In folk tales, thousands of objects possess magical properties. Aladdin's lamp brought forth a genie, Cinderella's slipper elevated her from a chimney corner to a castle. There have been enchanted balls, boots and beanstalks, pebbles, pasta and purses.
Two charmed objects are topics of new picture books illustrated by Margot Zemach during the past year - a mirror and an umbrella. Mirrors have always been magical, with qualities to warn the witch-queen about Sleeping Beauty or for playing a trick on a gullible dog in a fable.Even though the umbrella is a traditional royal object, it took a commoner like Mary Poppins to make it magic.
In each of these two stories, "The Chinese Mirror" and "The Enchanted Umbrella," the magic object plays out its part and one is destroyed - the magic living on as a reminder of wonder.
In "The Chinese Mirror," a man brings a tiny mirror from China, and it smiles at him. When his spying wife sees his pleasure she looks in the mirror and discovers a lovely young lady. Thinking he has hidden a lover, she tells her mother-in-law (who sees an old crone) and she tells her husband (who sees an old man) and on and on.
The mirror is eventually smashed by an indignant passerby, and each of those who saw a different image remains at a loss to the real visage it reflected.
"The Chinese Mirror" is a delightful story, cumulative and cyclic. The naive and gullible characters give it a story-telling quality, and it is evident that this story, passed from generation to generation, has delighted many listeners on the way.
Zemach studied Korean artists and their prints to develop the splashy pieces representative of the gestures and costuming of this culture. In reality the story itself could come from any culture, any time period.
In adapting "The Enchanted Umbrella," Odette Meyers and Zemach have given an overview of where umbrellas might have come from. "Long, long ago only kings and emperors, sultans and other rulers were allowed to own an umbrella. It was a sign of power. . . ."
The story offers several episodes about an old umbrella maker who leaves his helper, Patou, a gift, a magic umbrella. The enchanted umbrella saves Patou from danger, death and disaster. In a "happy-ever-after" (almost!) ending, the old ragged umbrella "got restless and would suddenly pull him up into the air. Sometimes when he felt like it . . . and sometimes when he didn't."
"The Enchanted Umbrella" is a charming read-aloud story with many possibilities to expand the brief history to "Bumbershoot" stories, myths and superstitions.