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"The Phoenix and the Carpet" Story and Edith Nesbit Facts

Linda Crampton is a teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. Her favourite genres are classic literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

My omnibus edition of children’s books by Edith Nesbit

My omnibus edition of children’s books by Edith Nesbit

A Classic Children's Book

The Phoenix and the Carpet is an imaginative children’s story written by Edith Nesbit and published in 1904. I know the writer's work best for The Railway Children, a novel that I’ve loved since childhood. I read her tale about an eloquent Phoenix, a flying carpet, and five children eager to explore new opportunities when I was an adult. I enjoyed reading about the children's explorations and loved the magical elements in the story, but the tale contains some problematic sections.

Parents may want to read the the book before their child does and to have a discussion with the child before they read the story. Like several children’s books from a bygone era, the story contains some descriptions about people that are unacceptable today. In addition, as in the traditional myth, the Phoenix is consumed by fire during the regeneration process. Younger children might like to be reassured that since the Phoenix is a magical creature, it doesn't experience pain in the flames and it's still alive in the egg that it laid before entering the fire.

Five Adventurous Children

The story describes the adventures of five siblings. Despite some disagreements, they are good friends and cooperate in their creative exploits. They aren't deliberately naughty, but their behaviour sometimes gives the impression that they are.

The youngest child is around two years old. He is referred to as the Lamb because the first word that he said was "Baa." His real name is Hilary. The Lamb participates in some of the older children's adventures, but not in all of them. The other children (from youngest to oldest) are Jane, Robert, Anthea, and Cyril. Their parents appear in the story but don't get in the way of the adventures.

The book is the second in a trilogy about the children. The first book in the series is entitled Five Children and It and the last The Story of the Amulet. In the first book, the children meet "It," a strange and ancient creature known as a Psammead, or a Sand-fairy. Both names are capitalized by the author, as is the word "Phoenix". The Psammead grants the children's wishes according to certain rules. The wishes often have unexpected results.

Though he doesn't appear in the second book in the trilogy, the Psammead is mentioned several times. He indirectly helps the children when the Phoenix visits him to get a wish on the children's behalf. (The carpet grants travel wishes but accepts only three a day.)

The Psammead doesn't look like a typical fairy. Its body is tubby, brown, and furry. It has two arms, two legs, and two eyes. Its eyes are located at the tips of long horns, which can be moved in and out like telescopes.

An illustrator’s depiction of the phoenix

An illustrator’s depiction of the phoenix

The Legend of the Phoenix

In real life, the story of the mythical phoenix is an enduring legend. Multiple versions of the legend exist. In most of them, the phoenix is a majestic and beautiful gold and purple bird. After a long life (often said to be around 500 years), the bird enters a fire produced from specific items. Though the bird is apparently destroyed by the fire, a worm is visible in the ashes. 1,000 to 2,000 years later, the worm becomes a new phoenix. In some versions of the story, the new phoenix is a different individual from the first one. In most, however, it's a regenerated version of the previous bird. The statements of the Phoenix in the children's book indicate that it regenerates after a period of rest.

In E. Nesbit's story, the Phoenix is scornful of the book entry about it that is read by Cyril. It tells the children that the information about the worm is a "vulgar insult" and that it produces an egg "like all respectable birds." When the egg hatches, the Phoenix is born again. The bird is also annoyed that it's said to be gold and purple in colour instead of pure gold.

The Phoenix is referred to as an "it" in the legends and in the book, so I'll follow the custom. It's a strange designation for the bird in the novel, who speaks like a human, has a distinct personality, and lays an egg.

A firework display seems like a suitable welcome for the Phoenix.

A firework display seems like a suitable welcome for the Phoenix.

The Phoenix Arrives

The story begins just before the fifth of November, which is a day for a bonfire and fireworks celebration in Britain. The children test the quality of some fireworks by lighting them in a tray in the nursery. As a result, the carpet is ruined. A new one is purchased. As it's unfolded, a strangely luminous egg is revealed. The children put the egg on the mantle piece, unaware that both the egg and the carpet are very special items.

Later, while the children are playing a game, Robert accidently knocks the egg into the fire. The egg becomes red-hot, and the Phoenix emerges. It stays in the flames as it grows and then leaves the fire and flies around the room. The bird's first words to the fascinated children are to be careful because it is not yet cool. The children had been hoping for something magical to happen after their experience with the Psammead was over, and now it has.

