Sunday, November 13, 2005

Nurse Matilda - Christianna Brand

I have now read the Nurse Matilda books, on which Emma Thompson's screenplay for Nanny McPhee is based, and I am very glad that I waited until I had seen the film before reading the books, otherwise I think I might have been put off watching the film ! The volume I was loaned contains three stories, "Nurse Matilda", "Nurse Matilda Goes to Town" and "Nurse Matilda Goes to Hospital", which were written and published in the 1960s and 1970s, but have a definite Victorian feel to them. I quite enjoyed the first story, but the other two were far too similar to the first to be as enjoyable, although I could pick out the bits of the second book that Emma Thompson had incorporated into the film. I was very glad that she reduced the number of children from the unmanageable, unspecified large numbers of them in the books, to a mere seven for the film (keeping an eye on seven children, plus the various adults, was quite enough !) Interestingly, Mrs Brown is still alive in the books - and I wondered whether Emma Thompson had killed her off in the film, in part, to prevent objections to a character whom I found quite difficult to like. Mrs Brown is totally blind to her children's misbehaviour and doesn't appear to care at all that they regularly wreak absolute havoc ! She also seems totally unaware of the folly of having so many children - and has adopted a number of others by the second book. I could feel myself becoming very disapproving at that point ! To have so many children of your own and then be indifferent to their bad behaviour is one thing, but then to adopt a good many more of them and then treat them with the same indifference just made me cross !

I also read E Nesbit's The Magic City this week. Published in 1910, it has more of an excuse for appearing Victorian. When 10 year old Philip's older sister Helen marries a widowed man with a daughter named Lucy, he is hurt. Whilst Helen and her new husband are on their honeymoon, Lucy goes away to stay with her aunt and Philip is left with servants in a strange house. One day when he's feeling bored, he builds a huge city using various of Lucy's toys and other objects (chess pieces, books, candlesticks, etc.) Lucy's nurse (who is far nastier than Nurse Matilda) is very annoyed and promises to pull it down. However, before she does so, Philip goes to look at his city in the moonlight, and then finds himself inside it. To his irritation, Lucy shows up too. At first Philip and Lucy are placed under arrest by some of the soldiers, but then they escape, only for Philip to discover Lucy has been left behind in the magic city. He goes back to rescue here and is hailed as a Deliverer" and told he must carry out seven tasks to free the magic city from its enchantment. The tasks include, amongst other things, killing a dragon (which is really just a wind-up lizard that has become gigantic), unravelling the Mazy Carpet without cutting it (the Mazy Carpet is actually a giant crocheted mat that Lucy had made and Philip had added into the city), and freeing the Dwellers by the Sea from their great (it turns out that they're afraid of the sea, not unreasonably, given that they live in a gigantic sandcastle !) As Philip and Lucy go about the tasks, they are pursued by a pushy, arrogant lady in a motorveil who claims that she is the Deliverer, but until Philip has completed, or failed, the seven tasks, she is known as the Pretenderette. This book is quite charming, although very much of its time, and it contains a stark warning for the future that is being proved even now. Anyone who wishes for a machine in the magic city must go on using it forever. Many of our modern machines seem to have the same "spell" on them...


VV said...

Thank you for these very good reviews. I've never cared much for Nurse Matilda, though I did like the Emma Thompson take of it. I thought it was much more fun.

I've never read Nesbit, but your description of The Magic City made me want to read it and also other books by her.

Michele said...

Emma Thompson's film is excellent - very fun and enjoyable.

Nesbit is a bit of an acquired taste I think - like a lot of books of that era - but I do enjoy her stories.