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Rainbow Magic: The good, the bad, and the ghostwritten

Art by Jessica Calaguas

When we think of the children’s book series that shaped our youths and opened our collective third eye to the occult spheres, delving into a tantalizing, mystical realm that blossoms on the margins of our own, two words come to mind: Rainbow Magic. Published first in the U.K. from 2003 to the present, and aimed at children aged five to ten, the short, collectible chapter books gained popularity in the U.S. and Canada, proliferating on the bookshelves of young readers like mushrooms on damp wood.

The series begins with Ruby the Red Fairy, in which protagonists Rachel Walker and Kirsty Tate – two British adolescents, one from the country and the other from the city – meet while taking a ferry to “Rainspell Island” for vacation. Their semi-neglectful though well-intentioned parents allow them to wander the island, where they find Ruby the Red Fairy trapped in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, after her banishment from Fairyland by the series’s antagonist, Jack Frost. Ruby informs them that Jack Frost has scattered her sisters – the Rainbow Fairies – across Rainspell Island, and unless they can all be returned to Fairyland, activities related to their associated colors will go wrong in both the human and fairy worlds. In subsequent books, Rachel and Kirsty locate and return the six other Rainbow Fairies, and are congratulated for their efforts by Queen Titania and King Oberon, who are effectively the adoptive parents of all the fairies, an ethnically diverse group that includes at least one disabled fairy and one male fairy, which is cool. As a reward, the King and Queen grant Rachel and Kirsty access to Fairyland to complete their future quests.

In contrast to the fairies, Jack Frost’s disciples are a horde of male goblins, who are disorganized by infighting and an insatiable hunger for the fairies’ power. Though possessing a sort of deceitful cleverness of their own, the goblins are always outsmarted by Kirsty and Rachel, who routinely foil Jack Frost’s plans in 100 large-font, wide-spaced pages or less.

The Rainbow Magic books meet every requirement for a good children’s series: vibrant covers, frequent illustrations, predictable characters, and the collectible quality of Beanie Babies or Pokemon cards. The books are organized into 36 mini-series of four or seven books under the Rainbow Magic umbrella, each representing a different theme (or perhaps genome) of fairy (The Weather Fairies, The Pop Star Fairies, The Friendship Fairies). Each book features a different individual fairy. In total 228 books have been published, plus dozens more U.S.- and U.K.-specific stand-alone and special editions. The secret to their profusion? Ghostwriting. Children can readily accept that every Rainbow Magic book is authored by one “Daisy Meadows.” Though there isn’t much literature on the origins of the series, Wikipedia reveals that “Daisy Meadows” is actually a conglomerate pseudonym for four primary ghostwriters: Linda Chapman, Narinder Dhami, Sue Bentley, and Sue Mongredien.

The Rainbow Magic authors all follow a formula that appeals to a child’s desire for stories with consistent plots and satisfying endings, which are episodic in a way that allows readers to select any series on a topic that appeals to them, without having read any of the previous books. This plot formula can be outlined in five stages:

  1. Rachel and Kirsty reunite during [insert holiday or school vacation].

  2. They notice that something is amiss with the universe [the wind is too strong; the rides at the fair break down; the ice cream tastes terrible].

  3. They receive word that magical object(s) have been stolen by Jack Frost and his goblin minions, causing the activity associated with the robbed fairies to go wrong in all of England.

  4. Weakened by the loss of the magical object, a fairy is unable to fulfill her duties, so it falls upon Rachel and Kirsty to solve the mystery and retrieve the magical object.

  5. After defeating Jack Frost and the goblins by returning all of the magical objects to the robbed fairies, Rachel and Kirsty are transported to Fairyland and are congratulated by Queen Titania and King Oberon.

Despite their predictability, which is frowned upon by some parent reviewers, the books’ true value lies in the broader theme and greater feminist metaphor that is the Rainbow Magic series: girls using both their intellectual abilities and emotional skills to right the wrongs inflicted by a male entity, and a universe-governing body (not unlike the Greek pantheon) of women who are integral to the daily lives of mortals. Working in the background, unnoticed, the fairies facilitate the aspects of our existence that we take for granted – without compensation or acknowledgment.

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