The House of Arden is a delightful fantasy novel. The big surprise for Nesbit fans may be that it stars just two siblings: Edred and Elfrida.
Nesbit provides readers with some family background, introduces the siblings and their aunt guardian, and then the magic begins. Edred has just learned that he is Lord Arden, he's inherited the run-down estate with crumbling-castle. (He's also recently learned that his father has died.) The good news? There are stories, legends, about the place, about treasure. The children are determined to explore the place thoroughly, learn what they can, and find that treasure! It seems providential.
Edred and Elfrida discover they are not alone. There is a magical mole (Mouldiwarp). He can be summoned several ways, but, most commonly by poetry--original poetry. He will help the two children, but, he has his conditions. The magical adventures, in a way, depend on them not arguing with one another. The magical adventures start in an attic that they can only find when they haven't quarreled recently. The attic is full in trunks, they open one trunk at a time, for the most part. What they find are a lot of clothes, clothes that seem very very strange to these contemporary characters. When they put on these clothes from the past, they discover the time-traveling aspect of the magic. Traveling to the past may give them all they need to know to find the treasure in the present day.
I liked the time traveling. I did. I liked the time periods explored. I liked the characterization. I liked meeting various people in the past. I liked how this fantasy all fit together. Most of all, I enjoyed the writing!
Some of my favorite bits:
Edred and Elfrida went to school every day and learned reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, history, spelling, and useful knowledge, all of which they hated quite impartially, which means they hated the whole lot–one thing as much as another... The only part of lessons they liked was the home-work, when, if Aunt Edith had time to help them, geography became like adventures, history like story-books, and even arithmetic suddenly seemed to mean something.
“Spelling next,” said Aunt Edith. “How do you spell ‘disagreeable’?” “Which of us?” asked Edred acutely. “Both,” said Aunt Edith, trying to look very severe.
But it is much more difficult than you would think to be really nice to your brother or sister for a whole day. Three days passed before the two Ardens could succeed in this seemingly so simple thing. The days were not dull ones at all. There were beautiful things in them that I wish I had time to tell you about–such as climbings and discoveries and books with pictures, and a bureau with a secret drawer. It had nothing in it but a farthing and a bit of red tape–secret drawers never have–but it was a very nice secret drawer for all that... It is wonderful how much more polite you can be to outsiders than you can to your relations, who are, when all’s said and done, the people you really love... After tea they decided to read, so as to lessen the chances of failure. They both wanted the same book–”Treasure Island” it was–and for a moment the niceness of both hung in the balance. Then, with one accord, each said, “No–you have it!” and the matter ended in each taking a quite different book that it didn’t particularly want to read.
It is always difficult to remember exactly where one is when one happens to get into a century that is not one’s own.
THEY both meant what they said. And yet, of course, it is nonsense to promise that you will never do anything again, because, of course, you must do something, if it’s only simple subtraction or eating poached eggs and sausages. You will, of course, understand that what they meant was that they would never again do anything to cause Mrs. Honeysett a moment’s uneasiness, and in order to make this possible the first thing to do was, of course, to find out how to set the clock back.
What do you usually do when you are shut up in a secret room, with no chance of getting out for hours? As for me, I always say poetry to myself. It is one of the uses of poetry–one says it to oneself in distressing circumstances of that kind, or when one has to wait at railway stations, or when one cannot get to sleep at night. You will find poetry most useful for this purpose. So learn plenty of it, and be sure it is the best kind, because this is most useful as well as most agreeable.© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews