The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
The story is a modern fairy tale rooted in childhood imagination. A game of make-believe becomes earnest when four children discover a ring with magical powers. Their attempts to use the ring create complications in their everyday lives, some humorous, some horrific.
Gerald, Jimmy, and Kathleen, left at school during the holidays, find a hidden entrance to the gardens of Yalding Manor, which they pretend is an enchanted castle. They discover a sleeping princess (Mabel, the housekeeper’s niece) who plays along with their game, showing them a secret treasure room containing a ring that she claims makes the wearer invisible. When she slips it on, she discovers that her claim has come true and that she has become invisible.
Invisibility confers both benefits and disadvantages. The children must cover for the absence of Mabel (and later Gerald) until the magic wears off; on the other hand, they use invisibility to raise money with a conjuring show and later to help capture some burglars. The children next discover that the ring will grant the wearers wishes; this immediately creates a problem when they perform a play before an audience of artificial people they have fashioned from household odds and ends. When Mabel wishes the painted audience alive, the animated creatures (Ugly-Wuglies) terrify their creators.
With the assistance of Yalding Manors new bailiff, the children succeed in confining the creatures to a cave in the garden,...
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Enchanted Castle shares its episodic structure with many of Edith Nesbit’s other fantasies; here, as is typical of this author’s works, a group of children discovers a magic that leads them into a series of more or less self-contained adventures. These adventures are narrated with Nesbit’s customary lighthearted charm, although occasionally a more serious tone takes over.
The story begins when an outbreak of measles prevents Gerald, Kathleen, and Jimmy from spending their summer holidays at home. Instead, they are marooned at Kathleen’s school, supervised only by Mademoiselle, the French mistress—who, as Gerald observes, is unexpectedly young, pretty, and tolerant. Gerald, a well-spoken boy with a shrewd sense of what pleases adults, is able to win from her considerable freedom for himself and his brother and sister, so that the three may spend their days exploring the countryside. On their first hike, they discover the local showplace, Yalding Towers, which they decide to interpret (correctly, as readers shall see) as an “enchanted castle.” At the center of a maze on the estate, they encounter the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, who is reenacting the story of Sleeping Beauty. Mabel attempts to persuade them that the magic in which they are pretending to believe really exists; she takes them to the castle’s treasure room, declares that a ring displayed there is a ring of invisibility, and puts it on. Much to Mabel’s...
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The story takes place in England near the beginning of the twentieth century. Three young people, two brothers and a sister, find themselves unable to go home for the school holidays and instead must stay at the girl's school, which is empty except for a French governess. To avoid boredom they go exploring and come upon what appears to be an enchanted castle, complete with a sleeping princess. Together with the "princess" (actually the housekeeper's niece, Mabel), they explore the virtually unoccupied castle, where they discover a room of treasures, including a ring which makes its wearer invisible. The four have a series of adventures in the surrounding countryside but return to the castle for a romantic ending.
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Much more than an exciting story, The Enchanted Castle is one of the best fantasies written for young adults. The writing styles range from colloquial dialogue to poetic descriptions of magical transformations in moonlight. Each of the main characters is given a distinctive style of speech. Nesbit is also skilled at evoking a scene with apt choice of concrete detail. One of the most effective episodes is the ingenious party the four young people throw for the Mademoiselle, creating make-believe guests out of rags, sticks, and brooms, but magic intervenes and the pretend figures come to life. These "Ugly-Wuglies" are truly terrifying in their non-human malignance. An equally effective scene that evokes beauty rather than terror occurs when the handsome statues of gods and beasts in the castle yard come to life in the moonlight.
Nesbit also uses elements of myth and fairy tale to add depth to her story. Although Mabel pretends to be a princess sleeping under a spell, the French governess is actually a poor maiden separated from her lover and awaiting liberation. And although the:"uglies" are but animated bits and pieces, their arrogance is paralleled by young Jimmy who joins, them under the influence of magic. Familiar tales of magic are matched by real events.
The plot of the novel is sophisticated, complex, and suspenseful. Genuinely frightening episodes are vividly related, and the outcome is deftly kept hanging until the last possible...
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Nesbit is concerned with two social subjects, education and class distinction. At the very beginning of the novel, her authorial voice intrudes to lament the separation of boys' and girls' schools: "the sensible habit of having boys and girls at the same school is not yet as common as I hope it will be some day." Kathleen suggests at one point that the students write a book about what their school is really like, but Gerald rejects the idea as a project that would only result in their expulsion. On the other hand, it is clear that the young students are both well-read and articulate. The austerity of school life, intellectual as well as social, is similar to those later expounded by C. S. Lewis in his Chronicles of Narnia.
