Wednesday, July 12, 2006

E Nesbit trilogy

Five Children and It

One summer's day, when four children named Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are holidaying with their mother and baby brother (nicknamed "the Lamb", because his first word was "Baa") in the country, they discover a Psammead (sand fairy) with the power to grant wishes. Unfortunately, their wishes cause them more trouble than pleasure: they wish that they might be "as beautiful as the day", then discover that no one recognises them or will believe they are who they claim to be; they wish for golden guineas but find that the coins which they receive are not legal tender and therefore cannot be spent; they wish that their baby brother, whom they are finding somewhat tiresome, might be wanted, then have to deal with various people wanting to adopt him; they wish for wings and then find themselves trapped on top of a locked church tower on which they had landed, when the wings disappear at sunset (as all the wishes do); they wish they are in a besieged castle, and find themselves trapped and in real danger; Robert wishes to be bigger than the baker's boy, who has bested him in a fight, and finds himself a giant; they wish the Lamb was grown up, and then find themselves trying to keep an eye on him in case he goes away before reverting back to a baby; they wish for Red Indians to play with, and then find themselves in danger of being scalped and burnt alive. Finally they wish that their mother might have heaps of jewels like those stolen from Lady Chittenden, and when their mother returns from a lengthy absence from home, she finds the stolen jewels scattered about her room and panics that the burglars have hidden them there.

The Phoenix and the Carpet

The children are rather wary of magical things after that. A few months after their adventures with the Psammead, the children are given a replacement carpet for the nursery floor after they set fire to their old one whilst testing their fireworks in the nursery. The carpet, however, is no ordinary carpet, but rather a wishing carpet, and hidden inside the roll of carpet is an egg. This egg hatches a Phoenix after Robert accidentally knocks it into the nursery fire on which the children have coincidentally been burning the stubs of cedarwood pencils, eucalyptus oil and a lump of camphor – the very ingredients (sweet smelling wood, magic gums and essences) needed to hatch a Phoenix egg. The four children then find themselves getting caught up in more adventures, involving nearly 200 Persian cats, a burglar (who instead of robbing them, milks a Jersey cow fetched by the magic carpet to feed the cats !), and trips to France, India, and a far southern shore on which there is no whooping cough. Their adventures end after the carpet falls apart as a result of all their wishing, and the Phoenix decides to "retire" a long way from London.

The Story of the Amulet

Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane are staying with their former Nurse in Bloomsbury whilst their father is overseas reporting on the Russian war, and their mother and baby brother are in Madeira, where there mother is recuperating after an illness. One day the children go out, intending to feed the ducks in St James Park, but on the way they pass a pet shop and Cyril finds himself being addressed by their old friend, the Psammead, who has been captured and is now for sale. They buy the Psammead at its behest after it grants the shopkeeper's wish that they might have the money to pay for it. They tell it about their parents and baby brother being overseas and how much they want them back home. The Psammead can no longer grant them wishes, but it tells them of an ancient Amulet which has the power to grant the possessor's heart's desire. The Psammead knows that half of the Amulet is up for sale in a London shop, and tells the children that if they buy the Amulet half, it will tell them how to find the missing half, by travelling back into the past, where the Amulet was still whole since the missing half was destroyed very long ago.

The children discover the word of power that controls the Amulet from a learned gentleman who lodges upstairs in their Nurse's house, and they use the Amulet to travel in time and space to Babylon, Ancient Egypt, Atlantis and the Roman Empire (just before Caesar invades Britain). They also travel into the future twice, including to a Utopian time envisaged by H G Wells, where everyone works, all children love to go to school, every house contains a soft room (with padded walls and furniture) in which children can play safely, and London is clean and beautiful. The children finally locate the missing half of the Amulet so that their desire to have their parents and brother at home again is granted; they then give the restored Amulet to the learned gentleman as Ancient Egypt is his area of special interest.

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