Once upon a time there was a little girl and she loved reading. She loved reading so much she read in the dark too often, and ended up having to wear glasses. But one particular time she had to wait: for a story whose arrival each evening was also the stuff of magic.
Mr Friend Mr Leakey is a book about a man who just happens to be a magician. Part of the wonder of the book is how perfectly the everyday and the magical are mixed. The narrator joins him for dinner, during which time many unusual things happen:
– the wallpaper pictures ‘move on’ over the course of dinner
– the salt is spilled and the little cow salt seller comes over and cleans it up
– perhaps best of all, the magician’s pet dragon comes out and prepares the fish course by cooking the fish on his red hot paws.
A child’s world is a mixture of the everyday and magic, all rolled into one, so the book made great sense. As much as also wishing that I had my own little dragon, a magic carpet, and the other amazing things that Mr Leakey has.
The further magic for me was my father reading it to me. It is not a long book, but I think he must have split up the chapters a bit more to make it easier to read at bedtime.
But here is where the magic got especially good: the book was put away at the end of the night. When I looked for it there the next day, it wasn’t there. Or where it was before that.
Every day, story time came round, and my father would ‘find’ the book in a completely new place, with me watching, and settle down to read. It was extra exciting because of that little bit of showmanship – no doubt suggesting that magic itself cannot always be searched for, but will be found at the right time.
I later found out that the book moving trick was one that my grandfather had done for my father, and he in turn did it for me.
I was determined to give a copy of the book to a young friend and booklover (and did in time, along with other key reads I had come across in my childhood). And I am reserving the right to move the book myself for my own small audience, whom (I predict) will be just as enthralled by the stories as I was.
There is something of this story that is about deferred gratification. I still think that books are something to dive into, something to savour. But I can see that, sometimes, the waiting makes the story even better.
For those interested, the book is by J. B. S. Haldane. It is still in print, and now illustrated by Quentin Blake, a fine maker of visual magic in his own right. But for the visual impact of the original, look on Amazon to see the one illustrated by L. H. Rosoman.
You will find Mr Leakey on the cover, along with the little dragon Pompey, and two other key characters. I will not tell you more about them, in the hope that you will be spurred on to discover the magic for yourself. After all, I can show you where I put it today: tomorrow I will need to find it in a new place.