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The Story of the Amulet

The Story of the Amulet

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The Story of the Amulet is a novel for children
Children's literature
Children's literature is for readers and listeners up to about age twelve; it is often defined in four different ways: books written by children, books written for children, books chosen by children, or books chosen for children. It is often illustrated. The term is used in senses which sometimes...

, written in 1906 by English author Edith Nesbit.

It is the final part of a trilogy
A trilogy is a set of three works of art that are connected, and that can be seen either as a single work or as three individual works. They are commonly found in literature, film, or video games...

 of novels that also includes Five Children and It
Five Children and It
Five Children and It is a children's novel by English author Edith Nesbit, first published in 1902; it was expanded from a series of stories published in the Strand Magazine in 1900 under the general title The Psammead, or the Gifts. It is the first of a trilogy...

(1902) and The Phoenix and the Carpet
The Phoenix and the Carpet
The Phoenix and the Carpet is a fantasy novel for children, written in 1904 by E. Nesbit. It is the second in a trilogy of novels that began with Five Children and It , and follows the adventures of the same five protagonists – Cyril, Anthea, Robert, Jane and the Lamb...

(1904). In it the children re-encounter the Psammead—the "it" in Five Children and It. As it no longer grants wishes to the children, however, its capacity is mainly advisory in relation to the children's other discovery, the Amulet, thus following a formula successfully established in The Phoenix and the Carpet.

Plot summary

At the beginning of this book the children's father, a journalist, has gone overseas to cover the war
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

 in Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

. Their mother has gone to Madeira
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago that lies between and , just under 400 km north of Tenerife, Canary Islands, in the north Atlantic Ocean and an outermost region of the European Union...

 to recuperate from an illness, taking with her their younger brother, the Lamb. The children are living with an old Nurse who has set up a boardinghouse in central London
Central London
Central London is the innermost part of London, England. There is no official or commonly accepted definition of its area, but its characteristics are understood to include a high density built environment, high land values, an elevated daytime population and a concentration of regionally,...

. Her only remaining boarder is a scholarly Egyptologist who has filled his bedsit with ancient artifacts. During the course of the book, the children get to know the "poor learned gentleman" and befriend him and call him Jimmy.

Cook's house is in Fitzrovia
Fitzrovia is a neighbourhood in central London, near London's West End lying partly in the London Borough of Camden and partly in the City of Westminster ; and situated between Marylebone and Bloomsbury and north of Soho. It is characterised by its mixed-use of residential, business, retail,...

, the district of London near the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

, which Nesbit accurately conveys as having bookstalls and shops filled with unusual merchandise. In one of these shops the children find the Psammead. It had been captured by a trapper, who failed to recognise it as a magical being. The terrified creature cannot escape, for it can only grant wishes to others, not to itself. Using a ruse, the children persuade the shopkeeper to sell them the "mangy old monkey," and they free their old friend.

Guided by the Psammead the children purchase an ancient Amulet in the shape of an Egyptian Tyet
The tyet is an ancient Egyptian symbol of the goddess Isis; its exact origin is unknown. In many respects the tyet resembles an ankh, except that its arms curve down...

 (a small amulet of very similar shape to the picture can be seen in the British Museum today http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aes/r/red_jasper_tit_amulet_of_nefer.aspx), which should be able to grant them their hearts' desire: the safe return of their parents and baby brother. But this Amulet is only the surviving half of an original whole. By itself, it cannot grant their hearts' desire. Yet it can serve as a portal, enabling time travel
Time travel
Time travel is the concept of moving between different points in time in a manner analogous to moving between different points in space. Time travel could hypothetically involve moving backward in time to a moment earlier than the starting point, or forward to the future of that point without the...

 to find the other half.

In the course of the novel the Amulet transports the children and the Psammead to times and places where the Amulet has previously existed, in the hope that — somewhen in time — the children can find the Amulet's missing half. Among the ancient realms they visit are Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

, Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, the Phoenician city of Tyre, a ship to "the in Islands]" (ancient Cornwall
Cornwall is a unitary authority and ceremonial county of England, within the United Kingdom. It is bordered to the north and west by the Celtic Sea, to the south by the English Channel, and to the east by the county of Devon, over the River Tamar. Cornwall has a population of , and covers an area of...

), and Atlantis
Atlantis is a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written about 360 BC....

 just before the flood. In one chapter, they meet Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 on the shores of Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

, just as he has decided that Britain is not worth invading. Jane's childish prattling about the glories of England persuades Caesar to invade
Caesar's invasions of Britain
In his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice, in 55 and 54 BC. The first invasion, made late in summer, was either intended as a full invasion or a reconnaissance-in-force expedition...

 after all.

In each of their time-jaunts, the children are magically able to speak and comprehend the contemporary language. Nesbit acknowledges this in her narration, without offering any explanation. The children eventually bring "Jimmy" along with them on some of their time trips. For some reason, Jimmy does not share the children's magical gift of fluency in the local language: he can only understand (for example) Latin based on his own studies.

