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“The Story of the Amulet”: A Children’s Book by Edith Nesbit

Linda Crampton is a former teacher who enjoys reading and creative writing. She likes classical literature, fantasy, myth, and poetry.

This amulet (circa 1070 B.C. to 945 B.C.) comes from Egypt and is shaped like a papyrus stem.

This amulet (circa 1070 B.C. to 945 B.C.) comes from Egypt and is shaped like a papyrus stem.

An Imaginative Story About Time Travel

The Story of the Amulet is an imaginative children’s story written by Edith Nesbit (1858–1924). It describes the adventures of four children and a being known as a Psammead. The group explores the past with the aid of a magical amulet and the mysterious entity connected to it. The Psammead also has magic powers, though they aren't the same as the amulet's. In the climax of the story, the past affects the present in an intriguing way.

Edith Nesbit wrote stories for both children and adults. She's probably best known for The Railway Children. Her book about the amulet was first published in 1906 but still attracts readers. It’s the last book in an interesting trilogy about the children. It tells an absorbing tale that I think is well worth reading.

My omnibus edition of Edith Nesbit’s children’s books

My omnibus edition of Edith Nesbit’s children’s books

The Psammead or Sand-Fairy

The Psammead is also known as a Sand-fairy. (Nesbit capitalized the names of her magical characters.) The Psammead's alternate name comes from the fact that he likes and needs to periodically burrow in sand.

Physical Features

The Psammead has a tubby body covered with dark fur. His arms and legs resemble those of a chimpanzee. His eyes are unusual. Each one is borne at the end of a long stalk, like the eyes of a snail. The stalks lengthen and shorten as required. His ears look like those of bats.

The Psammead is about a quarter to a third of the height of the children, judging from the illustration below. He can't be very heavy because the children carry him around in a waterproof bag when they travel through time. Water is dangerous for him.

Role in the Trilogy

The Psammead plays a major role in the first book of the trilogy (Five Children and It). He is often grumpy and even insulting, but he sometimes says something nice or kind. He grants the children's wishes, which last until sunset in the first book.

The Sand-fairy can't refuse to grant a wish (though the reason why isn't explained), but the process can be exhausting for him. He has to puff up his body and then relax again for every wish. It's a physical process as well as (apparently) a mental one. At the end of the first book, the children promise to never ask him for a wish again.

In the second book of the trilogy (The Phoenix and the Carpet), the Psammead is mentioned several times and indirectly helps the children, but he doesn't physically appear in the story. In the third book (The Story of the Amulet), he returns as a visible character. The children stick to their promise to avoid asking him for a wish, but he still grants the wishes of other people that he meets. He travels through time with the children and acts as an adviser.

Today the Psammead is often depicted in TV series and other media as a cute creature with eyes like ours, even when it has horns. This is not the being that Edith Nesbit created. The illustration above was created by Harold Robert (or H. R.) Millar and used in the original 1902 edition of "Five Children and It."

The Children Find an Amulet

Though there are five children in the family, only the four oldest are involved in the travel to the past. In order of age, the children are Cyril (the oldest), Anthea, Robert, Jane, and an approximately two-year-old boy named Hilary, who is referred to as the Lamb. The four oldest children are staying with "old Nurse" while their parents and their youngest sibling are away. Their mother is ill and has gone to Madeira with the Lamb. Their father is a visiting reporter in a war-torn area. The children badly want their family to be complete again.

Near the start of the story, the children are shocked to discover that the Psammead has been captured and is now in a cage in a pet shop. He begs the children to buy him, which they do. The Psammead can't grant a wish that he has made himself, so he couldn't escape from captivity.

The Psammead tells the children that the man who captured him first carried him into a nearby shop. Here the Sand-fairy noticed something significant through the small gaps in the basket in which he was trapped. Amongst a group of junk items in a tray, he glimpsed part of an amulet. An amulet is a piece of jewellery or an ornament that brings good luck, wards off evil, or is magical in another way. It’s the equivalent of what is known as a good luck charm today. It’s often worn like a necklace.

The children buy the item that the Psammead saw, but when he sees it he tells them that it's only half of the amulet. It has some uses, but it's not as powerful as the complete item. The section of the amulet bears some strange symbols. The children visit the "learned gentleman" who lives in an upstairs flat of the house in which they are staying. There's an Ancient Egyptian mummy in the man's living room. The gentleman tells the children that the symbols are part of a language and that they say 'Ur Hekau Setcheh." The children discover that these are words of power. They hope that the amulet will bring their family together again.

