Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Story of the Treasure Seekers

"Real life is often something like books."

In 1899, as the world headed into a new century, children's literature was undergoing some major changes. The worlds of Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, and Kenneth Grahame were giving way to much different worlds. Worlds in which real children faced real problems and faults. Edith Nesbit was one of the first to usher in this new style with her stories of children who face the unpleasant facts of life with resilience and hope. Her most famous creation, the Bastable family, would have a great influence on many writers to come from P. L. Travers to J. K. Rowling to C. S. Lewis and would leave their mark on children's literature for years to come.

The Plot:

This is the story of the Bastable children: Dora, Oswald, Dicky, Alice, Noel, and H. O. After the death of their mother, their father made a poor financial decision and is now on the brink of ruin. So the children decide to work together to restore the fortunes of their grand and noble house.

Unfortunately, things don't really go according to plan. Their ideas, though grand in themselves, often turn sour and some have unforeseen consequences. From digging for treasure and rescuing a princess to selling Castillian sherry and being detectives, their schemes and plans entangle them in some interesting situations and often gets them into trouble. But the children are determined not to give up, and with the help of their friends like Albert next-door's Uncle and the great author Mrs. Leslie, they continue to put forth every effort to save the family fortune.

My Review (Caution-Spoilers):

I really enjoyed this little gem of a book. I loved its simplicity, its heart, and its adventure. No one who enjoys good children's lit will be disappointed.

In her dedication, Nesbit says that "
The Treasure Seekers is dedicated in memory of childhoods identical but for the accidents of time and space". And that is perhaps the most beautiful thing about this book. No matter what decade or century you grew up in, you will relate to the Bastables. It's easy to remember a time when the problems of life, no matter how big, never quite overshadowed the magic of childhood. Though their father's financial problems cast a shadow over their lives, they continue to enjoy life and barely notice the loss of things like pocket money and new clothes. Their imaginations and books keep them entertained as only children can be.

The children themselves are as likable as any kids you'll meet. They're not bad kids, but they're not perfect angels either. Unlike many literary children of the time period, they have real faults and and do not suffer their trial in sweet perfectness. I love how the narrator of the book says that they will not reveal themselves, but as the story progresses, it becomes very obvious that this rather self-satisfied person is none other than Oswald. The adults in the book are wonderful as well. Albert's uncle is one of the sweetest guys you'll ever meet and is genuinely concerned for his neighbor's children. Mrs. Leslie is a fascinating author whose love of Kipling is infectious. And who can forget that amazing meal with the poor Indian.

Suffice it to say that I truly enjoyed this book. It has found its spot on my "Books I'm Going to Read to My Children" list. As I read the book, I realized that they are what I would want my children to be like. I want my kids to not rely on technology to have fun, but rather to have imaginations that will supply them with years of adventure. If you're looking for a fun and lovely family book, this is a great one. Gather the kids and join the Bastables in their adventures in Lewisham Road.

The Movie:

Nesbit's classic story was brought to the television screen in the 1996 adaptation, The Treasure Seekers. The film stars Camilla Power, Nicholas Farrell, Ian Richardson, Gina McKee, Felicity Jones, Nigel Davenport, and a very young Keira Knightley. It follows the book pretty well, the main differences being that Dicky is cut out, the reality of their financial troubles is much stronger, and the children are older. This is a great family film and one that I highly recommend. Wait 'till you see what they put in the tea.

Trivia: Nicholas Farrell and Nigel Davenport also starred together in the Academy Award winning movie Chariots of Fire.

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