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The Aunt And Amabel - E.Nesbit story

coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

Lewis described a number of images and ideas that gradually developed into The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe.

A less-known one is a short story by E Nesbit, in a collection published in 1912, The Aunt and Amabel. We know Lewis had enjoyed her writing, so there is plenty of possibility he’d read this one.
I have added some questions at the end to start a bit of discussion.

This is my summary (actual quotes appear between "  "):

The story begins with describing how it feels to be in trouble and isolated, “sent to Coventry”.
“And although it has happened before, and has always, in the end, come to an end, you can never be sure that this time it is not going to last for ever. 

‘It is going to last for ever,’ said Amabel, who was eight. ‘What shall I do?’”

She was staying with a great-aunt for some family reason, and heard her grumbling about the gardener, who had not grown chrysanthemums in the border by the breakfast-room window as she had ordered; it was bare earth. Amabel went out early in the morning, on an errand of mercy, taking scissors. She went to the greenhouse, cut all the chrysanthemums she could find, and inserted them into the bare border.

“It would be a lovely surprise for Auntie.”

Auntie, of course, was not at all pleased, and little Amabel was sent to her room.

Amabel understands that she has been shut up forever but it is only for a day that she has to stay in “the best bedroom, the one with the four-post bed and the red curtains and the large wardrobe with a looking glass in it that you could see yourself in to the very ends of your strap-shoes.”

She looks at herself in the mirror, then looks out of the window and around the room. She finds nothing to read except a strange book that turns out to be a railway timetable. She investigates bottles with stoppers that let out a strange smell…. and then looks at the timetable again. Now it has new names in it, including a destination “Whereyouwanttogo”, and the station to start from is “Bigwardrobeinspareroom”.  Small print under it says “You had better go now.”

So she goes to the wardrobe, opens the door, and finds, “it was a crystal cave, very oddly shaped like a railway station….lighted by stars… ” and with a clock whose hours all said “now”.

Amabel finds it a delight to go on the journey; everyone is kind and pleased to see her. Pleasant things to eat, drink and read are provided by magic buttons.

Everything is white or silver, including everyone’s clothes. On arrival, there is a white carpet for her to walk on, the Mayor gives a speech welcoming her, the band plays, and everyone is being sympathetic to her for the unkind way her aunt has treated her.

Finally she cannot stand it any more, and admits that she wasn’t entirely blameless, that she should have thought first before acting, and wishes that her auntie were there.

Auntie magically arrives, says perhaps she was hasty, explains that she was angry because all the winter flowers were spoilt, and the two hug each other while the band plays a well-known tune, ‘If you only understood!’

The mayor then explains that “this place is yours, and now you can see many things that you couldn’t see before. We are The People Who Understand. And now you are one of Us. And your aunt is another.”

The author suggests that the reader may also belong to “that happy nation” and will know what they saw… or does not yet belong, and may not be told.

Amabel falls asleep in her aunt’s arms, and wakes up on the big bed in her arms.

The story ends with a comment that you will not find “Whereyouwanttogo” in any other timetable, only the one in that room.

 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. Which of the common features between this story and The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe do you think are most significant?

2. Do you see Amabel's experience as reflecting Lucy's?

3. What do you think of 'The People Who Understand'?

 

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Topic starter Posted : December 8, 2021 2:07 am
Courtenay liked
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb

I had heard of this short story and read it a number of years ago, so it's lovely to go over it and have a think about it, thanks, @coracle!

As it's out of copyright, the whole text of the original story is available online at Project Gutenberg: The Aunt and Amabel

The first similarity I notice is that the wardrobe is described as "the large wardrobe with a looking-glass in it that you could see yourself in to the very ends of your strap-shoes" — very close to Lewis's description of "one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door"! Mind you, the looking-glass itself doesn't play any actual role in either story (and I'm pretty sure every film / TV adaptation of LWW has left it out)...

