Just magic

When I was 12, I had one of the best presents ever. The daughter of a friend of my Mum's was throwing away all her childhood books, my Mum rescued them and presented them to me. As well as a plethora of Pullein-Thompson pony books, which I never got into, there were some real gems. I discovered The Chalet School in exile and subsequently read most of the Chalet School books; there were some lovely books about ballet - I've been a bit of a ballet fan ever since, and there was Paul Gallico's The man who was magic, which remained a favourite book till well into my twenties.

I don't think you could describe it as a children's book exactly, but it would probably fit quite nicely into a young adult niche. It's a long time since I last read it, but noticing it sitting on a shelf the other day, I was drawn to it again. And found that I still loved it. It's one of those books that's quite hard to describe.

The basic storyline is simple - a young man, Adam, with his talking dog, Mopsy, arrives at Mageia, the city of magicians, to compete for a place within its prestigious magicians' guild. There's just one problem - Adam isn't a conjurer, he's a real magician, he truly is magic. The short novel follows his impact on good-hearted and unhappy Jane, and the hapless magician Ninian the Nonpareil; and the chaos that ensues when the people of Mageia begin to fear the magic that's in their midst.

Undoubtedly it's an allegory of part of the life of Christ, and sometimes the allegorical references are laid on a little heavy-handedly; but I don't think that the Christianity that lies behind the book should necessarily put a non-Christian off reading it. At the heart of the novel are many themes that remain relevant today whether you are religious or not - the place of the outsider, how a crowd of people can be whipped into xenophobia and paranoia, and the corrosive effects of greed and jealousy. There's much goodness in the book too - friendship, love, tolerance for those who are different, and the power of imagination. Not just an imagination that can tell a story either, but that type of scientific imagination that can see a problem and look at a way to unravel it.

It's a beautifully written tale. And I feel that my review here doesn't really do it justice - it tells you what the story's like, but it's one of those books that can only truly be experienced by reading it yourself. Part of the power of the book can be seen by looking at Goodreads, where the novel was rated 4 stars or higher by 80% of its reviewers. Any dedicated reader will easily get through the book in a day or two (a couple of hours if you've managed to lock yourself away!), and it's worth dedicating a bit of your time to the delightful The man who was magic.


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