, I suddenly thought of this book and decided to look on E-bay to see whether it might be available. Somewhat to my surprise, a woman in California was offering a copy for sale, and before I knew it, I’d clicked on the necessary buttons to make the purchase. Today, it arrived in my mailbox. In fact, you’re looking at the cover of my copy. It’s in a whole lot better shape than the one I grew up with. While my parents bought the books new, I have no memory of our copy being in this condition. The cover and all 345 pages are intact; it has a tear on one page and a few light crayon marks, but overall, it’s in very pleasing condition.
Out of curiosity, I looked around other web sites to see how commonly available this book is. While I found a few references to it here and there, mostly in people’s blogs, I found only one other copy of it for sale. That copy was being sold along with the other nine volumes as a complete set. So apparently, I was just dumb lucky to be looking for it at a moment when there was one copy up on E-bay. So yay for serendipity!
The book itself has a good deal to recommend it. I’m happy to report that very few of the stories have clear morals; they’re mostly just stories. I remember that, as a child, nothing could turn me off faster than feeling as if I were being taught a lesson under the guise of hearing or reading a story. It gave me the feeling that I was being deceived; that someone was trying to sneak a lesson to me and passing it off as an innocent entertainment. It was as if they didn’t trust me to handle the truth of what the story was about so they pretended it was something else. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way; I think a lot of kids have far keener bullshit detectors than most adults give them credit for.
This book gave me my first exposure to the work of Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. His first two published books are both reprinted in this volume: And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. I can still remember the latter being read to me by my mother. I should also point out that Seuss has been quoted as saying that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off,” though in all fairness, his later work became more overtly moralistic. But I digress.
Leafing through this book here in 2009, the most striking story in it is undoubtedly Little Black Sambo. It’s a story that is often referenced as a relic of a more racist time, though I’m not sure that many people under the age of 40 have ever read it. I won’t go into a lot of detail just now, but I will say this – the illustrations that accompany it are quite possibly more offensive than the story itself. If you’re one of my Chicago friends and want to see it for yourself, just let me know.
The preceding story notwithstanding, there’s a lot more good stuff in this book than I can possibly relate in this post, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this book also gave me some of my first exposure to the poetic form of the limerick – a form I have embraced on many occasions over the years. Several of Edward Lear’s limericks are sprinkled through the pages of Mostly Magic. If the name sounds familiar, he is probably the person most responsible for popularizing the limerick form, though he is best remembered for writing The Owl and the Pussycat, which also appears in Mostly Magic.