The Plot

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 736

The Psammead Trilogy was written as three separate commissioned serials for The Strand Magazine. Although The Story of the Amulet was finished and published last, Edith Nesbit began work on it before The Phoenix and the Carpet. Five Children and It contains eleven adventures that begin when five...

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The Psammead Trilogy was written as three separate commissioned serials for The Strand Magazine. Although The Story of the Amulet was finished and published last, Edith Nesbit began work on it before The Phoenix and the Carpet. Five Children and It contains eleven adventures that begin when five children (in order by age), Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane, and their baby brother called The Lamb, go to the Kentish countryside for a summer vacation. While exploring an abandoned gravel quarry, the children find a psammead (pronounced Sammy-add) or sand-fairy. The Psammead, a tubby, furry creature with bat’s ears and telescoping eyes, proves capable of granting wishes that last until sundown. A grudging and cantankerous ally at best, soon the Psammead bargains that wishes be restricted to one a day. Among other wishes, the children wish to be as beautiful as the day, to be rich beyond the dreams of avarice, to have wings, to be in a besieged castle, and for The Lamb to be grown up. Each wish, wild and wonderful as its consequences are, proves troublesome and disconcerting. When the most ill-considered wish of all plants burgled jewels in their mother’s bedroom, the children get the Psammead to grant immediately all the wishes needed to set things right in return for their promise to leave him alone and never to ask him for another wish. The Psammead includes in the last wishes Anthea’s polite hope to see him again one day.

The Phoenix and the Carpet takes place the following fall, with the five children back in London. Their new adventures begin when their ruined nursery carpet is replaced with a secondhand Persian carpet in which a phoenix egg is wrapped. When the children accidentally knock the egg into the fireplace, the flames cause it to hatch. The Phoenix informs them that the carpet is, in fact, a magical wishing carpet that can take them anywhere. Accompanied by the vain but agreeable Phoenix, the children wish themselves to a tower in France that contains a hidden treasure, to a southern shore where one cannot possibly have whooping cough, and to a bazaar in India. These adventures also are fraught with difficulties. Worse embarrassments occur when the Phoenix accompanies them around London, especially because, when excited, it is apt to start fires. Furthermore, the children’s hard use of the carpet is causing it to wear out. Precisely when the children decide they must ask the Phoenix to leave, it informs them that a few months with them have been as wearying as its usual five-hundred-year life span. With relief, they grant its request to immolate itself and have the carpet transport itself and the Phoenix’s egg to a place where they will not be found for two thousand years.

The Story of the Amulet is set during the following summer. The children’s father is away working as a war correspondent, and their mother, taking The Lamb with her, has gone to Madeira to recuperate from an illness. The children are staying in London at the home of their old nurse. They find the Psammead caged and up for sale in a pet store. The children rescue him by buying him. He still cannot grant them wishes, but in gratitude, he offers to help them to their hearts’ desire, which is the safe return home of their parents and brother. He directs them to buy a magic amulet in a secondhand shop. The amulet, when whole, grants one’s heart’s desire, but half of it was long ago crushed to dust. The remaining half, however, has the power to take the children through time so that they can look for it in its whole state. The children learn how to pronounce its inscription from Jimmy, a learned gentleman living in rented rooms upstairs. They search for the whole amulet in ancient Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, and England of the future. On a separate quest, they also travel in time to England at the time of Julius Caesar’s invasion. The queen of Babylon, through a wish granted her by the Psammead, visits them in their own time. With the unwitting help of Jimmy and the self-interested help of Rekh-mar, a priest of Amen-R, they eventually succeed in finding the amulet. Their hearts’ desire granted, they give the amulet to Jimmy. Jimmy and Rekh-mar also find their hearts’ desire, in great learning.

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