Like the amulet in the first photo, the children's was red. Theirs was roughly horseshoe-shaped, however. The hole in an amulet allows it to be converted into a necklace.

Egyptian hieroglyphs from a tomb

Egyptian hieroglyphs from a tomb

The Mysterious Being in the Amulet

The Psammead tells the children how to use the amulet. He and the children gather in a circle and place the amulet in the middle. The Psammead signals to Anthea to say the words of power.

When the words are spoken, the environment changes. The room becomes "darker than the darkest night that ever was," and "there was a silence deeper than any silence you have even dreamed of imagining."

Before the children can become frightened, a faint light and voice appear in the middle of the circle. The light quickly grows stronger, and the voice becomes both louder and sweeter. The voice is that of the amulet.

Cyril plucks up the courage to say that they want to know where the other half of the amulet is. The group is told that it's in the past. They are also told how to travel back in time using the part of the amulet that they possess. The device creates an arch that they must travel through.

The location of Atlantis according to Athanasius Kircher in 1664

The location of Atlantis according to Athanasius Kircher in 1664

Exploring the Past and the Future

The children and the Sand-fairy travel to places and times where the other half of the amulet is located. They are thwarted in their efforts to obtain it until near the end of the book. I didn't get the feeling of "not again" whenever they returned to the present empty-handed after travelling through time. The detailed and interesting descriptions of each trip and the reflections of the children between the trips prevent this from happening, at least for me. The story still seemed to move forward even when the amulet wasn't obtained.

The children travel to Ancient Egypt twice, Babylon, Ancient Britain, Atlantis, and other places. They appear on ships as well as on land. On two occasions, they visit London (where they are staying) as it exists in the future. Atlantis is considered to be a mythical island today, but it has captured the imagination of many people. I highlight some of the children’s adventures below.

Adventures in Time

Babylon

In one of their trips into the past, the children travel to Babylon and make friends with the Queen. The King discovers that they want the rest of the amulet, which he possesses. He imprisons the three oldest children. Jane has the children's half of the amulet, and she's visiting a friendly Babylonian with the Psammead, so the children are worried.

Nisroch

In the prison cell, Anthea says the words of power without the amulet and nothing happens. She then follows Cyril's suggestion and adds an invocation to Nisroch after the words of power. The queen mentioned him. Nisroch appears and enables the children to escape. He has an eagle's head and wings and the body of a man. In real life, some researchers say that Nisroch was venerated as an Assyrian god. Others say that he was considered to be a demon rather than a deity. In her story, Nesbit depicts him as an imposing figure and a good entity.

Julius Caesar, Atlantis, and a Queen

The children have other adventures. They have a discussion with Julius Caesar and inadvertently persuade him that Britain is worth invading. They watch as the people and fabulous architecture of Atlantis are destroyed by waves and barely escape the destruction themselves. They accompany the Queen of Babylon as she explores London after the Psammead has brought her from the past to the present.

An Orphaned Child and a Priest

With the aid of the Psammead and a wish from the learned gentleman, the children travel with an orphaned child named Imogen as she finds a new mother in Ancient Britain. Imogen is in danger of being forced into the workhouse in the present. The woman in the past resembles the girl's own mother, and she has lost a child who resembled Imogen and whose name was similar. The woman believes that her child was killed by wolves and now thinks that she was mistaken.

On their second visit to Ancient Egypt, the children meet one of the Pharoah's priests. He plays a significant role later in the story. His name is Rekh-Mara. He has part of the amulet, and he wants the children's portion.

People in London during the Queen of Babylon’s visit say that the queen and the children are speaking gibberish during their conversation. The children realize that though everything sounds like English to them, they are actually hearing and speaking another language when they travel to a different country via the amulet.

Submerged ancient columns (age unspecified) and the modern city of Tyre

Submerged ancient columns (age unspecified) and the modern city of Tyre

Meeting Rekh-Mara Again

After a journey through the arch created by the amulet, the children find themselves on a fishing boat at sea. The sailors are fishing for animals that can provide dyes. The children discover that they are in Tyre. Tyre is a real city in Lebanon. It was once known for the production of a pigment called Tyrian Purple.

One of the sailors has the counterpart of their amulet around his neck. The children notice that he seems familiar and soon realize that he is Rekh-Mara. The sailors know about his magical powers, which is why they weren't very surprised to see the children suddenly appear on their boat.