In one chapter the children also come to the future, visiting a British utopia
Utopia is an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was imported from Greek by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt...

 in which H.G. Wells is venerated as a prophet. Wells and E. Nesbit were both members of the Fabian
Fabian Society
The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist, rather than revolutionary, means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the 19th century and continuing up to World...

 political movement, as was George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

, and this chapter in The Story of the Amulet is essentially different from all the other trips in the narrative: whereas all the other adventures in this novel contain scrupulously detailed accounts of past civilisations, the children's trip into the future represents Nesbit's vision of utopia. This episode can be compared to many other visions of utopian socialist futures published in that era; Nesbit's is notable in that it concentrates on how the life of children at school would be radically different, with economic changes only appearing briefly in the background. (It seems somewhat akin to William Morris
William Morris
William Morris 24 March 18343 October 1896 was an English textile designer, artist, writer, and socialist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts and Crafts Movement...

's News from Nowhere
News from Nowhere
News from Nowhere is a classic work combining utopian socialism and soft science fiction written by the artist, designer and socialist pioneer William Morris...

.) It also mentions a pressing danger of Edwardian England: the number of children wounded, burned, and killed each year. (This concern was addressed in the Children Act 1908
Children Act 1908
The 1908 Children's Act, also known as Children and Young Persons Act, part of the Children's Charter was a piece of government legislation passed by the Liberal government, as part of the British Liberal Party's liberal reforms package...

, and later in the Children's Charter.)

Literary significance & criticism

The Story of the Amulet profits greatly from Nesbit's deep research into ancient civilizations in general and that of ancient Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 in particular. The book is dedicated to Sir E. A. Wallis Budge
E. A. Wallis Budge
Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge was an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who worked for the British Museum and published numerous works on the ancient Near East.-Earlier life:...

, the translator of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Keeper of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities of the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

, with whom she met to discuss the history of the ancient Near East while writing the book. The Amulet is sentient and is named Ur Hekau Setcheh; this is a genuine Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

ian name. The hieroglyphics
Egyptian hieroglyphs
Egyptian hieroglyphs were a formal writing system used by the ancient Egyptians that combined logographic and alphabetic elements. Egyptians used cursive hieroglyphs for religious literature on papyrus and wood...

 written on the back of the Amulet are also authentic.

Amulet coincidentally appeared the same year as the first installment of another story involving children viewing different periods of history, Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling
Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English poet, short-story writer, and novelist chiefly remembered for his celebration of British imperialism, tales and poems of British soldiers in India, and his tales for children. Kipling received the 1907 Nobel Prize for Literature...

's Puck of Pook's Hill
Puck of Pook's Hill
Puck of Pook's Hill is a historical fantasy book by Rudyard Kipling, published in 1906, containing a series of short stories set in different periods of English history. The stories are all narrated to two children living near Burwash, in the area of Kipling's own house Bateman's, by people...


During their adventure in Babylon, the children attempt to summon a Babylonian deity named Nisroch
Nisroch is the Assyrian god of agriculture, in whose temple Sennacherib was worshipping when he was assassinated . Josephus calls him Dagon....

 but are temporarily unable to recall his name: Cyril, in an obvious in-joke
An in-joke, also known as an inside joke or in joke, is a joke whose humour is clear only to people who are in a particular social group, occupation, or other community of common understanding...

, refers to the god as "Nesbit". Author E. Nesbit was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was a magical order active in Great Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which practiced theurgy and spiritual development...

http://www.answers.com/topic/stella-matutina, and was knowledgeable about ancient religions; she may well have been aware that there was indeed an ancient deity named Nesbit: this was the Egyptian god of the fifth hour of the day. In F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre
F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Fergus Gwynplaine MacIntyre was a journalist, novelist, poet and illustrator, who lived in New York City and said he had lived in Scotland and Wales. MacIntyre's writings include the science-fiction novel The Woman Between the Worlds and his anthology of verse and humor pieces MacIntyre's...

's novel The Woman Between the Worlds (1994, taking place in 1898), E. Nesbit briefly appears in the narrative, dressed in costume as the Egyptian god Nesbit.

The chapter The Queen in London contains broadly negative stereotypes of stockbrokers clearly intended to be Jewish: they are described as having "curved noses"; they have Jewish names such as Levinstein, Rosenbaum, Hirsh and Cohen; and their dialogue is rendered in an exaggerated dialect of Yiddish-inflected English.

Allusions and references in The Story of the Amulet

The chapter "The Queen in London" satirizes then-contemporary occult belief. A journalist mistakes the Queen of Babylon for the Theosophist
Theosophy, in its modern presentation, is a spiritual philosophy developed since the late 19th century. Its major themes were originally described mainly by Helena Blavatsky , co-founder of the Theosophical Society...

