Childhood Archaeology The Story of the Amulet is the third of Edith Nesbit s Psammead Trilogy about four children in Edwardian England who find a sand fairy a cantankerous creature like a dilapidated monkey with bat ears and snail eyes with the power to grant wishes After the calamities that follow some ill considered wishes in the first volume Five Children and It they agree that it will only grant the wishes of others but will still advise the children on their other adventures So at the start of this book it tells them to buy an ancient amulet or sacred pendant spied in a London junkshop Unfortunately the charm is incomplete but the remaining half does have the power to transport the children to any place where it had been in the past so they may reunite the two halves I have a dilapidated and thus worthless first edition of this bought for my father in 1906 the year of its publication He read it to me as a child Looking at it now makes me realize how much my imagination was shaped by our travels through its glowing arch to ancient Egypt Babylon Atlantis and Tyre And it gave me a taste for similar stories My father as I now see adopted its structure to make up bedtime tales of his own much as C S Lewis was famously to do later with his Narnia adventures Unlike Lewis though Edith Nesbit has no religious overtones But as a leading Fabian she had strong socialist convictions which also appear in the book I can only guess as to its influence on my own beliefs todayFor some reason I never read the book to my own children Perhaps I was afraid that it might seem too dated and would appeal too little to their interests children no longer learned Latin and Greek in school and seemed to be less interested in ancient cultures But nowadays the datedness would be much of the attraction Nesbit s books are now a double feat of archaeology opening portals not only on the distant past but also on the lives of children in Edwardian London and the social conditions that they would have taken for granted As such it is certainly worth revisiting by adults I am even wondering whether I might try it on my grandchildren If I do I would absolutely want an edition like the present one which retains the original illustrations by H R Millar It is not that he brings the distant civilizations any to life than in Nesbit s words which weave a spell all on their own But he perfectly captures ualities that were so obvious to the author that she did not even need to describe them the four children Cyril Anthea Robert and Jane looking absurdly overdressed in their Norfolk jackets or pinafores their social attitudes as emissaries from the empire where the sun never sets coming through clearly from every sketchNot that Nesbit herself is a strong proponent of Empire she is no Kipling Rider Haggard or Henty Indeed as so often in the book she treats these matters with what seems to me a delicious touch of irony Here is Cyril talking about missionaries Well they always take the savages beads and brandy and stays and hats and braces and really useful things things the savages haven t got and never heard about And the savages love them for their ind generosity and give them pearls and shells and ivory and cassowaries The great thing is to get people to love you by being generous But in Cyril s mouth that last word is not ironic at all We may scoff at the generosity of bringing corsets and suspenders to native peoples but the way the four children treat one another and the world around them is politeness and generosity itself There is one lovely little episode where they take pity on a disheveled orphan girl they meet in the park and unite her with a bereaved mother in ancient Britain And their encounters with the poor learned gentleman who occupies the top floor of their temporary lodgings near the British Museum are a perfect mixture of courtesy and friendship adopting him as a De-cluttering Your Closet kind of honorary playmate This character incidentally is a tribute to the dedicatee of the book Dr Wallis Budge an Egyptologist at the Museum and Nesbit s primary consultantWhat Nesbit made of Budge snowledge reads as something creative and fresh even today She has a lovely way of talking to her child readers especially when airily glossing over the unlikely parts of her story and she can achieve real magic when she needs to The scene when the amulet first comes alive and fills the room with its glowing light thrilled me all over again even now But she also has the sense to realize that eight or nine forays into the past would soon become repetitive no matter how different the historical scenery So she cleverly varies the pace The children take the Learned Gentleman with them on their trip to Atlantis he believes he is dreaming They drop "off the little orphan girl on their way to visit Julius Caesar When they make friends with the ueen "the little orphan girl on their way to visit Julius Caesar When they make friends with the ueen Babylon she expresses a wish to see their country and soon she is walking around London making wishes which the Psammead has to grant despite the conseuences There is even a seuence when they journey into the future a sort of William Morris Utopia of garden cities and perfectly behaved children oddly prophetic of the theories of modern
urban planning if not the less salubrious results Unfortunately Nesbit uses these modern sections to expound planning if not the less salubrious results Unfortunately Nesbit uses these modern sections to expound social views and they do get a bit preachy And when the children make a second visit to Egypt they find themselves in the middle of a workers riot that might almost be Petrograd in 1917 But that visit also introduces them to another time traveler Rekh Mara the priest of Amen Ra who returns to link several of the later episodes The climax in which the two halves of the amulet are rejoined and the Learned Gentleman becomes one with the Egyptian priest is moving in its simplic. At the end of Five Children and It the five children promised not to ask the Psammead for another wish as long as they lived but expressed a half wish to see it again some time They find 'it' again in a pet shop in Camden Town and their magic. ,