Rekh-Mara seems friendly. He tells the children that although he thinks that they now have the whole amulet, they don't have the pin that joins the two halves. (His assumption that they have the whole amulet is not correct. Magical amulets can be tricky items.) The priest says that it's in both of their interests to find the pin. Before the search can begin, the children have to escape from the ship as it runs into danger approaching the Tin Islands.

The "islands" that provided a good source of tin really existed and are thought to have been located somewhere in Western Europe in real life. Today, the islands are believed to have most likely been either the Iberian peninsula of Europe or Devon and Cornwall in England, which are also located on a peninsula. The geography of the area wasn't well known at the time.

The priest Pakharu and his wife Tupa

The priest Pakharu and his wife Tupa

Although the children escape from the boat, they haven't seen the last of the priest. Like them, he escapes by means of his amulet. Rekh-Mara is said to have been clean shaven, at least while he was acting as a priest. He probably resembled the priest in the photo above.

A Strange and Impressive Union

The priest travels to the children's time and shows that he is not as honorable as he seems. When he discovers the learned gentleman, however, the pair engage in conversation and are fascinated by each other's knowledge and interests.

When the different (and correct) parts of the amulet are near each other, they join and become one object. The being in the amulet says that now no one can travel through it again. This means that Rekh-Mara is trapped in a time where he doesn't belong, which is dangerous. (The case involving Imogen seems to have been different. It could be argued that she did belong where the gentleman's wish took her.) The children ask the amulet what is to be done. It tells them if a soul can find another one "so akin to it as to offer it refuge," the two souls can become one soul in one body.

The amulet then says that if both the priest and the learned gentleman are willing, the words of power should be said and the two souls will become one. The two men eagerly agree with this plan and hold out their hands as though to greet one another. As the priest moves into the learned gentleman, his body disappears. A centipede is left at the gentleman's feet, which Robert crushes. The Psammead tells him the centipede was the evil in Rekh-Mara.

The combined knowledge of the two men enables them to create important books. When the children met the learned gentleman in the future by means of the amulet, they discovered that he was rich.

The Fate of the Psammead

At the end of the story, everyone seems happy, except for the Psammead. The children have received a letter saying that their parents and brother are on the way home. The Psammead wonders what will become of him now that the situation is changing. He says that he wishes that he was safe in the past. The learned gentleman says "I wish you were." The Psammead grants his wish and turns to look at Anthea, his favourite child, as he disappears.

As the front door bell rings, Anthea gives the amulet to the learned gentleman and rushes to greet her parents and her brother. The "heart's desire" of the children's has been granted, and the family is complete again.

Edith Nesbit and Ernest A. Wallis Budge

Edith Nesbit and Ernest A. Wallis Budge

Some Problems in the Story

In my experience, it's rare to find a book with no problems. One point that I find unlikely is that the learned gentleman thinks that all of his time travel experiences are dreams, even though he experiences many strange events. He still thinks that he's dreaming when he meets the children in the future. He agrees to meld his soul with another person's at the end of the book, which would likely be a major undertaking if it were possible. It's uncomfortable to think that the gentleman doesn't realize that the melding is happening in real life.

Another problem for me is the lack of an explanation for why and how the Psammead grants wishes. Children may not care about this. I don't remember caring about the explanation for magic when I was a child. As an adult, however, even in fantasies I like to see explanations that are at least vaguely plausible. At the start of the third book, the writer says that the Psammead was “old, old, old, and its birthday was almost at the very beginning of everything,” which makes the character even more intriguing for me.

Despite the problems, I think the book tells a worthy story. Edith Nesbit seems to have done a considerable amount of historical research for the work. In the dedication at the start of the book, she thanks Dr Ernest A. Wallis Budge (1857—1934) of the British Museum "for his unfailing kindness and help." Budge was an eminent Egyptologist and a philologist. As can be seen in the newspaper excerpt shown above, he received a knighthood. It's enjoyable to see historical and other real-facts within the fiction. I think that The Story of the Amulet is interesting for multiple reasons.

© 2021 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Hi, Bill. Yes, the writer was certainly creative! I'm going to read more of her work, including some of her stories for adults. Thanks for the visit.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on September 20, 2021:

Another great review, Linda. Edith Nesbit sure did have a creative imagination. Wish I had heard about her years ago, but will certainly have to start reading some of her work.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

I appreciate your comment, Mary, especially the second sentence. That’s a very interesting point.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 20, 2021:

What an incredible story. Sometimes, we need to be transported to another time or place to see things better. This story is very engaging.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Hi, Manatita. Thank you for commenting. I love the way in which the story combines fiction and fact. I enjoy reading stories that use this technique.

manatita44 from london on September 20, 2021:

A lot here, Alicia and for me, a tricky one to follow. The magic, amulet and the children's companion, as well as the time-travel, gives it intrigue. The amulets coming together is also cleverly done.

