'The real magic is imagination.'
Really twice magic?
Cressida Cowell was already a phenomenon, who enticed countless children into reading, and kept them reading, with her enormously entertaining How to Train Your Dragon series*. Then, last year she struck pure children's literature gold with The Wizards of Once. If ever a book were deservedly destined to joint the ranks of great children's classics, and delight generations now and to come, this is such a one. (See my review from September 2017.)
The question was could she perform the same magic twice?
Of course, being the writer and artist she is, the answer is a resounding yes. Inevitably, revisiting the same characters and world, this sequel cannot have the original total freshness of the first in the series. However, this is a world and characters well worth revisiting, and they come back alive here just as captivatingly as they did before. Once again the adventure rollicks along, with a clever mixture of thrills and laughs at every turn. The pervasive humour can be witty or farcical and is, as ever, hugely enhanced by the author's copious, anarchic illustrations. Her sketchy drawings, inky doodles and scrawled annotations, so attractive and entertaining to her young audience, hide great artistic skill and sensitivity behind their apparent casualness.
Deeper magic yet
Yet her characters have some real depth too, and engender emotional empathy as well as providing vicarious experience of magical power and derring do. What child does not want literally to fly off on the door of their former 'punishment cupboard'? Although providing villains aplenty, the plot too has more to it than simple good v evil, and its themes will make its young readers think, even amidst their guffaws, yelps and cheers.
In fact, one of Cressida Cowell's great gifts to all of us who wish to promote children reading is that through enticing humour and excitement she leads young readers subtly towards the world of literature and fine writing. With its 'unknown narrator', changing perspectives, and relatively involved, extended plot, Twice Magic is actually a fairly sophisticated novel, introducing literary conventions with which children can begin to become accustomed whilst hardly realising it. It is fine writing in jesters clothing, a treasure hoard that will buy yet more riches into the future.
More than anything though, Cressida Cowell's greatest gift of all is that of imagination; imagination in spades; imagination that engenders imagination.
'The real magic is imagination', she herself writes, and this magical imagination is Cressida Cowell's.
It is book that will truly help children to 'keep hoping, keep guessing, keep dreaming'.
The closing poem on page 386 says all. Every parent and teacher should stick it to their fridge door - and perhaps take its message to heart.
'I am young, I am poor, I can offer you nothing,
All that I have is this bright pair of wings
This air that I eat, these winds that I sleep on,
This star path I dance in, where the moon sings . . . '
Once. Twice. Magic.
*And continues to do so.