The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit

Edith Nesbit
The Enchanted Castle

'There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen'. Doesn’t that just draw you in and entice with how wonderful and charming it sounds, you can’t not read it, can you? It just sums the book up so beautifully.

The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit available on Amazon
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‘There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen’. Doesn’t that just draw you in and entice with how wonderful and charming it sounds, you can’t not read it, can you? It just sums the book up so beautifully. 

Kathleen and Gerald and Jimmy can’t go home for the school holidays as a relative there has measles, so they stay at Kathleen’s school being supervised by a French governess, but are determined to seek out adventures and look for secret places like a cave or castle. They find a secret entrance into the glorious grounds of a castle with lakes, statues, waterfalls, fountains, terraces, temples, and a maze. They learn later this is Yalding Castle and is owned by Lord Yalding. They follow a red piece of string attached to a thimble that guides them to the heart of the maze where they find a supposed princess sleeping, who they wake with a kiss and who says she has been asleep for 100 years after pricking herself on a spindle. She invites them into her enchanted castle, and makes drawers of jewellery appear by magic. The ‘princess’ then admits she is actually the housekeeper’s niece, Mabel Prowse, that she heard the children talking so pretended to be Princess Rosamond, and that her various bits of magic, like making the jewellery appear, were tricks and that there is a secret button that makes the drawers of jewels appear and disappear. However, she makes herself invisible, much to her shock, by making a wish while wearing a ring which now won’t come off her finger. Mabel doesn’t think her aunt would believe that she is invisible, and she doesn’t think her aunt would even miss her, so she decides to live secretly with the children at the boarding school. 

They decide they can’t keep stealing food from the larder for Mabel so they must earn money, and decide to do this by performing conjuring tricks at the local fair using Mabel’s invisibility, and the conjuring tricks are a success. Mabel then realises she can now take the ring off, so Gerald puts it on to make himself invisible so he can escape the enthusiastic crowds at the fair, but then he can’t take it off to make himself visible again. Mabel decides to go back to Yalding Castle and her aunt, who is now pleased to see her and states she thinks she must have been feeling unwell before as she remembered feeling like she didn’t care about Mabel whereas she knows she always has cared for her and now does again. Gerald has gone to Yalding Castle with Mabel, planning to climb up the ivy to reach the room with the jewels in order to secure it properly as he remembers they left the door open. He concludes that Mabel’s aunt must have been affected by magic in order to stop her caring for Mabel when she was invisible. He feels affected by magic himself walking around the grounds, and then sees the stone statues move, including one of a dinosaur, they are still stone but are stepping off their plinths and moving. He then discovers burglars inside the castle stealing the silver, he alerts Mabel and her aunt by throwing a note through the window, but the burglars are gone by the time the police arrive, however Gerald has followed them and seen them hide the stolen goods and heard their plans. He goes to bed still invisible, but wakes up visible. The children go to the local police officer telling him what Gerald discovered about the thieves, so he can apprehend them that night when they collect the stolen goods. 

Eliza, the maid, ‘borrows’ the ring when she finds it in Gerald’s bed, and she now turns invisible. The children take her to the castle grounds, mainly to prevent her invisibility being discovered by others. As the sun goes down Eliza can see the statues moving, though the others who are visible can’t see them moving, including Gerald who saw the statues before. The ring comes off Eliza’s hand, and the children convince her it was all a dream prompted by her guilty conscience at ‘borrowing’ the ring. 

Mabel tells the school governess and the others all about Yalding Castle, she explains Lord Yalding doesn’t live there as he cannot afford to, that he had wished to marry a commoner and his uncle was so angry at him for this that he disinherited him and left his money to a cousin, that Lord Yalding has the castle as it was entailed to him but he can only afford its upkeep and not to live in it, that he didn’t marry the commoner as she ran away to a convent and although Lord Yalding has tried to find her he has not yet been successful. Mabel also says no-one else knows about the hidden jewellery in the secret drawers, where they found the ring. 

The ring then seems to change into a wish-granting ring, rather than an invisibility-granting ring, they discover this during a play they are acting for the school governess when Mabel, while wearing the ring, unfortunately wishes that the false audience they had earlier created from coats and paper faces and golf clubs could actually be alive and could applaud them. The false audience then do become alive and are quite terrifying to behold, moving around strangely. The children nick-name them the Ugly Wuglies, and they try to hide them in a secret passage in the grounds at Yalding Castle until the magic disperses. The new bailiff at the Castle sees them do this and insists on knowing what is going on, Gerald reluctantly tells him after assuring him they aren’t crazy, he seems a nice man though clearly doesn’t believe what he is being told about the magic ring. The children go back the next day hoping to find the Ugly Wuglies have changed back into just clothes and golf clubs, but instead find the secret passage open and the bailiff unconscious on the ground and the Ugly Wuglies gone, so they realise the bailiff must have tried to free them. They revive the bailiff, who thinks it was all a dream. They find the Ugly Wuglies in the grounds now turned back into clothes and golf clubs, apart from one who declares he is very rich and works on the stock exchange. Jimmy is terrified of him, so Gerald gives Jimmy the ring knowing this will then take away his fear, however Jimmy wishes he was rich while wearing the ring, and he then changes to an elderly grown-up, he doesn’t know the other children, and he gets on a train with the Ugly Wugly to their offices in London, with Gerald following. Gerald manages to convince the Ugly Wugly to get the ring from elderly Jimmy and pass it to him, he then immediately wishes that he and Jimmy are in the secret passage at Yalding Castle, this happens and Jimmy is young again. Kathleen and Mabel rescue them from the secret passage. 

