The Magic Shop by H.G. Wells

The Magic Shop is the story of a boy named Gip and his mystical experience in a certain magic shop, as told by his father.

This magic shop seems to be a little different than all the others, which is just fine, because this little boy seems to be a little different than all the others as well.

The shop owner, with one ear larger than the other, entertains the boy and the father with magic tricks, pulling baubles out of thin air.

The shopkeeper reminds the father, repeatedly, that this is not just any magic shop, this is “The Genuine Magic Shop”, making sure to emphasize the “Genuine” in the title.

The magic tricks and illusions increase in complexity until the father is no longer comfortable with what he’s seeing, given the shopkeeper’s frequent reminders, but the boy is rapt with excitement.

This short story comes to a rather abrupt end, and would make a great start for a script for a Twilight Zone episode. In fact, I think it might have been inspiration for one or two such scripts.

Wells is one of those writers who can really exercise a language in his writing. He uses his vocabulary as a palette with which he paints a scene. If I were to describe his writing style as a painting technique, it would be as much impressionist as realist. Sometimes he describes things in a literal detail and other times he hints at details in the descriptions, letting your mind fill in the rest.

That said, there are a few times where I tripped up reading it, some of the turn-of-the-century vernacular escaped me. For example;

“It was being borne in upon me just how tremendously rum this place was; it was, so to speak, inundated by a sense of rumness. There was something a little rum about the fixtures even, about the ceiling, about the floor, about the casually distributed chairs.”

I have no idea what it means to be rum, but apparently it was very important to this description. I like rum, I like dark rum, but rum can also be white or spiced, it can warm your chest or it can curl your hair, but I doubt any of those qualities are what the author had in mind. (brief intermission) Actually, a quick check of Wikipedia says that in the 1800s, “rum” was British slang for “the best”, as in “having a rum time”. I always like learning things.

H.G. Wells is better known for his novels that serve as a benchmark for early science fiction, but this is one of his short stories and about a 20-minute read. Originally published in 1903, this book is in the Public Domain for countries where copyright is Life+50, or in the USA.

  • Download the eBook at FeedBooks
  • Download the book read aloud by Garren Grimring at LibriVox.org. (Chapter 12)
  • Download the book read aloud by Roy Trumbull at the Internet Archive.
  • Download the scanned eBook as part of the 1903 collection “Twelve Stories and a Dream” at the Internet Archive.
  • Download the text eBook as part of the same collection from Project Gutenberg.

In addition to these formats, this short story has also been presented in film. In 1981, animator Ian Emes made The Magic Shop his first live action short film. Emes is most famous for the work he did with Pink Floyd, creating the stage animations that would serve as the backdrop for Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” tour. Emes has posted a short teaser of his film on YouTube.

In 1964, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour aired an episode titled The Magic Shop (featuring a young Leslie Nielsen as the father). The episode synopsis reads almost identical to Wells’ short story, but has a very different and much longer and more elaborate ending.

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