Then the biggest and most obvious similarity is that in both stories, a little girl, 8 years old (Amabel's age is explicitly given in the story; Lucy's isn't, but Lewis's later timeline of Narnia shows that she was 8 at the time of LWW), steps into this wardrobe that turns out to have some kind of magical land or country inside! And the name of the "station", Bigwardrobeinspareroom, seems to have an echo in Mr Tumnus's mishearing of Lucy's words "the wardrobe in the spare room" as supposedly the names of the city and country she has come from, "War Drobe" and "Spare Oom".

One difference is that Amabel sees the magic place — "a crystal cave, very oddly shaped like a railway station" — as soon as she opens the wardrobe. Lucy, on the other hand, at first sees only fur coats when she opens the Professor's wardrobe and has to feel her way through two rows of them before she finds that she can't feel the back of the wardrobe, and then only gradually does she discover the snow on the ground and the branches of trees and the light up ahead and we, along with her, realise she's stepped into another world. It's a much more suspenseful and effective build-up, in contrast to Nesbit's almost dismissive "Of course it wasn't hats" remark as Amabel immediately discovers the crystal cave.

Although we're not specifically told it's winter in the place Amabel enters, there are a lot of elements in the descriptions that somehow make it seem wintry. There's the crystal cave itself, "lighted by stars" and with a full moon, and the emphasis on everyone wearing white satin and everything being white or silver. Even the meal Amabel eats on board the train, from a silver tray, is all-white — "vanilla ice [cream?], boiled chicken and white sauce, almonds (blanched), peppermint creams [naturally white if they're not dyed green!], and mashed potatoes, and a long glass of lemonade". There's another similarity, though probably coincidental — enticing descriptions of food... Giggle  

I'm guessing all the references to white and silver in Amabel's adventure are perhaps meant to suggest purity and innocence — she comes to this place where she's treated royally and forgiven and understood, and when she recognises and confesses her own faults and wishes for Auntie (no longer just "the aunt"!) to be there, Auntie appears and they forgive each other and become friends on the spot, and are still friends when Amabel wakes up in her own world again.

On the other hand, in Narnia it is actually winter and Lucy and her siblings have a much harder and far less continuously joy-filled journey to make when they get there, although everything does come right in the end!

We could say Amabel's experience reflects Lucy's a little, in that both girls step through a wardrobe into a magical place and both come back transformed in some profound way, but the parallels don't go too much further than that. I'm 99% certain Lewis must have read the Nesbit story at some stage — though he was 14 when it was first published and he may have been "too old for fairy tales" by then — but since we don't have any conclusive evidence of that, just the obvious similarities between this one story and the one he wrote many years later, we can't say for sure. And if he had read it, we don't know if he was paying deliberate homage to Nesbit or just subconsciously pulling in memories of this story without realising where he got these ideas from...

"The People Who Understand" are a heartwarming concept, I think — finding yourself in a place where, no matter what you've done, you will be loved and forgiven and given the chance to make up for your wrongs once you've admitted them. That could also be another parallel between these two stories — there is a theme of forgiveness and reconciliation in both, an implicitly Christian theme. In LWW it's taken a lot further and into much darker places, of course — this isn't a simple story of misunderstanding and reconciliation between two family members over a silly but well-intended act, but a story in which one child is tempted and lured by a seriously evil villain to betray his own siblings, very nearly at the price of his life. And the undoing of that evil takes something much more dramatic and meaningful on a cosmic level — Aslan's (implicitly Christ's) self-sacrifice — than a simple journey to a land where everyone understands and all is forgiven!! They're both tales of love overcoming enmity and wrongdoing, but LWW is far deeper and more powerful and memorable, I would conclude.

Thanks so much for this thread, Coracle — I really enjoyed re-reading The Aunt and Amabel and having a think about the ideas in both stories! Smile I'd love to hear others' thoughts on them as well.