Throughout the novel Nesbit is concerned with the inequities of class distinction. The fact is central to the romantic element of the plot in that the lovely French governess is unable to marry her beloved Lord Yalding because she is socially beneath him. On his part, the young lord is willing to disguise himself as a bailiff in order to be near the woman he loves. The class snobbery is all the more absurd because of the lord's relative poverty. What finally permits the romance to be fulfilled is a financial boost.
Nesbit cleverly plays with the appearance- reality theme in slyly satirizing class distinctions. The housekeeper's niece Mabel is a convincing princess, even as Lord Yalding is an effective bailiff....
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Topics for Discussion
1. The author occasionally interrupts the story to put in comments of her own. Do you find that the authorial voice adds to the reader's enjoyment of the novel or does it detract from it?
2. How does the author make the relationship among the two brothers and their sister seem true to life?
3. The four protagonists in the story are for the most part free from adult intervention, or even knowledge, in their various adventures with the magic ring. How does this influence their activities?
4. Mabel's aunt seems a rather unsympathetic character. What is wrong in her relationship with her niece?
5. In the scene where Gerald disguises himself as a conjurer, he plays the role with considerable effectiveness. What traits of his personality help him to succeed?
6. Why is it that only some of the characters see the statues come to life in the garden at night?
7. How does each of the characters who becomes invisible behave during his or her invisibility? How does this behavior relate to the personality of the individual?
8. In what way does the episode of the "Ugly-Wuglies" seem frightening as well as comic?
9. What do you consider the most dangerous adventure which the four young people get into because of the ring?
10. In the final episode in the Hall of Granted Wishes, presided over by the statue of Psyche, why do the words spoken by Mademoiselle not sound like her at...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. There are no "villains" among the characters in this book. How does Nesbit deal with evil, or does she simply omit it from the world of her story?
2. How are attitudes toward magic and actions under the influence of magic related to the character? Gerald's behavior while invisible, for example, is quite different from that of the maid Eliza, or of his sister, Kathleen.
3. How does Nesbit achieve credibility in her magic scenes? How does she make the various transformations seem convincing? The protagonists become invisible, or they are turned into statues. What literary techniques make these scenes convincing to the reader?
4. Two of the most imaginative episodes in the book are the one involving the creation of the Ugly-Wuglies out of scraps and the one involving the animation of the statues in the garden. In what ways are these two episodes parallel in style, structure, and meaning? How are they different in their effect on the reader?
5. By the end of the story, what have the four protagonists learned from their experiences with the magic ring? Will their many adventures have meaning for them in the future?
6. Nesbit draws on fairy tale motifs to enhance her story. What fairy tale elements do you find in the book and how does Nesbit incorporate them into her realistic setting?
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Five Children and It is the first book in a trilogy dealing with magic. Four London Children, with their baby brother, while on a holiday unearth a Psammead, or sand fairy, who has the power to grant them a new wish every day. Fortunately, every wish is suspended at sunset. In the sequel, The Phoenix and the Carpet, the children discover that the secondhand rug in their basement is actually a flying carpet, and rolled up in it is a phoenix to travel with them as guardian. The adventures in both of these works are comic and lighthearted. The final book in the trilogy, The Story of the Amulet, has more depth. It concerns the same four children who come across their old friend, the Psammead, in a pet shop. They buy him and take him home. The grateful creature is now eager to grant their wishes, although he has lost none of the testiness and brusqueness that characterized him in the earlier work. The children also find a half amulet, which leads them back in time where they unite the person of a modern Egyptologist with the soul of an Egyptian priest from the distant past. The merger becomes possible when the missing half of the amulet is found. "The learned gentleman," as the scholar is always called, is then enriched with the intimate knowledge of the past.
The House of Arden and Harding's Luck are also companion volumes, dealing with characters from the same family. In each work the young protagonists go back to their own...
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For Further Reference
Lochhead, Marion. Renaissance of Wonder: The Fantasy Worlds of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, George Mac- Donald, E. Nesbit and Others. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1977. The chapter entitled "An Edwardian Successor" (successor to George McDonald) deals appreciatively with Nesbit's several fantasy novels for young adults, stressing her emphasis on the theme of domestic magic.
Manlove, Colin. The Impulse of Fantasy Literature. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983. The chapter called "The Union of Opposites in Fantasy: E. Nesbit" deals with her fantasy thematically from the point of view of reconciling oppositions.
Moore, Doris Langley. E. Nesbit: A Biography. London: Benn, 1933; Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Benn, 1967. An absorbing biography of this fascinating woman.
Streatfield, Noel. Magic and the Magician: E. Nesbit and Her Children's Books. London: Benn, 1958. A combined biography and critical appreciation.
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