The Egypt Game is a story about a group of diverse, imaginative children playing a game about Egypt. Like most of Snyder's books, however, the novel's simple title belies its complex subject matter; The Egypt Game focuses on the experiences of its precocious female protagonist, April, as she encounters loneliness, prejudice, friendship, and murder. Sent to live with her dead father's mother in California, April learns to adjust to her new environment, make friends, and care for her grandmother.
April and her friends who play the Egypt Game share a camaraderie that ignores differences in race, culture, and age. Although the members include whites, blacks, and Asians spanning from ages four through eleven, all are held together by their fascination with Egypt and their extremely active imaginations. But when real danger threatens the children, the adult characters reveal their prejudiced views and eventually learn from the children not to make assumptions about an outsider just because the person seems different. Overall, The Egypt Game is an excellent study in the growth of love and the acceptance of others.
(The entire section is 178 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Egypt Game Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Chapters 1-2 Summary
The Discovery of Egypt
In a distinctively diverse California neighborhood made up of inexpensive apartment houses and small, aging homes clustered around a large university, a "strange old man" runs a dingy second-hand curio store. The man is tall and bent, and his expressionless face is accentuated by a straggly beard and dark, inscrutable eyes nestled under heavy brows. Nothing much is known about him and the children in the neighborhood are afraid of him; for a reason no one seems to be able to explain, he is referred to simply as "the Professor."
The Professor lives somewhere in the rear of his store, which is backed by a small storage yard housing a battered lean-to and a miscellaneous assortment of items, including a broken birdbath and a chipped plaster reproduction of the bust of the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. The yard is surrounded by a high, wooden fence topped by strands of barbed wire; one of its planks has come loose, making it possible for very slender personages to slip in.
The Professor can peek out onto the storage yard from a small, dirt-caked window covered with a gunnysack at the back of his shop. It is from this vantage point that he witnesses the very beginning of the Egypt Game. He looks out one day in early September to see three children from the neighborhood squeezing through the opening in the fence. The two older ones are girls. One, whom he recalls had come into his store a few days earlier and introduced herself as April, is thin and blond, while the other is African American. The third child appears to be the younger sibling of the second girl; he is about four years old and is clutching a large stuffed octopus.
Once they are in the yard, the children survey their surroundings with undisguised delight. The Professor is called away by a customer then, but when he returns to the window about an hour later, he sees that the children have made the lean-to into an improvised temple, with the bust of Nefertiti perched upon the broken birdbath and positioned in the place of honor at the shack's back and center. While the little boy sits and plays with his toy octopus, the girls gather the tall, prickly weeds that fill the yard and present them with elaborate ritual before the queen's statue, dramatically dropping to their knees and tapping their foreheads three times on the floor. The Professor is called away again, and when he returns a third time, the...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
Chapters 3-4 Summary
Enter Melanie—and Marshall
Melanie Ross, who, like April, is eleven years old, arrives at the Halls' apartment a few minutes before noon on that same day. The friendly little girl does not know much about Mrs. Hall's granddaughter, but she hopes that she is close to her in age, and that they might become friends. Melanie is quite surprised, however, when the newcomer opens the apartment door to her knock. April has her hair stacked up in a pile on her head; she has an ostentatious "fur thing" wrapped around her shoulders, and is wearing clumsily-attached pair of ludicrous false eyelashes.
Recovering from her initial shock, Melanie introduces herself, explaining that she has come to bring April up to her family's apartment for lunch. Casually, she asks if her new acquaintance will be staying with her grandmother long, but April responds dismissively that she will only be staying a short while, just until her mother, who is traveling with a band right now, is finished with her tour. Melanie recognizes that April is "showboating," but concludes that she is acting that way because she is homesick.
Up in the Rosses' apartment, April meets Melanie's mother and four-year-old brother Marshall. Melanie's mother is a sharp, neat-looking woman, and April senses that she is one adult who will not be easy to fool. During lunch, April talks a lot about Hollywood, where she most recently lived with her mother, and about the movie stars she has met. Afterward, Mrs. Ross, unfazed by the visitor's braggadocio, suggests that April might like to look at Melanie's books, to see if there is something she might be interested in borrowing.
Melanie is an avid reader, and has quite an extensive "library" in her room. At first, April feigns indifference, but in reality, she loves to read and is quickly caught up in the fascinating selection of items in her new friend's bookcase. By chance, she discovers a collection of what appears to be paper dolls in a particularly dull-looking book. Melanie, who uses them to represent players in an imaginary game in which she makes up complicated storylines for characters she creates, at first fears that April might laugh at her for playing with paper dolls at her age. April, however, is charmed with the idea and the two girls spend the rest of the afternoon concocting exciting escapades for the paper doll "families."