 Annie Besant
Annie Besant
Annie Besant was a prominent British Theosophist, women's rights activist, writer and orator and supporter of Irish and Indian self rule.She was married at 19 to Frank Besant but separated from him over religious differences. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society ...

 (like Nesbit, a socialist and social reformer) and mentions Theosophy in reference to (to him) inexplicable events taking place in the British Museum
British Museum
The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

). "Thought-transference" (telepathy
Telepathy , is the induction of mental states from one mind to another. The term was coined in 1882 by the classical scholar Fredric W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research, and has remained more popular than the more-correct expression thought-transference...

) also gets a mention as part of an elaborate and mistaken rationalization for the Queen's "delusion" that she comes from ancient Babylon.

The eponymously named ninth chapter, which takes place in Atlantis
Atlantis is a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written about 360 BC....

, though primarily inspired by Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's dialogue Critias
Critias (dialogue)
Critias, one of Plato's late dialogues, contains the story of the mighty island kingdom Atlantis and its attempt to conquer Athens, which failed due to the ordered society of the Athenians...

, also borrows such details from C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne's novel The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis
The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis
The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis is a fantasy novel by C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne. It is considered one of the classic fictional retellings of the story of the drowning of Atlantis, combining elements of the myth told by Plato with the earlier Greek myth concerning the survival of a universal...

(1899), such as the presence of mammoth
A mammoth is any species of the extinct genus Mammuthus. These proboscideans are members of Elephantidae, the family of elephants and mammoths, and close relatives of modern elephants. They were often equipped with long curved tusks and, in northern species, a covering of long hair...

s, dinosaur
Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade and superorder Dinosauria. They were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for over 160 million years, from the late Triassic period until the end of the Cretaceous , when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of...

s, and a volcanic mountain
2. Bedrock3. Conduit 4. Base5. Sill6. Dike7. Layers of ash emitted by the volcano8. Flank| 9. Layers of lava emitted by the volcano10. Throat11. Parasitic cone12. Lava flow13. Vent14. Crater15...

 on the island.

The final chapter in which the lonely yearning Learned Gentleman and the quixotic ancient Egyptian Priest fuse into a single being; with the ritual being overseen by a young girl Anthea is one of the most stirring and unusual moments in the book. It almost appears to represent a marriage, not just of intellect and ancient knowledge, but of love.

Influence on other works

Several elements in The Story of the Amulet were borrowed by C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...

 for his Narnia series
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia is a series of seven fantasy novels for children by C. S. Lewis. It is considered a classic of children's literature and is the author's best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages...

, particularly The Horse and His Boy
The Horse and His Boy
The Horse and His Boy is a novel by C. S. Lewis. It was published in 1954, making it the fifth of seven books published in Lewis' series The Chronicles of Narnia. The books in this series are sometimes ordered chronologically in relation to the events in the books as opposed to the dates of their...

(1954) and The Magician's Nephew
The Magician's Nephew
The Magician's Nephew is a fantasy novel for children written by C. S. Lewis. It was the sixth book published in his The Chronicles of Narnia series, but is the first in the chronology of the Narnia novels' fictional universe. Thus it is an early example of a prequel.The novel is initially set in...

(1955) . The deity Nisroch closely resembles the Calormen
In C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia series of novels, Calormen is a large country to the southeast of Narnia. Lewis derived its name from the Latin calor, meaning "heat". When used as an adjective Lewis spelled the name with an 'e' at the end . Narnia and Calormen are separated by a large desert...

e god Tash
Tash (Narnia)
Tash is a fictional character found in C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series. He is an antagonist in the novels The Horse and His Boy and The Last Battle....

, while his name may have influenced the title of the Calormene king, the Tisroc
In C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, a Tisroc is a ruler of Calormen. His position is most like that of a Pharaoh, in that he is an absolute monarch, and is believed to be descended from the Calormen god Tash. Whenever a Calormen citizen speaks of the Tisroc, he adds "may he live for ever," and...

. The King of Babylon, like the Tisroc, must have his name followed by "may he live forever", and the Queen of Babylon's accidental journey to London, and the havoc she causes there, closely parallel the appearance of Jadis
White Witch
Jadis is the main antagonist of The Magician's Nephew and of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in C.S. Lewis' series, The Chronicles of Narnia...

, Queen of Charn
Charn is a fictional city appearing in the 1955 book The Magician's Nephew, book six in C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, written as a prequel to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the book, Charn is described as a very large and completely deserted city that is in a semi-ruined state....

, in London in The Magician's Nephew.

Although no direct influence is attributed, the plot of the science fiction film Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure contains a basic similarity to the plot of "the Amulet", viz. children in trouble chancing to meet a mysterious person who can give them the ability to travel through time, albeit randomly, and meet famous historical figures, bringing them back to the present time, and, directly or indirectly, using their experiences to help them in their mission. The comic inappropriateness of important historical figures meeting innocent children from another time is also utilised in both stories, as is the opportunity for education of young readers and film viewers. This story refers to C. S. lewis's Narnia.

External links