Jane Yolen,
Touch Magic:
Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore
in the Literature of Childhood

(August House, 2000)

Touch Magic, Jane Yolen's slender but substantial collection of essays on folklore and fairy tales, was originally published in 1981 and quickly became a staple of folklore literature. The clear and cogent essays inspired countless writers, storytellers and artists as the imperative phrases "Touch magic. Pass it on." became watchwords.

Incredibly, the book went out of print; I think the copy that sits on my shelf and is never loaned out is likely from the last print run. But this year, nearly 20 years after its initial publication, Touch Magic is available once more in a revised and expanded edition. Those responsible for the book's renaissance are the folks at August House, a publishing company already a well known presence in the folklore and storytelling community, and they deserve high praise for reprinting it.

Yolen's voice is just as lively today as it was when the book was first published, and while the reader will see that she has updated some of the material (e.g., references to Hercules and Xena), she incorporates the material seamlessly into the existing essays. The focus of each essay varies, from the importance of introducing mythology to children ("How Basic is Shazam") to the delicate balance between narrative and illustration ("The Eye and the Ear") to the transforming power of story and beyond ("Touch Magic"), but the underlying message is constant: a powerful sense of story is the foundation of a well-developed life. Each essay inspires and awakens the creative spirit, and each is worth reading again and again.

There's more good news. Not only is the book back in print, but there are six new essays in the final section called "Touchstones." "Story in Ten First" tells very clearly and firmly just what story is not. "Touchstones" looks at some of the touchstone titles of children's literature against which others are measured. "Fabling to the Near Night" explores the cultural baggage inherent in some of the best-loved classics and "Killing the Other" looks beneath the surface of popular and ostensibly harmless folk tales.

"An Experiential Act" examines time travel in children's literature as a way to make history immediate, using, among other examples, her own excellent novel The Devil's Arithmetic. The final essay, "Throwing Shadows," is a musing on metaphor as an integral part of human existence.

Yolen's writing is lucid and compelling as she makes a strong and undeniable case for continuing to perpetuate folk tales, fairy tales and preserve our sense of story -- thus keeping magic alive in the world. Thanks to August House, even more people will be touching magic and passing it on.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Touch Magic from Amazon.com.