The Phoenix soon reveals that the new carpet in the nursery that contained the egg belongs to him. It also says that it's a magic carpet that transports people (and the bird) to where they wish to be. The children then hear their parents unlock the front door and realize that they should be in bed. The bird tells them to wish themselves into bed while they are standing on the carpet and then to wish the carpet back to its original place. The children do so and are delighted to find that the process works.

The Phoenix asks the children not to reveal its presence to their kinsfolk. It often uses ornate and old-fashioned vocabulary in its speech. The bird then hides on the cornice above the curtains. It becomes an expert in hiding in the home during its stay with the family.

The Flying or Wishing Carpet

The flying carpet is an interesting character in the story. Though it's not alive in the sense that the humans and the Phoenix are, it has some life-like features. It understands the destination requests that the children make and enables them to have some interesting experiences. During a flight, it becomes rigid to support its passengers. The writer says that "no one was at all afraid of tumbling off.'

We eventually learn that the carpet can fly on its own if it receives instructions. The request must be written on a sheet of paper, which must then be pinned face down on the carpet so that it can be read.

As the story progresses, the carpet becomes damaged. Anthea repeatedly tries to repair it, but she's forced to use non-magic thread. As a result, the children have to be careful where they position themselves on the carpet as they make a wish.

The function of the wishing carpet is sometimes hindered based on its current state and the position of the passengers. In one incident, it transports a clergyman to officiate at a wedding. The clergyman arrives at his destination in a semi-transparent form and is able to see both the location of the wedding and his living room, where he started his journey.

The children suspect that the magic carpet comes from Turkey, but it actually comes from Persia (which is called Iran today).

A Trip to the Phoenix Fire Office

Adventures via the wishing carpet form a major part of the story. Events near the children's home during the Phoenix's visit are also described. One of them is a trip to the Phoenix Fire Office, which is taken at the bird's request. The office belongs to an insurance company that helps people when their property is damaged by fire.

The Phoenix calls the building a temple and the staff his priests. The trip highlights the fact that though it's kind towards the children, the Phoenix is also vain and likes admiration. It also raises the suspicion that the bird has more powers than have previously been revealed.

The children meet a kind staff member who invites the group into his office. Though at first he is shocked to hear the bird speak intelligently, he very quickly accepts the idea. Furthermore, other staff members react in the same way. The staff quickly decide to hold a ceremony in the board room to pay homage to the Phoenix. It seems to the reader that something magical is happening. The staff follow all of the bird's instructions related to the preparation of the ceremony and its speeches.

After the elaborate event is finished and the Phoenix is well satisfied, the staff return to their offices. When they reach them, they each believe that they fell asleep and that the event was a dream. None of them share the dream because they don't want to reveal the fact that they fell asleep at work. The writer gets around the problem of the staff finding physical evidence of the celebration in the board room by saying that they stay well away from it in the near future, which enables it to be returned to normal by the visiting cleaners.

The Phoenix Fire Office was a real company. According to the British Museum, it was founded circa 1770 and merged with other insurance companies in the late 20th century.

The Phoenix in Old Age

Life with the children causes the Phoenix to age at a greatly accelerated rate. Near the end of the book, it becomes obvious that the behaviour of the bird is changing. It tells the children that it's tired and is growing old. When the children respond by saying that the bird hatched from the egg only a short time ago, it makes the following statement.

Time is, as you are probably aware, merely a convenient fiction. There is no such thing as time. I have lived in these two months at a pace which generously counteracts 500 years of life in the desert. I am old, I am weary.

Shortly after the bird makes the statement above, it goes to a theatre with the children to see a play. The Phoenix hides under Robert's jacket, as it has often done when the children travel around the local area without the carpet. The children's parents leave them at the theatre and plan to pick them up when the performance is over.

As the play progresses, the Phoenix becomes convinced that the performance is meant to honour him. It's disappointed that there is no altar, fire, or incense and becomes excited and tense. It then flies around the theatre. The children see that it has left sparks along the path of the flight. The sparks produce flames, which delight the bird. The audience is terrified, however. In a panic, they crowd around the exits.

Though the fire doesn't injure people, the inside of the building is damaged. The children are understandably unnerved by the event. They decide that it's no longer safe to associate with the bird. The Phoenix travels back to the building and repairs the damage, presumably by magic, but the children are still worried.

Since the phoenix regenerates, it has been linked to Christianity.

Since the phoenix regenerates, it has been linked to Christianity.

The lovely carved phoenix shown above is located outside Metz Cathedral in France.

Regeneration

Not long after the event described above, the bird tells the children that it's time to regenerate and asks for their help in gathering suitable supplies for the fire. The children seem to be both glad and sad about the upcoming separation.