I won't worry about the seemingly missing parts, that is, in view of the Light that it was written for kids. They would probably find the fantasy itself intriguing and the ability to make wishes as well as chants come true.

As detailed as ever and so yes, some research needed indeed!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Yes, it does seem that the writer had an active imagination. I think her books that include magic are interesting.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 20, 2021:

It sounds as though Edith Nesbit had a creative mind and active imagination. Pairing her trilogies with fiction and history makes an interesting combination. Thanks for the review of "The Story of the Amulet."

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Hi, Heidi. I find the fact that the story bridges fiction and history interesting, too. I hope you have a great week as well.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 20, 2021:

Because I don't read children's lit, and didn't read much of it as a kid either, appreciate the quick review and opinion on this one. It does bridge history with fiction which makes it interesting. Have a great week!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Hi, Flourish. I think the author tells an interesting story. I hope the week ahead is an enjoyable one for you.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Thanks, Bill. I hope you have a wonderful week, too!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2021:

Hi, Pamela. Yes, I think the author had a great imagination. Her story is very interesting. Thank you for the comment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 20, 2021:

I like the idea of being a person stuck in the wrong time like you referenced. The story lunch is intriguing for all ages and I liked your criticisms at the end as well.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2021:

A good, honest, objective book review about a book I have never heard of. Well done, my friend!

Have a wonderful week ahead!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 20, 2021:

This is a very interesting and good review of "The Story of the Amulet.". It sounds like Edith Nesbit had a great imagination and was a good author. Thanks for sharing this review, Linda.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Thank you for the kind comment and for sharing the quote, Misbah. I'll be thinking about the quotation for some time! It's a very interesting idea.

Blessings to you. I hope you have a great week.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Rebels. on September 19, 2021:

Hi Linda, thank you so much for writing another great book review. I enjoyed reading it. 'The Story of the Amulet.' looks like an interesting book. Edith Nesbit was a good writer as many of her novels have been made into films. There are some flaws and problems in the story as you mentioned. But as they say "The absence of flaw in beauty is itself a flaw." So her writings were beautiful and she was so much creative. I believe, the flaws were equally important. What do you think? It's so great that her works from that time are still being read by today's generation. It's her greatest achievement for sure. Thank you for sharing this beautiful hub with us. I appreciate your efforts and the time and energy you spent on writing this review. Wonderful job.

Blessings and love to you!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Hi, Chitrangada. I remember reading some of Enid Blyton's stories as a child. I enjoyed them. Thank you for the comment.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 19, 2021:

Hello Linda!

A nice and engaging review of 'The Story of the Amulet.' Your analysis makes the book, like an interesting read.

Reminds me of the mystery and adventure books by Enid Blyton, which I enjoyed reading in my childhood.

Thank you for sharing!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Hi, Audrey. Thank you for reading the article and commenting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Yes, there were some delightful elements in the story. I enjoyed it very much, despite a few problems.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on September 19, 2021:

Aha, that explains it. Thanks Linda. I missed that. By the way, I found it delightful at the end with the family being reunited once again in time, thanks to the Psammead.

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on September 19, 2021:

Thanks, Linda, for introducing me to "The Story of the Amulet." I enjoyed this descriptions.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Hi again, Glenn. I've added a few words to emphasize that "The Story of the Amulet" is the third book in the trilogy.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Hi, Glenn. I appreciate your visit and comment. The Psammead didn't appear in the second book in the trilogy, but he did appear in the third book (The Story of the Amulet).

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on September 19, 2021:

You described the three stories of this trilogy very well, Linda. It's interesting how the Psammead taught the children to use the amulet to travel through time. But I didn’t understand how his description was so clear and yet, he never appeared in the story. Maybe I missed something.

Nevertheless, the children were able to carry him around. Maybe that’s another problem with the story, as I see you had mentioned a few issues you noticed yourself. I like how you included your opinion about the issues at the end. Well done.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 19, 2021:

Thank you for the visit and the comment, Umesh.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 19, 2021:

Very well presented, interesting reading.

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