When it is time to for her to go home,...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
Chapters 5-6 Summary
The Evil God and the Secret Spy
When the children return to Egypt for the second time, they find that everything is exactly as they had left it. April and Melanie spontaneously begin clearing out the dead weeds in the yard, shoving them through the hole in the fence and depositing them in a trash bin in the alley while Marshall stands guard. April then notices that, opposite the loose plank in the fence, there is a door to the storage yard which appears to be padlocked from the outside. Idly, she speculates about where it leads to, and Melanie, after thinking about it, suggests that perhaps it goes "to the rest of the Professor's backyard." This thought makes Melanie feel uncomfortable, and she wonders aloud what the Professor would do if he caught them on his property. April, however, does not think that the strange man would care, as long as they didn't "bother him or hurt anything." Just to reassure themselves, the girls creep to the window, and examine it carefully. To their relief, it seems to be covered on the inside by a heavy cloth, and the glass is so dirty, they conclude that no one would be able to see through it anyway.
While Marshall is digging a hole in the yard with a sharp stick, April and Melanie come up with the idea of having him play the part of a young pharaoh, Marshamosis, while they will be high priestesses who plan to offer him up as a human sacrifice to the evil god Set. This is the way the Egypt Game is played: ideas just "be[gin] and [grow] and afterwards it is hard to remember just how—it is what makes the game so much fun!" Melanie manages to convince her little brother to participate, but before they continue with the game, the girls decide that they need more equipment, so they go out to the alley to look for boards and boxes to use as props, "like thrones and altars." The materials they find are too large to fit back through the hole in the fence, so they throw them over the top, making a horrible racket. A short time later, the curtain covering the small window at the back of the Professor's store is pushed surreptitiously aside. April and Melanie are too busy to notice, but Marshall, observing silently, does.
Eyelashes and Ceremony
On the day before school starts, Melanie and April get together to read in the Halls' apartment, but both girls are too distracted to concentrate. April is too busy trying to convince herself that it...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
Chapters 7-8 Summary
Near the end of September, a new girl named Elizabeth Chung moves into the Casa Rosada. April and Melanie are urged by Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Ross to welcome the newcomer, but while April is generally sympathetic, she is quickly overcome by a sense of insecurity and jealousy. She feels threatened by the idea of letting Elizabeth in on the Egypt Game. Melanie suggests that they should get to know Elizabeth, who is only nine, before making that decision. April agrees that they should help the new girl get adjusted to school and find some fourth grade friends, but she is adamant that the Egypt Game should be kept a secret.
The next morning April and Melanie go down to meet Elizabeth for the walk to school. Elizabeth is "amazingly tiny" and wears her thick black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She also has a winsome smile that makes her seem like an "enchanted ivory princess." Elizabeth's "gentle friendly shyness...[makes] other people feel important," and it is not long before even April is wondering if it would be all right if she and Melanie bought their new friend into the Egypt Game. The question is settled once and for all when the two older girls catch a glimpse of Elizabeth's head from the side one day. With her delicate, slender neck and her hair pulled back away from her face, Elizabeth in profile looks very much like the statue of Nefertiti.
Prisoners of Fear
Although she does not yet know much about ancient history, Elizabeth turns out to be a perfect addition to the group. She receives all of April's and Melanie's ideas with boundless admiration and enthusiasm; she is "just crazy about every part of the Egypt Game." The children start a new chapter in the game, with Marshall as the young pharaoh Marshamosis, Elizabeth as the queen, and April and Melanie as priestesses, both evil and heroic. Then, one day, the game is abruptly ended, when Mrs. Ross is heard calling for the children with an uncharacteristic tone of urgency. Something serious has occurred.
When they arrive back at Melanie's house, Mrs. Ross says only that there has been "some trouble" in the neighborhood, and that until further notice, everyone is to stay inside. By the next day, it is general knowledge that a little girl who lived just a short distance from the Casa Rosada has been killed. The victim had been on her way to the same drugstore where April had purchased her...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
Chapters 9-10 Summary
Summoned by the Mighty Ones
It looks for awhile as if Halloween is going to be a complete waste, because the parents are not about to allow their children to go trick-or-treating late at night in the wake of the recent tragedy. Fortunately, a couple of mothers arrange for their husbands to take the kids in the neighborhood out in groups, so all is not lost. At least twenty-five children are expected to be in the group from the Casa Rosada and the rest of the block, which April notes will be a lot for just two chaperones to keep track of. She calculates that if the Egypt gang stays together, they just might be able to slip away to make a brief visit to Egypt.