They decide it will be safer to put the magic ring back in the secret jewellery drawer, but then begin discussing the ring and all they have learnt about it and also whether it is magic or not and how the magic works. Mabel states that the ring becomes what the wearer wants it to be, and to demonstrate her belief in this she states, while wearing the ring, that the ring will make the wearer four yards high, and then promptly grows to that length. Kathleen puts on the ring stating it is a wishing ring again, and then forgetfully says, while looking at the dinosaur statue, that she wishes she was a statue, and she promptly turns into one (I’m beginning to feel they are becoming a little repetitively careless with this ring now, although I love all of Nesbit’s imaginative and creative ideas!). Both girls stay in the grounds of the castle overnight waiting for the magic to wear off, but the boys go back to the boarding school so as not to alarm the governess with their absence, making an excuse for the girls. Mabel returns to her usual length later that night. Kathleen is still a statue but can move as the other statues do when the moonlight comes out, and she talks to the other statues. One of the statues, Phoebus, suggests that Mabel uses the ring to wish she becomes a statue so she can join them swimming and at their nightly feast, Phoebus does not seem surprised by the magic ring at all and its powers seem quite usual to him, he says they just need to be more specific with their wishes, eg Mabel needs to wish to be a statue only until till dawn and then to change back to her normal state. He says statues feel no fear, they all have athletic proficiency, they call themselves ‘immortals’, they can hear and talk and see as well as move during the time of enchantment, he also says everything in their world is 7 times as much, quantity and quality-wise, and the girls see 7 moons reflected in the water though only one in the sky (oooh, the magical number 7!). They also use the ring to wish that the boys are statues until dawn so they can join them too. 

The feast begins with the statues pulling fruit and containers and drinks from the trees, and this food and drink is the most delicious that the children have ever tasted, and the music the statues play is like none they’ve ever heard ‘silencing all thought but the thought of itself’ and ‘all the beautiful dreams of all the world came fluttering close’ and ‘all the lovely thoughts that sometimes hover near but not so near that you can catch them, now came home’ and they ‘forgot time and space and how to be sad’. The statues ask how the children acquired the ring, and they tell them. The statues say it is ‘the’ ring and is the heart of magic. They say that all statues come alive when the moon shines but that statues placed in ugly cities choose not to come alive as there is nothing nice for them to look at, they say there is one night a year that people can see the statues move without needing to wear a magic ring and this night is the festival of the harvest which is in 14 days’ time from then, that the moon then strikes a perfect beam of light into the temple at Hellas and into the Temple of Strange Stones in the garden at Yalding Castle, and also on that night the statues are obliged to answer any question put to them by a ‘mortal’. The children return to normal and then realise they are on the island in the garden and none of them can swim, and that the statue Psyche now has the ring. They walk round the island hoping to see a boat, and Gerald trips and falls down a secret passage with steps, the boys had luckily brought a lamp with them so they all venture down the passage which leads to a huge hall full of arches and light, this is the Hall of Granted Wishes, and in each arch are pictures of moments when life had sprung, such as two lovers holding hands, a ship on the sea, a king on his throne, a mother bending over a cradle, an artist gazing at the painting he’d just created, and these seem to the children to not be pictures but to be truths and to be immortal. They realise the light in the hall comes from the statue Psyche, and Gerald takes the ring from the statue’s finger, and Kathleen uses it to wish they were all home in bed. 

