© Zilpha Keatley Snyder.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder began writing novels for children in the early 1960s, and I began reading and enjoying them soon after. Many of her books are fantasies to various degrees, though some are just good stories with no fantasy elements at all. This new one uses the fantasy element of a magic pen with unknown powers that the protagonist, Audrey Abbot, must figure out by trial and error. Audrey has parents with problems: her father has a serious heart condition that keeps him home and often in bed, and her mother works at a job with a domineering and hateful boss. Audrey herself is a loner who likes to read, and secretly to write stories. When she is given the bronze pen by a mysterious old woman in a cave near her home, she soon finds that when she writes with it, very unusual things happen.
I’ve enjoyed dozens of books by Snyder, but I have to say this is not one of her better efforts. I found it frustrating that Audrey had such a hard time understanding the magic nature of the pen, even when her new friend Lizzie seemed to get it almost right away. Audrey keeps on experimenting, but never quite believes the results, and ignores the advice of her friend, and the old woman who gave her the pen. When I compare this story with some of my favorites using a similar theme, like “Half-Magic” by Edward Eager, or “The Enchanted Castle” by E. Nesbit, Audrey comes up very short. Only at the end does she finally seem to understand and use the pen as it was intended, and then in a fit of anger, throws it away because the result she wanted doesn’t come immediately.
Snyder’s prose makes for a good reading experience, but the plot does not, unfortunately. For a better time, I’d recommend her third book, “Black and Blue Magic” about a boy who discovers he can fly, but only if he works really hard at it, or “The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case,” an entertaining family mystery story. This one is for Snyder completists only, in my opinion.