I think it started with Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote the first book in the Modern Magic series published by Charles Hill in 1910. He had just finished a book called W.P.C. which told a fantastic narrative of magic that involved spells and spells and spell-casting—a lot of magic with people that were not just talking but who were really doing, I think, in one sense quite human, in one sense quite extraordinary magic.
The thing that Lutwidge Dodgson really did on his own was to take the common theme of magic—the use of words and magic and the magic that is conveyed to people—and transform it into something that had greater relevance to the time. And what happened, I think, was that people used that to their advantage. It would be wonderful if you could say, “This is what a human magician does, let’s put that in a way that we can understand.”
I know that the British version of Dicastery was published in the late 1950s in Paris. It is not a book designed for children. One of the authors, Laurence Bancroft, said it would be a children’s book, to which the French publisher said no. And the publisher was very upset because he did not understand that. But as it happens they were right, as the story became more important.
After the publication of Modern Magic, which introduced magic to children, I think that it was one of the first modern novels to be adapted for children—at least those that actually appeared in the United States, because Modern Magic in North America was published by a subsidiary of the American children’s publisher Charles Scribner.
Modern Magic was translated into French, then into German and Polish. When Modern Magic was adapted into a movie version in 1968 by John Frankenheimer and David Siegel, it got a lot of good reviews, but it was seen as a very adult film at that point. When Modern Magic was reissued in a different version for the UK in 1974 under the title The Modern Magic Adventure Storybook, children liked it very much.
My own book was published in the 1980s in Poland, and the children loved it. I had a very difficult time selling it to the British publishing house because I didn’t think it was suitable for children. But, of course, I knew that the British children’s market was much more sophisticated. So, the book had an enormous response both within Poland and abroad.
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