The Time Garden for Timeslip Tuesday

Time somehow got away from me last week, and there was no Timeslip Tuesday. But I am back again today, with the book that I am currently reading to my eight-year old--The Time Garden, by Edward Eager (1958, 188pp in the edition I have).

According to the wikipedia article on Eager that I just linked to, he made "a distinct contribution to children's literature by introducing a theme of magic into the lives of ordinary children." Ordinary American middle class, not at all well of financially, children, who almost universally love the books of E. Nesbit. His best known book is probably Half Magic (1954), but two of my favorites are Knight's Castle, and The Time Garden, that tell of the adventures that happened to the children of the children in Half Magic.

In The Time Garden, Roger, Ann, Eliza and Jack have been dumped by their parents at an old seaside house in Massachusetts. There they discover a very old, magical toad, who dwells in a garden of flowering thyme at the edge of the ocean. All his magic has gone into the ground, so the thyme itself has become magical--a magic of time travelling. Transported back in time, the children raise the alarm when the British are coming in the Revolutionary War, help slaves escape on the Underground Railroad, visit Jo March and sisters, and the court of Queen Elizabeth. They also, most magically of all, travel back in time to one of the magical adventures of their own parents (I get a kick out of self-referentiality in books).

Eager, as a writer, allows himself to stray right to the edge of farce. The language and the situations are almost tongue in check. I think, though, that the delight he himself is getting from his writing, a delight that is shared by the reader (ie me, and presumably other Eager fans). I think his books are funny. He also creates great kids--girls that are daring, girls that are afraid, but brave enough to go through with things anyway, and boys that have thoughtful sides. (Except Jack, who is the oldest, and who has begun to notice Girls). And although there are, of course, no cell phones, and such like, the people, places, and situations do not feel especially dated.

Timeslip-wise, the magic is unworrying to the reader (that is, it is not explained so much as to become strained), although the children do their share of worrying about their effect on the past. This is, as far as I know, the only timeslip book whose catalyst is a magical toad.

My only faint criticism of Edward Eager is that his chapters are too long. I suggest the audio versions.


  1. I'm a fan of Edward Eager too, but for some reason I only read this book once. One thing that I remember clearly though was my dissatisfaction that the kids meet Jo and Meg March, and not Louisa and Anna Alcott. Cheating! Also I never minded that Amy marries Lawrie, so it was also irritating that they didn't get to meet Amy/May because of that.
    On a similar note, I stopped reading the Pulitzer Prize winning March when I came to a scene with either Emerson or Thoreau (I forget which!) because it just seemed wrong that these real life people were meeting a character named March when they actually knew Bronson Alcott. It would have been acceptable had LMA actually mentioned them by name in Little Women, but of course she didn't. The March author had set herself the challenge of writing within the world of the novel, and then broke the rules almost immediately.

  2. I need to reread The Time Garden. I bought the whole set at Half Price Books a few years ago, reread Half Magic, and then strayed. Emily, that is a good point about the characters meeting other fictitious characters rather than the historical ones. It would have been good had Eager chosen all historical figures or all fictitious ones.

    When I was reading the Penderwick books, I kept thinking of the characters in Eager's books. The writing style is quite similar, I think, as well as the ways the siblings relate to each other-- but I reserve the right to retract this statement after rereading them, as it has been awhile.

  3. Hi Emily and Alelda,

    Thanks for your comments!

    I myself am not so bothered by the meeting with the March girls. In part, this is because Eager (in my mind) successfully blurs fiction and fact, as part of his "let's have fun with this" attitude, which I think comes through most storngly when the children meet their own parents. He constantly is pushing at the limits of what is "real"--by which I mean, what is believable within the context of the story. Meeting the March girls is no less fantastic than the adventure with the Redcoats, for instance. All his pasts are imagined, and I would not use this book to teach history with!

    Eager, as a writer, is constantly referencing other stories, and casting his characters in them, that it didn't bother me when they visited the Little Women, rather than the Alcotts. Oher examples are the Ivanhoe story in Knight's Castle, and the visit to King Arthur's court in Half Magic. It is just part of what he does.

    I like Amy best, btw.

    Alkelda, that is an interesting point about the Penderwicks. I kind of see what you mean, but am not coming up with useful words to describe it. Could it be, simply, the enjoyement that both authors are taking in their creation that makes them have a similar feel?

  4. I read this book as a kid (way back before there were cell phones) and I didn't think the chapters were too long at all!

    Nice to see that it's still being read.


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