Melanie, who at first is enthusiastic about April's idea, begins to have second thoughts in the days leading up the the big event. One thing leads to another, however, and she never does voice her objections. It is decided that Melanie, Marshall, and Elizabeth will meet at April's apartment on Halloween night to get ready, and when they arrive, they are amazed to see how really great April looks in her costume. Mrs. Hall has cut her granddaughter's hair into a very becoming "Cleopatra bob," and has helped her with her make-up. Melanie notices that, for the first time, April actually speaks kindly of and smiles at her grandmother, and it also occurs to her that, with her hair cut short, her friend will no longer be able to wear the affected up-sweep which is central to her "Hollywood" act.
With the Egyptians gathered together, April falls into character, closing her eyes and whispering dramatically, "We are summoned by the mighty ones, the mighty ones of Egypt." The others follow suit, chanting the words after her and falling to their knees. April produces a single shiny feather which she has found on her windowsill. Although Marshall observes that it is "nothing but an old pigeon feather," April insists that it is a sign from the gods that the children are being called back to Egypt.
The children get dressed and are rushing out to join the group out on the street, when Marshall suddenly howls "STOP!" and refuses to go any further. Melanie knows what the problem is and runs back to get his stuffed octopus, Security. The four children then proceed on their way to a night of adventure.
The Return to Egypt
As April had predicted, the "milling mob of devils, witches, tramps and monsters" that...
(The entire section is 684 words.)
Chapters 11-12 Summary
After the children have presented themselves before the altars of Isis and Set, April decides that the gods are angry at them for their long absence. To appease them, the Egypt gang must offer "a horrible and bloody sacrifice," the nature of which will be revealed to one of them in a message. Following April's example, Melanie, Marshall, and Elizabeth take turns approaching the Crocodile Stone, a distinctive rock they have found and placed before the altar of Set. With great ceremony, they each wait expectantly for a moment, then return to sit in a circle to share the ideas they have "received." Elizabeth's idea is the most audacious; the quiet little girl suggests that they should each stick their finger with a needle and write the gods a letter in their own blood, an action that she has come up with from reading Tom Sawyer in school. Although April and Melanie think this is a "terrific idea," no one has a needle, so the suggestion is scrapped.
April thinks that the sacrifice should be something "very dear" to them, and ventures that they should use Security. As expected, Marshall protests vehemently, jumping up and down and shouting "NO! NO! NO!" at the top of his lungs. Fearful that someone will hear the little boy's outburst and discover their secret land, the older girls assure him that they would not really offer up his stuffed octopus. Somewhat appeased, but still angry, Marshall says that they should sacrifice April instead, which causes everyone to laugh.
It is Melanie who comes up with the best, most practical idea: she suggests that parts of themselves, in the form of hairs and bitten-off fingernails, be used as the sacrifice. Excitedly, the children make a small fire in an old mixing bowl and walk around it Egyptian-style, with one shoulder forward and arms bent at the wrist. As they process, they drop "scraps of humanity" into the fire.
The ceremony turns out to be the best they have ever had. Finally, though, it is time to end it, but before the children have a chance to leave, Elizabeth gasps in horror. Teetering on the top of the fence is a grotesque, misshapen figure, which leaps down and lands "right in the middle of Egypt."
As April, Melanie, Elizabeth, and Marshall stand frozen in terror, a second figure, oddly familiar, appears at the top of the fence and also topples into...
(The entire section is 767 words.)
Chapters 13-14 Summary
Moods and Maybes
By the middle of the week after Halloween, the original "Egyptians" finally receive permission to play outside in the neighborhood again. The timing is perfect; Toby has been grounded for a few days for ruining his box-man costume, so he and Ken will not be able to come until Friday. Anxious to spend at least one day in Egypt without the newcomers, April, Melanie, and Elizabeth pick Marshall up from his nursery school immediately after class and hurry over to the Professor's storage yard. The sense of happy anticipation surrounding the occasion is dampened, however, because April is in a very bad mood.
Unbeknownst to the others, April had received a long-awaited letter from her mother. In it, Dorothea prattled happily that she has gotten married, and is sending the rest of April's things over to the Casa Rosada, because "there...[isn't] much room" at her new husband's apartment. With her hopes of being reunited with her mother dashed, April had torn the letter to pieces and flushed them down the toilet, and when her grandmother had come in to offer quiet sympathy, the devastated child unleashed her hurt and rage in a torrent of angry tears. Although the outburst was somewhat therapeutic, April is still cranky and subdued when the group returns to Egypt.
