Brad's Reviews > The Magic Shop

The Magic Shop by H.G. Wells
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's review
Jun 25, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: short-story, to-my-kids, urban-fantasy
Read in June, 2009

One of my favourite manifestations of the children's book is the turning of classic stories -- either short stories or fables -- into picture books. The marriage of artists to established stories is often inspired and/or illuminating (play on words fully intended since these books truly are modern illuminations of classic works).

François Roca's illustrations for H.G. Wells' The Magic Shop don't unlock anything new in the story, but they do a wonderful job of capturing the moods of Wells' story.

The mood of imagined danger -- particularly when it comes to the safety of one's children -- has always permeated the minds of paranoid urban dwellers from Victorian London to modern day New York and all other cities in between. And this perceived danger is at the heart of the tale.

A father and son stumble upon the Magic Shop in the middle of London, and a Magician with lop-sided ears carries them innocently through a magical world of fun-house mirrors, glass balls, animated tin/lead soldiers, enchanted toy swords and decks of cards full of powerful manifestations.

There really is nothing to be afraid of, but when Gip drops his father's finger and takes up the Magician's, the father is suddenly overwhelmed by fear for the safety of his son, a fear that is motivated by jealousy because someone other than himself has captured his boy's attention.

It is an amazing insight into the depth of our fear for our children, which is often and increasingly unrealistic. Certainly there are those few out there who are dangerous to our children, but we seem to be insulating our children more and more, so that even those who would never hurt our children are being shut out and held at bay. This need to protect is at the core of what it is to be a parent, but perhaps we take things too far. We love our children as ferociously as we do tenderly, and even perceived dangers, when there is really no danger at all, fill us with fear and loathing and a need to act (or react) violently. But Wells might have been suggesting, all those years ago, that this need to protect -- or rather our tendency to overprotect -- shuts something off between our children and ourselves.

There is no violence in The Magic Shop because there was no danger other than a son finding something to love that is all his, but there is a sadness when the book comes to a close. The father, you see, wants to kiss his son when they climb in the hansom cab and start their journey home, but he is stopped from engaging in this asexual intimacy by what society makes of his gender and his gender's engagement with intimacy. And so his son, the boy who has just lost interest in him for the first time, who has just found his first interest beyond his parent, is pushed one step further away rather than drawn closer by an embrace or a kiss that could have acted as a simple validation of the boy's inevitable independence.

Their distance is complete and the magic of the city, the truest black magic of all of our cities, the alienation of being surrounded by people, ensures that their relationship will never be the same. And that, my friends, is the saddest thing of all.

François Roca's final panel captures this sad moment beautifully. The father stands outside the cracked door of his son's room, peeking in to catch the son playing with the magical tin/lead soldiers he brought back from the shop (he claims he does this to see if they really do come alive). But the son is nowhere to be seen. Only the soldiers in their military ranks are in that room, standing still and steadfast, while the father holds himself at remove, spying, hiding behind a barrier he himself imposes, wishing he could return to the world of his child, but shutting himself off as he has been trained to do.

Roca's art didn't add anything new to The Magic Shop -- that is true -- but he captured what is in The Magic Shop with the precision and insight that excellent artists always seem to manage.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Sandi (new)

Sandi I had no idea H.G. Wells had written anything like this. I know him for The War of the Worlds, The Food of the Gods, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Time Machine; all of which I've read and loved.

Brad It is a very cool short story. If you can get it, Sandi, I am sure you will like it.

Helen (Helena/Nell) I must get hold of this! I don't know it.... Nell

Brad I'm glad to be the gateway on this book/story. It's really quite good.

Helen (Helena/Nell) I'll let you know. I've ordered a copy!

Brad Uh-oh. Now there's pressure. I hope you like it.

message 7: by Sandi (new)

Sandi This story is part of a collection of short stories by H.G. Wells that's available at my library.

message 8: by Brad (last edited Jun 26, 2009 06:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Brad Even without the fine illustrations by Roca, this is still a fascinating story. Unlike most of what we think of when we think of Wells.

message 9: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie I like your review, and I particularly like your very insightful comments about parenting these days, Brad.

As Sandi says, there is a collection (of 84) stories by H.G. Wells at our library, and there is a separate book called "The Magic Shop" by H.G. Wells, but it also names a Denise Little...I suppose, like some fairy tales, there are a number of versions of the original story? Anyway, I assume that I should request both. As you say, one doesn't usually think of Wells as a writer of short stories. Thanks! :)

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