Recently, perhaps because of my Jezebel stint, I received an e-mail from someone who had a personal connection to Edward Eager, one of my all-time favorite writers. This prompted me to go in search of The Time Garden, but I couldn’t find it, so I settled on The Well-Wishers, an atypical Eager, in that the magic may or not be “real” magic. It also has one of the better integration stories of the era, one handled with great subtlety. Eager never says that the new family in the neighborhood, one whose presence is opposed by the “Smugs,” is black. Instead, when we first see them, a child says: “Oh is THAT all it was? . . . Why how perfectly silly!”
But one of the great grace notes of The Well-Wishers is that the family’s problems aren’t solved that easily. Their son, Hannibal, has an especially bad time at school, taunted in a particularly believable way. (The other children call him Annabelle.)
Eventually, Hannibal finds his way to the maybe-magic, maybe-not wishing well. The story is related by Dicky LeBaron (yet another boy in my pantheon of kid-lit crushes, a reformed delinquent).
“Slowly and with dragging feet Hannibal came through the gate and up to the well. He looked at it, and then he leaned over and stared down and muttered something. I don’t think he meant us to hear what he said.
But I did hear.
What he said was, ‘I wish I were like other people.’”
Look, even tough-guy Dicky LeBaron gets choked up at this moment, so I am not embarrassed to confess that I do, too. And Hannibal’s problems end up working out. Again, it’s not clear if it’s magic or just good sense coming to the fore, but he settles in, makes friends.
My sense was that Eager had died in the early ’60s, so I went to check the copyright on this book, one that has been withdrawn from the county library system and resold. The title page seemed to be sticking to another page and I forced it. And there, in red ink, I found this scrawl: “To a good sport, Edward Eager.” It seems odd that a library book would have been signed, and there’s a possibility it’s someone horsing around. But I tend to fall in line with those who think the well is, in fact, magic, so how can I not believe the book was signed by Eager?