By Friday, however, April's mood is much improved. The boys arrive, and although Ken is clearly there only because of his friend, Toby is completely intrigued by the Egypt Game and makes the original Egyptians tell and show everything about it. That evening, April and Melanie discuss the new additions to their group. Secretly, they are flattered by the boys' interest, but outwardly, they both conclude that Ken and Toby will quickly lose interest in the Egypt Game and things will go back to being the way they were before.
Contrary to the girls' expectations, Ken and Toby return the next day full of "stuff" and ideas. Among their contributions are a number of creepy items to place upon the altar of Set, which is largely bare in comparison to Isis' bejeweled and flowered throne. Included in the motley assortment are lifelike rubber spiders and bugs, a dead tarantula, and a large, beat-up, stuffed owl. The children name this latter creature Thoth, after the Egyptian "bird-headed god of wisdom and writing."
In addition to everything else, Toby has also brought pencils...
(The entire section is 874 words.)
Chapters 15-16 Summary
The Ceremony for the Dead
When Elizabeth's pet parakeet dies, April and Melanie plan an elaborate funeral to help lift their friend's spirits. Before they even get to Egypt, the girls have formulated the background material to explain the demise of "Prince Pete-ho-tep, son of the great Queen Neferbeth," who has fallen nobly in battle. When they arrive at the Professor's storage yard, the original Egyptians are pleased to discover that the new members, Toby and Ken, are "gratifying enthusiastic" about this new chapter in the game as well.
The children's ideas spill forth pell-mell, and in no time at all, they have organized a procession for the honorably deceased. Marshall leads the way, carrying a smoking incense burner, followed by Elizabeth, the Chief Mourner. April and Melanie represent the "mourning populace," and they proceed, chanting and scattering flowers salvaged from the trash bin behind the local florist shop. Bringing up the rear are the two high priests, Ken and Toby, carrying the bier of the dead prince.
The ceremony unfolds with great drama, and Toby in particular throws himself into his part, staggering, wailing, and beating his chest with mournful abandon. His demeanor is so different from the "cool-cat sophistication" he maintains at school, that the girls are amazed, and unwittingly find themselves following his example. Reserved Ken also does "a lot better than anybody would have expected" in the spontaneous play-acting, although he never does quite overcome his deeply ingrained sense of self-consciousness.
That evening, Toby goes home and does some research on mummification, and the next day, he directs the immersion of the dead Prince Pete-ho-tep in a solution of salt water. The result is quite a mess, and everyone is a bit queasy when the soggy body is retrieved after an overnight soaking. Toby, however, saves the day by pouring fresh water over the dead bird and drying it with his T-shirt. Pete-ho-tep emerges "almost as good as new," and is buried with proper honors in a pyramid made of old bricks.
As the children become more comfortable in the land of Egypt, they forget about being cautious and secretive about their endeavors. They carry on their ceremonies and discussions in normal tones, and no longer worry about being discovered. Only Marshall, however, is aware that they actually are being watched, and he chooses not to tell.
(The entire section is 774 words.)
Chapters 17-18 Summary
The Oracle Speaks
When the children, anxious to see if the oracle has answered Ken's question, arrive in Egypt the next day, Toby takes charge of the proceedings and assigns April to play the part of the high priestess. With due ceremony, April leads the others in processing to Thoth's altar. After a period of wailed chanting, she takes the paper with Ken's message from the beak of the owl, carefully examines both sides of the missive, then frowns and angrily stomps out of the temple.
When the others, mystified, have followed and gathered around her, April shows them the slip of paper. On one side, in Ken's handwriting, it says:
Will I be a big league star someday?
On the other side, in an unfamiliar, cramped script, is a cryptic response, which reads:
Man is his own star, and that soul who can be honest, is the only perfect man.
April accuses first Ken, then Toby, of answering the question addressed to the oracle, but both boys vehemently deny doing any such thing. An argument ensues, and ends only when Melanie diplomatically suggests that they try the whole thing again, with safeguards so that none of them will have a chance to tamper with the process. It is decided that April will ask the next question, and when she has duly written her query on another slip of paper, Toby presents it to the oracle as before, and the children, as a group, get ready to take leave of Egypt.