They meet with the bailiff again, and Jimmy is keen to convince him they are telling the truth about the ring so gives him the ring to make a wish with. He wishes for his friend to be here, and the school governess appears. The bailiff is actually Lord Yalding, and the governess was the lady he was forbidden to marry and who was sent to a convent by her guardian as he considered Lord Yalding too poor and he wanted the lady’s money for himself. Lord Yalding takes the ring and sees the statues move at night, he fears he is going mad and calls off the wedding but is convinced by the children to go with them and the governess to the Temple of Strange Stones at the festival of the harvest. They are overwhelmed when the moon shines into the centre of a flat stone within a circle of stones, they feel like ‘every place that one has seen or dreamed of is here’ and that they are ‘where everything was easy and beautiful’. All the statues of the world also gather there. The children had planned to ask the statues questions after being promised that at that moment all questions asked would be answered, but they don’t ask anything as they feel that ‘all things are understood without speech’. When the moonlight fades, they sleep, and when they awake the statues have gone. They go to the Hall of Granted Wishes, and the statue of Psyche speaks through the governess saying that the ring was given long ago to Lord Yalding’s ancestor by a lady of Psyche’s house in order that a castle and garden could be built similar to her own palace and garden in her homeland using some magic and some of his efforts, but that the ring exacts a payment from the wisher, apart from when used by children, so the lady died before the castle and garden were complete. She says that Lord Yalding’s wish to have the governess come to him, resulted in him feeling like he was mad and this was the payment exacted from him by the ring. She says only the final wish of the ring is a free one with no payment to be exacted, so the governess then wishes that all the magic that the ring had granted be now undone, and that the ring becomes nothing more than a wedding ring for her and Lord Yalding. Psyche’s statue then becomes a grave, the Hall of Granted Wishes is gone as are many of the secret passages and rooms in the Castle and many of the statues in the garden. However the jewels in the secret drawer are left, and these provide money for Lord Yalding and his bride, and the children often stay with them at Yalding Castle. 

The final magic at the Temple of Strange Stones and the Hall of Granted Wishes seems very romantic extra-magical magic, almost otherworldly or heavenly/religious. It kind of feels like there is a message Nesbit was intending to convey to the reader with this, and I feel a bit frustrated that I don’t seem to have grasped that message. Or is this due to the different time she was writing in and the views that were important then that she feels she ought to, or wants to, convey to the reader? I’m wondering if this is a religious message, and it reminds me of how this religious message is inferred in The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe with the lion seeming god-like and being sacrificed, and even in the final Harry Potter book with Harry being in a heavenly-type place when he ‘dies’ and meeting Dumbledore again who advises him as a god-like figure and with Harry then being ‘resurrected’ in a religious type of way. 

I like the children in this book, especially Gerald who has a ‘way of telling a story while he acted it…(sounding) like a book in moments of excitement’, he says things such as “The bold captain, reproving the silly chatter of his subordinates…” and “Our hero, who nothing could dismay, raised the faltering hopes of his abject minions”. 

It reminds me of The Borrowers books in a way, as there seems a small element of doubt as to if the magic is real, and Nesbit implies at the end of the book that the children have pretended that she invented the whole story, but she says in the final words of the book ‘facts are facts, and you can’t explain them away’. It also reminds me of the Adventure books of Enid Blyton, as food and meals play an important part in everything, particularly before any decision-making or planning when the children always suggest a meal first. 

I like the way Nesbit writes, it is in quite a grown-up way to the child reader, it’s also quite humorous, particularly the way the children speak and gently tease each other. I like the way Nesbit talks to the readers too, it makes it feel personal, like she’s writing a letter to you, and is often humorous too, ‘Those of my readers who have gone about much with an invisible companion…’ and ‘I wish I had time to tell you…’ and ‘What the boy did or thought I don’t know either. No more does Gerald. But he would like to know, whereas I don’t care tuppence’, and ‘Jimmy’s thoughts, of course, I can read like any old book’ and ‘There are some days like that, you know, when everything goes well from the very beginning, all the things you want are in their places, nobody misunderstands you, and all that you do turns out admirably’. 

And I just love love love all the details in this book, and particularly what the children gradually learn about the magic and the ring. They conclude that the garden of the castle is enchanted in some way, and it’s only when you’re invisible and it’s after sunset that you can see the stone statues move. They also realise that the ring only stays on someone’s finger for a certain length of time and that these lengths of time seem to be divisible by 7 (the magical number 7 again!) as the first event lasts for 21 hours, the second 14 hours, the third 7 hours. They also learn that when you are wearing the ring, other people who usually care for you no longer care for you until the ring is off again. They also learn that the person wearing the ring isn’t afraid of anything he or she sees, unless they touch it. They also realise that the ring won’t let you wish for a previous wish to be undone. I like the way they learn how this all works, along with the reader, and I love how much thought Nesbit has put into this. 

I also like the practical details she includes, such as the invisible person’s shadow showing on the ground and the children having to try and conceal this when they walk along, and that the clothes that an invisible person is wearing are also invisible until they take an item of clothing off, such as a hat, and this can then be seen, and that an item of food can be seen being picked up by an invisible hand but once the food goes into their mouth it can no longer be seen.

But mostly it is just such a charming and beautiful book, I loved every moment of reading it. I see it was written in 1907, which adds to the charm too, I feel. I have The Railway Children on my list of books to read, but I see there are several other magical books she wrote that I will aim to read too and hope they are as charming as this one.

The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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