Before Edith Nesbit, childrens fantasies typically recognized a distinct boundary between the magical realm and the everyday world. Fantasies either took place entirely within an unreal world or moved from a real world into a distinctly different sort of place where magic reigned. Nesbits fantasies, in contrast, intermingle details of the ordinary world with magical occurrences, often to comical effect.
The Enchanted Castle is Nesbits fourth novel-length fantasy, following her successful Psammead trilogy, and the only one that uses magic to create terror as well as comedy. Its ancestors are fairy tales such as “The Three Wishes”; the myth of Cupid and Psyche and its fairy-tale descendant, “Beauty and the Beast”; and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), in which the creature pursues its creator.
Although critical response to the book as a whole is divided, almost all readers have found its most memorable feature to be the Ugly-Wuglies. These animated creatures with painted faces reflect Nesbits own childhood terrors as well as an implicit fear of the power of the imagination to create visions beyond the creators control. The Ugly-Wuglies, whose horror is increased by their stolidly proper British personalities, also reflect Nesbits commentary, as a socialist, on middle-class society, which is another human creation that threatens to overwhelm its makers.
The novel uses snippets from various fairy tales,...
(The entire section is 457 words.)