The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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...

(The entire section is 736 words.)