The second of Edward Eager’s seven novels for children now called his “Magic Tales” takes place in the present day of 1956, when it was written. There are again four children, but different ones, who are themselves the children of the two of the quartet from the first book, Half Magic. Roger and Ann are looking forward to vacation adventures in the country, but when their father becomes ill and must have an operation in Baltimore, MD, those plans change. Instead they go to stay in Baltimore with their Aunt Katherine and her family while their mother, Martha, spends time in the hospital with their father. Their cousins Eliza and Jack welcome them…well, Eliza does, Jack seems more interested in photography. Roger has brougnt with him some of his collection of lead soldiers to play with, and he and Ann are delighted to discover that a soldier-size medieval castle is one of the toys in their new playroom, along with a dollhouse for Ann, though Eliza treats the idea of playing with dolls with scorn.
Roger’s oldest lead soldier is very old indeed, handed down from father to son in the family for generations. On their way to Baltimore by train, Roger is startled when the figure comes to life and begins to talk to him. The Old One, as Roger calls him, is a magical soldier, and the promise of magical adventures in the near future makes Roger’s sadness about his father easier to bear.
Sure enough, after falling asleep in the room with the toy castle, Roger wakes to find it life size (or himself shrunk) and an exciting adventure begins. But as often happens with magic, things keep going wrong, and once the other children join in on later evenings, everything gets confused and modern instead of medieval. Jack is not a believer at first, but finally gets to join in, as the children become part of the story of Ivanhoe and Robin Hood and other characters, sometimes saving the day, sometimes getting into trouble of various kinds.
This is just as much fun as the first book, though the magic is a bit less defined and predictable. Perhaps that’s for the best, as the story itself becomes less predictable. The book is also in the spirit of E. Nesbit, particularly her book The Magic City. As before, the adventures are exciting, but also sometimes funny, an appealing combination. Recommended.