Saturday, September 20, 2014

E. Nesbit

The authoress, herself
I couldn’t help noting, after recently revisiting her books, how much influence Edith Nesbit had on later fantasy writers.
She was born in 1858 in Surrey, and, because her sister had poor health, saw a good bit of the world before she finally married a rake (she didn’t know he was a rake until after she married him, but she remained married to him, despite discovering and adopting several children of his that did not belong to her). She was a great friend and fellow Fabian of author William Morris (who deeply influenced J.R.R. Tolkien with his various writings, especially The Well at the World’s End). Edith, herself, wrote various poems and books for adults, but it wasn’t until the publication of The Treasure Seekers in 1898, that she became really beloved.
And she’s still beloved. I believe her most famous book is The Five Children and It, where five children (you guessed it) meet ‘It’, which happens to be a Psammead (which is pronounced ‘Sammy-ad’). I won’t describe It, because everybody knows what a Psammead is (and if you don’t, you should). Read the book. Don’t watch the recent movie. It isn’t worth it.
A still from the movie....looks familiar, doesn't it?
Edith Nesbit captured the wide-eyed innocence of childhood; despite her political leanings, she manages to paint an unspoiled and beautiful world where children always have tea on time and things always work out just as they should (which is not parallel to her own unhappy life).
In my opinion, her strength was her uncanny skill with fantasy. Her imagination was nearly boundless…there’s nothing formulaic about her work. Sometimes her characters build cities on the nursery floor which come to life, other times, they meet unlikely friends like a phoenix and a magic carpet (which behave in a curiously ordinary and believable way).
And she always had twists and turns which are completely hilarious and utterly unpredictable…like wishing for milk to feed nine hundred cats (don’t ask where they came from) and getting a whole cow (which I probably needn’t tell you is inconvenient in a nursery).
George MacDonald - a rather shaggy, but very interesting
character, who I might talk about some other time
I think she, along with George MacDonald, laid the foundations of modern fantasy. C. S. Lewis was especially inspired by her. Her light-hearted style must have resonated with him, because his is similar. His Grecian, psudo-medieval world of Narnia could almost have stepped out of one of her books…and some other things really did, like statues that come alive, children that find a magic, seemingly abandoned castle in the woods, or a little girl named Lucy who steps through a door into a magical world.

I’m not trying to say C. S. Lewis stole her ideas, or that his books are inferior (anyone who knows me knows that isn’t true)…but I am trying to say that Edith Nesbit isn’t as well-known as she should be. If you haven’t, you should read her books. They can be found for free everywhere from Amazon to Project Gutenberg, and if you’d rather not have a digital edition, go to a used book store. You’ll probably find them tucked away somewhere in a corner, waiting for you to come along. As Oswald Bastable would say, “They’re absolutely A1!”   



  1. I remember really enjoying the first two books with the Five Children, but the third one kind of made me ... uncomfortable, and I never finished it.
    Have you ever seen the movie version of The Treasure Seekers? It's pretty good, although definitely with a very socialistic undercurrent, and parts of it are very funny (the bratty little next door neighbor is very reminiscent of Eustace).

  2. I like some of her books better than others and 'The Story of the Amulet" is one I don't like as much (uncomfortable is a good word). 'The Railway Children', 'The Enchanted Castle' and 'The Magic City' are some of my favorites.

    I have seen an adaption of 'The Treasure Seekers', but there was more than one made, so I don't know if it's the same one you are talking about. The books are better, either way ;) and I think Albert-next-door is definitely an inspiration for Eustace.

  3. The one I've seen is the 1996 version. I think I'll watch it again soon; it's been quite a while since I last did :)

    1. I think that was the same one we saw, but it was so long ago, I barely remember it. ;)