Ity bringing tears to my eyes Not good The De Brandende Brug (De Grijze Jager, kids and I really enjoyed Nesbit s first two books with these characters They were essentially a series of corrupted wish stories moral tales but with a bit of cheeky subversiveness and plenty of satirical commentary for us grown ups This third book revisits the Psammead who the children find for sale in a pet store but he no longer grants them wishes he does however feel the obligation to grant wishes to anyone within earshot who might give voice to a wish and this does lend some amusement Instead the central object of the story a half amulet discovered by the children becomes a sort of time travel device sending the children across the world and history as they search for the other halfWhile this should make for as many amusing adventures as the first two books instead the book feels weighed down by its premise than buoyed up It also seemed that Nesbit never could uite nail down the mechanics of the amulet For example once the other half is found it turns out to be the same half which somehow creates a whole but then there s a third half yeah you read that right somewhere along the way too There is still some fun to be had for example when the children bring a Babylonian ueen back to London and much chaos ensues In fact I would not be surprised to learn that this portion inspired a smiliar seuence in CS Lewis s The Magician s Nephew given that Lewis references Nesbit s Bastable children in the very first lines of that book The upstairs neighbor who gets dragged along on several travels might even be where Lewis ultimately got the inspiration for Uncle Andrew Except Jimmy is pleasant andindOther elements suggest a bit sophistication in regard to the depiction of time travel than one might expect from a century old book A chapter where the children decide to explore a futuristic London is particularly fascinating as it gives us a glimpse of how Nesbit saw what the future might hold Those portions aside this book is still not nearly as good as the two which preceded it Much of the humor charm and satire of the first two books which played out in the interactions between the children and the Psammead or Phoenix is missing here and the resolution is the sort of freaky weird mysticism that was popular in Nesbit s day Unless you re set on reading all three books this one can be skipped without really missing out Have you ever heard the uestion Do you have the other half of this amulet I had and it bugged me as it was always as a tongue in cheek reference to something else but I never new what I searched for the phrase and turned up this deligh If you could be granted your heart s desire what would you wish for A magical amulet takes the children from Victorian London to ancient civilizations far distant I read some E Nesbit as a child and felt that she was an author I should like but somehow never really warmed to her The writing style was a bit too stilted even for my tastes which were decidedly old fashioned than those of my peers I appreciate her now much now that I ve learned of her place in
THE LARGER CONTEXT OF CHILDREN S LITERATURE AND REALIZElarger context of children s literature and realize radical and inventive she was for her time Also the subtle deadpan humor in the interactions between the children is something I ve come to appreciate in my recent rereadings Anyway as far as this particular book is concerned I now we had a copy of this Puffin edition in our household when I was a child I remember that blue striped dress vividly and I m fairly sure that I at least made an attempt at reading it The episode when the ancient ueen arrives in modern London seemed so familiar I have some doubts though maybe I Bonds of Need (Wicked Play, know that scene because the ueen s comment about the slaves being treated badly gets uoted so often or maybe I m remembering a very similar scene in The Magician s Nephew I donow that whether I attempted The Amulet or not I didn t finish it so the ending of this book was uite new to me and surprised me with a couple poignant moments that had me sniffing a little I chose to read it now largely in preparation for a modern day addition to this series which I hope to read soon Five Children on the Western Front by present day author Kate Saunders which takes the children to adulthood and WWI Of course such a book has the potential to be disastrously bad but I m still uite curious to see what Saunders has done with Suirrel Panther the Lamb and the others E Nesbit wrote a ton of great children s books that are sadly neglected though Puffin Classics appears to be reprinting them I generally don t find them in large bookstores but have had several lucky finds in local "resale bookstores And of course there s always Project Gutenberg The Story of the Amulet "bookstores And of course there s always Project Gutenberg The Story of the Amulet about Cyril Anthea Robert and Jane the same four children who are featured in Five Children and It the fifth child was their baby brother and The Phoenix and the Carpet In this book their old friend the Psammead the It of the first book mentioned turns up in a pet shop in London The Scoring Points kids rescue it and it points them toward an Amulet for sale in a nearby curiosity shop The Amulet is in fact a magic amulet from ancient times and it h London 23rd November 1905Dear Virginia The Story of the Amulet is at last finished and I delivered it to the publishers yesterday I must admit that I am not entirely satisfied and maybe I should not have spent uite so much time discussing it with my dear friends at the Fabian Society At first I was flattered by theeen interest they took but after a while I almost began to feel that I was writing their book rather than mine Mr Wells I am sorry to say was the most egregious offender I unwisely revealed to him at an early stage that Time Travel would feature largely in the plot this topic as you doubt. Adventures start over again 'It' leads them to a magic amulet half of it actually which they use it to try and find the other half It takes them back to ancient Egypt and Babylon The ueen of Babylon visits them in London bringing all her anc.