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : December 8, 2021 8:42 am
coracle liked
coracle
(@coracle)
NarniaWeb's Auntie Moderator

@courtenay thank you for the link to the text. Hooray for Project Gutenberg!

There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.
"...when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

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Topic starter Posted : December 8, 2021 12:28 pm
Courtenay liked
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb

@coracle Well, I just knew I'd read it online somewhere before (in a fully legal manner) and I knew it had to still be there somewhere! Wink  

I was just thinking of another contrast between the two stories. In TAAA, it's heavily implied that what Amabel experiences could have been a dream (or even something hallucinogenic, maybe? Shocked ) — there's a hint that the "very extraordinary scent" she inhales from the two bottles (why two, I wonder?) may have something to do with "the extraordinary name 'Whereyouwantogoto'" appearing in the timetable the next time she looks in it. And at the end of her adventure with "The People who Understand", she falls asleep in her aunt's arms and wakes up back on her bed in the spare room, with her aunt's arms still around her. And of course, as the two never speak to each other of 'Whereyouwantogoto' — although their relationship is definitely changed from there on in — we conveniently never find out whether or not the aunt DID actually go to the magic place as well, or whether Amabel simply dreamed the whole thing.

Narnia, however, is most definitely a real place — that's emphasised again and again throughout LWW and indeed the whole series, that this is not merely something Lucy or any of the other children from our world have invented through their own imaginations. The only characters to suggest that Narnia is a dream or make-believe are the Green Witch in The Silver Chair, as she attempts to bring our heroes under her spell, and of course Susan in The Last Battle, when she dismisses Narnia as "all those funny games we used to play when we were children". Clearly both those views are wrong and we're not meant to agree with them! Lewis isn't putting his characters through some sort of psychological experience that may or may not have happened in outward reality, but taking them to an actual other world where their purpose is to save Narnia and get to know Aslan better in the process...

(I'm now thinking of the original book of The Wizard of Oz, in which it's clear that Oz is a real place and Dorothy (along with other characters from our world in some of the sequels) definitely travels there, versus the 1939 film, in which she implicitly dreams all her adventures in Oz after being knocked unconscious during the cyclone, and the characters she meets there are alter egos of people she knows in real life. That's getting off topic, but it's just another example that shows the difference in impact between a story where the magical world is real, and one where it was all a dream. I very much prefer the ones where it's real!! Grin )

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : December 8, 2021 12:58 pm
coracle liked
Cleander
(@the-mad-poet)
NarniaWeb Junkie

I first discovered this story through Kathryn Lindskoog's Journey into Narnia book... the whole story is  actually included in the appendices. Nesbit also supposedly influenced Lewis with her story about time traveling children who accidentally bring the Queen of ancient Babylon to modern London- whereupon hubbub ensues. She also wrote a story about a boy who wakes up to find himself lying on a stone table at Stonehenge at the time of the druids, and narrowly escaped being sacrificed.

Sounds suspiciously Narnian, if you ask me! Nerd  

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Posted : December 9, 2021 10:13 pm
johobbit and coracle liked
Courtenay
(@courtenay)
NarniaWeb Guru Friend of NarniaWeb
Posted by: @the-mad-poet

Nesbit also supposedly influenced Lewis with her story about time traveling children who accidentally bring the Queen of ancient Babylon to modern London- whereupon hubbub ensues.

Oh yes — The Story of the Amulet! Funnily enough, I remember reading that one when I was maybe about 11 or 12 and wasn't that impressed with it — it's the second of two sequels to Five Children and It and I didn't find either of them as good as the first book — but for some reason I never picked up the obvious parallel between the Queen of Babylon and Jadis, even though I'd read and re-read the Narnia books so many times when I was that age.

Again, unless there's conclusive evidence that Lewis had read that specific story, it's only a speculation, but it's fun to wonder...

"Now you are a lioness," said Aslan. "And now all Narnia will be renewed."
(Prince Caspian)

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Posted : December 12, 2021 1:15 pm
coracle liked
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