Even though all of the Egyptians are certain that one of them had managed to write the answer to Ken's question and is lying about it, the feeling as they turn away from their magic land is one of spookiness and unease. The weather is threatening, and black clouds are moving in. Suddenly, there is a clap of thunder, and as heavy rain begins to fall, there is bedlam as everyone rushes at the same time to escape into the alley through the hole in the storage yard fence.
Where Is Security?
The next day is rainy, and altogether unnerving for the six Egyptians. In addition to their anxiety about April's question to the oracle, they must also deal with the problem of Marshall, who has lost his precious stuffed octopus, Security, and is a very unhappy little boy. When the school day ends and the children can finally return to Egypt, Security is not there,...
(The entire section is 862 words.)
Chapters 19-20 Summary
Confession and Confusion
Toby makes arrangements to meet April and Melanie out on the playground during first recess the next day. He has a confession to make: he has been pretending to be the oracle, writing the answers to the Egyptians' questions. Toby explains that he had managed to peek at the queries on the slips of paper while everyone else had been bowing before Thoth's altar. He had then gone home and looked up the main words in the questions in a book of famous quotations, chosen fittingly mysterious answers, and returned to Egypt at night to write them on the backs of the missives entrusted to the oracle.
Toby defends his actions by arguing that he had just been trying to "keep things livened up," but admits that sneaking down to Egypt alone in the dark had been quite scary. He says that he had actually been "about to quit the oracle business" even before the others had decided to, because when he had been heading home from his last late-night venture to the Professor's storage yard, someone had been in the alley, and had tried to follow him.
The problem Toby, April, and Melanie must face now is what to do about Marshall, who fully believes that the oracle can help him find Security. After a short discussion, the three older children come up with a plan. April, who will play the high priestess, will conduct the ceremony of consulting the oracle as usual that afternoon, and she will pretend to read off the back of the little boy's query that Security has gone to visit relatives in Los Angeles. Melanie reasons that this will give everyone more time to look for the precious stuffed octopus, and, if it still is lost, Marshall will at least have a few days to get used to the idea that Security is really gone.
That afternoon in Egypt, everything goes as planned, until April makes the eerie discovery that, on the back of the slip of paper entrusted to Thoth, the words
Look under the throne of Set
have been written in a fine, completely unfamiliar script. Marshall happily goes over and reaches under the egg-crate which makes up the altar, and pulls out his slightly damp but otherwise intact stuffed octopus. As the ecstatic child sits with a radiant smile, hugging Security to his chest, the others gather together in alarm. Looking at the temple "that they had made themselves, out of ordinary stuff and their own...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
Chapters 21-23 Summary
At the police station, Marshall will not answer the inspector's questions, but he will talk to April if she does the asking. The little boy says that the man who grabbed April had orange hair and "spotted" skin. He identifies the culprit as the "man who carries things at the store," but the inspector does not hear him.
The Professor is brought in, looking nervous and disheveled. When April, at the inspector's direction, asks Marshall if the reclusive man is the criminal, the boy responds that he is not. Marshall describes the Professor as "the man who watches us all the time...[from] his window." He says that the Professor is the one who broke the window when April was in trouble, and called for help.
Marshall reiterates that the person who tried to hurt April was the man who works at Mr. Schmitt's store, and April tells the inspector that he is referring to the shop's stockboy. The next day, Marshall picks the perpetrator, a red-headed man with freckles, out of a police lineup. The stockboy confesses to assaulting April, and to murdering the two other children in the neighborhood as well.
News gets around, and Marshall is regarded as a hero, but his newfound fame does not go to his head. The only difference in his behavior is an increased confidence in manner; he no longer needs to take Security with him wherever he goes, and only needs his stuffed octopus at night, when he is going to bed.
Gains and Losses
After April's close call, the Professor's storage yard is boarded up. The children mourn the loss of Egypt; in addition to being "full of...mystery and way-out imagining," the Egypt Game had been something special, "meant to be shared with best friends only—a life unknown to grown-ups and lived by kids alone."
At the beginning of Christmas vacation, April goes to the Professor's store, and finds that it is much changed. Mrs. Chung works there now, and things look "cleaner and brighter and not so cluttered." Uncharacteristically, the shop is filled with customers, and April must wait to see the Professor, whose real name, she learns, is Dr. Julian Huddleston.
When April thanks him for saving her life, Dr. Huddleston self-effacingly downplays his role in the incident. He shows April some Egyptian artifacts he has in a box on a shelf, and the two examine the pieces with shared interest. In answer to her...
(The entire section is 1047 words.)