The Story of the Amulet: A charming classic

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit children's fantasy audiobook reviewsThe Story of the Amulet by Edith Nesbit

The Story of the Amulet is a sequel to Edith Nesbit’s famous story collection, Five Children and It, in which five siblings discover a wish-granting sand fairy named The Psammead. Each story in Five Children and It tells of a single day when the children ask the Psammead for something they think they want. Their wishes always backfire and give Nesbit the opportunity to humorously illustrate the adage “be careful what you wish for.” At the end of Five Children and It, the siblings have learned their lesson and promise to never ask the sand fairy for another wish, but they mention that they hope to meet the Psammead again someday. And indeed they do in The Story of the Amulet. The children wander into a pet shop and find that the Psammead has been captured and caged, and is for sale. He asks the children to buy him and magically provides the money, so they take him home.

The children have a couple of noble desires — they want their father to come home from the war and for their mother to get well — but they had promised not to ask the sand fairy for anything else, so the Psammead tells them about an amulet he saw in a shop which will give them the desires of their heart. When the children procure the amulet, they discover that it has been broken in half and won’t work. So, the Psammead teaches them how to use the half they have to travel through space and time to look for the other half. During their travels, they visit several places — ancient Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, even Atlantis and the London of the future — and learn about the history, culture and technology of the places they visit. In a couple of instances they make suggestions to world leaders that drastically change the future. (This is a little corny, but it’s a kids’ book.)

The Story of the Amulet is sweet and charming, though I didn’t find it to be quite as amusing and clever as Five Children and It. The difference is that the separate stories in Five Children and It were morality tales which showed the folly of wishing to be beautiful, rich, grown up, etc., whereas The Story of the Amulet  mainly instructs children about historical cultures. However, Nesbit does take the opportunity to give some moral commentary which was rather progressive for her day. For example, when she brings the queen of ancient Babylon to the London of 1900, the queen is horrified at how Londoners treat their “slaves” (the working class). Nesbit also criticizes English practices which were unsafe for children. (The Story of the Amulet was published a couple of years before England’s Children Act of 1908 was passed.) Her progressive tendencies can also be seen in the episode where the children visit a future utopian London and meet a boy named Wells (named after Nesbit’s socialist friend H.G. Wells). In Nesbit’s utopia, women wear comfortable soft clothes without hats, the men help raise children, and children are taught not to litter. (There’s more, but I thought it was wonderful that these particular “utopian” ideas have caught on!)

If you haven’t read Edith Nesbit, please do! I’d recommend Five Children and It first, though. The Phoenix and the Carpet is also quite nice, as is The Enchanted Castle and The Railway Children. I listened to the audio production of The Story of the Amulet (Red Door Audiobooks) which was read by Cathy Dobson, who did a wonderful job. It’s just over eight hours long.

Psammead — (1902-1906) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Be careful what you ask for. You may get it! That’s the message in this delightful tale of five youngsters who discover a bizarre sand creature that grants wishes. There’s a catch, of course: the wishes come undone at sunset, and worse yet, things often get out of hand!

These are in the public domain. There are several versions available, including free Kindle versions.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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6 comments

  1. How nice to see these reviewed here! I discovered Nesbit long after I was the right age for her audience and really enjoyed the books (didactic passages apart). And it’s good to know from your review that at least one nation has apparently cracked the littering children thing. And the comfy clothes for women.

  2. So glad about the littering! Seriously, we get her books in the store from time to time, but they don’t stay long. She is a treasure.

  3. Katy Hedrick /

    Nesbit is a great author! My oldest daughter loves her. My 5 yr old hasn’t quite got to the age for her yet, but soon. We actually found a “fantasy” series for her though, the Horse Valley Adventure Series by Liana Allen, lmabooks.com. It’s fun to see her get into fantasy reads as all of us in the house love that genre!

  4. Helen Taylor /

    Hi,

    I’m not sure if your readers would be interested but I thought I’d let you know that I’ve recorded the unabridged audiobooks of the Story of the Amulet and the Phoenix and the Carpet. They’re free to download. (If you listen and enjoy a review would be nice though!).
    https://archive.org/details/phoenixcarpet_1408_librivox
    https://archive.org/details/storyofamulet_1410_librivox

    Love me a bit of Nesbit. She’s so much fun!
    Best wishes,

    Helen

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