Friday 15 May 2015

Re-visiting E. Nesbit

I've been on a bit of a mission lately to read classic books that, for some reason, passed me by as a child. My selection back then was largely governed by what was in the Leighton Buzzard library and what I was given for Christmas. So I'd only read one book by E. Nesbit: The Enchanted Castle. I'd also seen The Railway Children on television lots of times, but never read the book. So I was very happy to borrow The Railway Children from a friend and to buy The Phoenix and the Carpet from my local bookshop.

The first thing that struck me was how the pace of her writing never lags; something that can't be said for all classic children's books. I also enjoyed how assured she is at writing group scenes. In The Phoenix and the Carpet the four siblings figure in most of the scenes, usually with the Phoenix and often with other characters they've encountered on their travels. She never loses sight of the different characters voices and motivations. In one scene in chapter two they are stuck inside a dark tower as a result of a misguided wish:

Then across the carpet they looked at each other, and then every chin was tilted up and every eye sought vainly to see where poor Robert had got to. Of course, they couldn't see him.
"I wish we hadn't come," said Jane.
"You always do," said Cyril, briefly.

Having a magical Phoenix and a wishing carpet seems amazing to the children, but the unintended consequences of their wishes are sometimes hilarious, sometimes irritating and often downright dangerous. I'm enjoying it very much in spite of the occasional outdated attitude relating to class, race and gender. Next I shall be trying The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

Paula Harrison is the author of Red Moon Rising

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