Jan. 16th, 2017

skygiants: (swan)
As mentioned, I had a strong urge to reread some E. Nesbit thanks to Everfair, so I took The Enchanted Castle with me on vacation.

The Enchanted Castle is quite possibly the ur-Nesbit. It has everything:

- a group of squabbling but affectionate siblings
- a ring of invisibility! (or is it a wishing ring?) (or is it a TOKEN OF THE GODS THAT EXACTS A TERRIBLE PRICE FOR ITS USAGE?) (or is it just going to make you repeatedly and unfortunately late for tea?)
- SECRET TREASURE
- a background tragic long-lost romance
- people turning into statues! statues turning into living statues! (quite useful, as it turns out that "all statues that come to life are proficient in all athletic exercises")
- implausibly friendly Greek myths come to life; see also 'living statues' (Eros is "a really nice boy, as the girls instantly agreed" and Psyche is "a darling, as any one could see")
- A DINOSAUR; see once again 'living statues'
- an unsubtle critique of capitalism
- a fair bit of probably accidental period classism
- a brief unfortunate incident of blackface
- a collection of construct puppets that come horribly alive and demand, in the most Uncanny Valley fashion possible, to be shown to a really good hotel!

The bit with the puppets that come alive is probably the most memorable set piece of The Enchanted Castle, a book that contains a number of extremely memorable set pieces; they are simultaneously so disturbing and so hilariously banal, requiring Our Plucky Heroes to screw their courage to the sticking point and NOT ONLY cunningly walk them to the tunnel where they plan to imprison them, but ALSO at the same time answer polite questions about their schoolwork and whether they play sports. The worst of all possible things!

Really, nowhere does E. Nesbit show how much she knows her way around writing kids more than in The Enchanted Castle. The magical adventures are wonderful, and occasionally rise up into the numinous and almost haunting -- I'm fascinated by the dropped remark at the end that this book would have absolutely been an epic tragedy, were it not for the convenient fact that the people who found the magical ring were children and not yet adults -- but the parts that are just kids hanging out complaining at each other without any magic at all are just as compelling, and also hilarious.

More Nesbit rereads are almost certainly in my future, though I don't remember loving any of her books quite as much as The Enchanted Castle. (Edward Eager rereads, too, since every single thing he ever wrote is an ardent love letter to E. Nesbit, which is how I discovered her in the first place.)

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