When everything is ready, the Phoenix lays an egg on the carpet, which transports its charge to an unknown place. The bird then flies around the room and says farewell multiple times "in a far-away voice," which causes the children to cry. When it enters the fire, the Phoenix doesn't burn but seems "to grow red-hot to the very inside heart of it." Then it disappears and is replaced by white ashes.

The bird leaves a box of gifts for the children and their parents via a wish to the Psammead. In the first book of the trilogy, the effects of the wishes granted by the Psammead last only until sunset. In this case, the gifts appear to be permanent, except for the golden feather found by Robert. This disappears by bed time.

Some Problems in the Book

Though I enjoy most of her story and appreciate Edith Nesbit's imagination, I noticed some problems during my reading. They likely reflect the society in which the author lived and its attitudes at that time.

In the first book of the trilogy, the family is described as poor, yet they had a cook and a maid who cared for the children. In the second book, all of the servants and others of a so-called lower class speak with a distinct form of English not shared by the children's family.

A more serious problem in the second story is that when the carpet takes the children to a tropical region, the "copper-coloured" people that the children encounter are repeatedly referred to as savages. The local people adopt the family's cook as their queen because her physical appearance fulfills a prophesy in their culture. She accidentally travelled with the children on the carpet while she was standing on it and complaining about the children's behaviour. Even the Phoenix is involved in the problems that appear on the trip when it says that it understands all languages, including that of the cook, which is "difficult and unpleasing."

To make matters worse, when the children travel to the area again in the company of a burglar that they are trying to help, the "savage" idea is repeated and the burglar atrociously asks if the people are tame. The situation is somewhat improved when everyone joins together to dance around the ex-cook and the ex-burglar after they have just been married.

the-phoenix-and-the-carpet-novel-and-edith-nesbit-facts

Edith Nesbit photo by unknown photographer, public domain license; phoenix illustration by Mysticartsdesign, Pixabay license

Overview of Edith Nesbit's Adult Life

Edith Nesbit was born in London in August, 1858 (the day in August is uncertain). Though she is best remembered for her children's books, she wrote for adults as well. As a writer, she was often referred to as E. Nesbit.

Edith married a journalist named Herbert Bland while she was seven months pregnant with the couple's first child. The marriage seems to have been unconventional and tumultuous. Herbert had multiple affairs. There are claims the Edith did as well, though some researchers have concluded that her relationships were likely platonic. Edith adopted two of the children from her husband's relationships and also had three children of her own with her husband. She seems to have loved him, despite the problems that existed.

Along with some of their acquaintances, Edith and Herbert founded the Fabian Society in 1884. Its goal was to promote socialism. George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells were members of the society at the same time as Edith and Herbert. The organization still exists.

Herbert died in 1914. Edith married an old friend and ship's engineer named Thomas Tucker in 1917. Her writing output decreased, but she seems to have been happy during this relatively peaceful stage of her life. She died of lung cancer in Kent on May 24th, 1924. At least during one period of her life, she was a heavy smoker.

Edith wrote for people of all ages. Her work includes poetry, plays, and short stories as well as books. Her fiction for adults includes ghost stories, which are still popular.

Edith Nesbit’s grave is located at St Mary in the Marsh church in Kent.

Edith Nesbit’s grave is located at St Mary in the Marsh church in Kent.

In the photo of the church above, Edith Nesbit’s grave is located under the posts that form the letter H. She lived in the nearby village of St Mary’s Bay during her second marriage.

Interesting and Original Stories

It's hard to describe a person or their point of view accurately when they can't be interviewed or respond to criticism. Despite the problems in some areas, Edith Nesbit has left us some interesting and original stories. She was able to mingle reality and magic very successfully in her work. She also had a knack for making great comments to her young readers during a story. The Phoenix and the Carpet is an enticing book, despite its problems. I’m glad that I've read several of Edith Nesbit’s children's books. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of them.

References

  • The phoenix through history from Strathmore College
  • Phoenix Fire Office information from the British Museum
  • Information about Edith Nesbit from Encyclopedia.com
  • Facts about the author from Spartacus Educational
  • More information about the writer from the Edith Nesbit Society

© 2021 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 13, 2021:

Thank you very much for the comment, Flourish. The book does have some charming aspects.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 13, 2021:

Congratulations on your award! The current article does a great job of providing the pros and cons of this book. It seems like a charming read with some antiquated language that could be overcome with some discussion with kids when read together.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 12, 2021:

Thank you very much, Peggy. Congratulations on your award, too! Your photos are lovely.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 12, 2021:

Came back to congratulate you on your Caffeine article being rated the "most interesting." It was indeed that as most of your articles are.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 11, 2021:

Thank you for the kind and interesting comment, Manatita. I appreciate your analysis very much.

manatita44 from london on September 11, 2021:

Thanks for this marvelous review, Linda C. I thought it picked up towards the end as it is quite detailed.

