The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit (published 1907) is a tale of modern magical enchantments. Three children, Gerald (Jerry), Jimmy, and Kathleen (Cathy), stumble upon a large estate that reminds them of a castle; in their play-acting, they stumble upon a sleeping girl they decide must be a princess. Despite her later declaration that she is just the housemaid’s niece, Mabel, their play-acting seems to have become real when the ring she puts on has become a ring of invisibility.
Mabel, Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy proceed to have a summer of magical adventures, for the ring’s magic powers extend much farther. Although somewhat ridiculous in its magical extent, The Enchanted Castle provides plenty of realistic moments to keep the story, as a whole, grounded for young children.
Because the setting and characters in The Enchanted Castle are real, turn-of-the-century personalities (complete with a tendency to argue somewhat), the story rings true. Jerry is the natural leader and often pretends he is in a novel. Jimmy, the youngest, disbelieves everything and seeks his turn in the limelight. Cathy and Mabel are delighted to have found adventure and add a degree of moderation to the fun of the story. Because these children are so real in their personalities, the readers too will delight in the summer of adventures. Modern children may not relate to the boarding school aspect or the sense of freedom the children enjoy, but that makes the book all the more magical: it takes place in an era where childhood truly was magic.
As in The Railway Children (reviewed recently), The Enchanted Castle is delightfully written. Its strengths lie in the fact that it is an Edwardian children’s novel depicting a glorious age of childhood that is no more. I once again found myself wistful for an era of less paranoia, less busyness, and fewer crowds for children, so that childhood could be open, adventurous, and free. In our suburban neighborhood, in this twenty-first century, such freedom to roam is not realistic.
The magic in The Enchanted Castle did not feel as natural or clearly developed as the magic in Five Children and It (reviewed last year), another magical Nesbit classic. While the ring of The Enchanted Castle was actually much more powerful than the sand fairy in the other novel, I did not feel as connected with the enchantments here. In some ways, I feel Nesbit gave it too much too soon. The novel feels superficially magical; the first portions felt real, but as the story progressed, quickly the magic overtook the natural interests in the rest of the novel. It did not feel as delightfully real by the end of the novel.
That is not to say I did not enjoy the book. I did, immensely. While I did not read it to my children this time around, I do intend to keep it in their path in the future. Nesbit was obviously a skilled writer, and although this book was not my favorite of the three novels I’ve read, it certainly had strengths enough to remain a classic from now and into the future for a long time to be.
What Nesbit novel(s) are your favorites?