People are often influenced by the times in which they lived and their own upbringing. So some aspects of her own life is bound to be in the book. It can be like a mother bringing up children. There's no right or wrong, in a sense, as we can only teach what we know.

I love Phoenix's and this one seemed wise. Interesting that it would take the children's wishes to someone else. Yes, there's always morals to these stories. I have not read this authors work, but it does not read so simple --for a children's book. Excellent work!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 10, 2021:

Yes, she did have an active imagination. I appreciate that aspect of her writing very much. Thanks for commenting, Peggy.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 10, 2021:

Thanks for reviewing the children's stories written by Edith Nesbit. I have never read any of her books, but she certainly had an active imagination from what you wrote in your review.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Hi, John. I've known about the book that you mention since my childhood. I started exploring the writer's other works much later. She created some interesting stories.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 09, 2021:

Linda, thank you for sharing the information about this book and its author. I knew The Railway Children but had not heard of this. It sounds quite delightful.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Thanks for the visit and the comment, Dora. The magic in the story is appealing, but the other factors need to be considered as well.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 09, 2021:

Thanks for the review. The magical events in the story are appealing. I appreciate your suggestions for parents to discuss some of the issues. Good information on the author.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Hi, Misbah. I just went into my spam folder and found your comment. Thanks for telling me about it!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Thank you for the very interesting comment, Misbah. I enjoyed learning about your family and culture. Blessings to you, as always.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on September 09, 2021:

Hello Linda, I left a comment on your hub but I can't find it here. I hope you received it; if not, it may have gone into your spam comments folder.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Hi, Pamela. Based on what I've read, I think the author did multiple things that were controversial. It does sound like she was an interesting person, though. Thank you very much for the comment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 09, 2021:

I bought so many books for my children when they were young and I am surprised that I missed this one. It sounds like a book they would have loved.

I imagine the wedding of the author was a bit controversial since she was a little advanced in her pregnancy. Thank you for this excellent review. This book sounds wonderful.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on September 09, 2021:

Linda, you have written an excellent review. It was an enjoyable read as always. You have a very keen sense of observation. While reading your hub, I found myself smiling twice. I enjoyed two things. "The Railway Children," the novel you mentioned. I read that novel when I was in seventh grade. It was part of our English Syllabus. I was not a good reader at the time. Lol! As a result, it was extremely difficult for me. ;)

The second thing you mentioned was the child who was nicknamed as "Lamb" because the first word he spoke was "Baa." My youngest brother named me "Baa." Lol! I'm thinking about calling him Lamb as well. May be he'll stop calling me "Baa" ;)

In Pakistani culture, youngest siblings do not usually address their eldest siblings by name, so he used to call me Baaji, which means sister in Urdu. He's been calling me "Baa" for last two years now because he's too lazy to say the complete word. Lol!

Thank you very much for sharing this very well written hub. Despite the fact that it has some flaws, the book seems to to be quite interesting.

Blessings and Love to you!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Hi, Bill. I knew about Edith Nesbit because I grew up in Britain. I don't know how well she's known in North America. I think her children's books are definitely worth exploring.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on September 09, 2021:

Nice review, Linda. I was not familiar with Edit Nesbit so I had not heard of this children’s story. Sounds very interesting and something that might appeal to adults also. I enjoy the fantasy-adventure genre so I might give this a read someday.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Hi, Liza. It's interesting that some books from the past are not only available but can be obtained in different formats. I appreciate your visit.

Liza from USA on September 09, 2021:

I still have my children's books collection at my parents' house. I love everything from legend, myth, fantasy, history, wizards, and adventure. It seems like the book you've shared here would be a great addition to my reading list. I looked up it online (Amazon), and they have a bunch of it. You have reviewed thoroughly including the author's bio as well. Thanks for sharing. I'm going to add it to my Kindle.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 09, 2021:

Hi, Bill. I think you might like the book. Even as an adult, I enjoy reading children's stories. Thank you very much for the comment.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 09, 2021:

Wonderful review and I enjoyed learning a little bit about this author. Thank you for the information. You have me curious now. I might read this one while recuperating from surgery.

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