It was but too plain. The unfortunate bailiff must have opened the door before the spell had faded, while yet the Ugly Wuglies were something more than mere coats and hats and sticks. They had rushed out upon him, and had done this. He lay there insensible was it a golf-club or a hockey-stick that had made that horrible cut on his forehead? Gerald wondered. The girls had rushed to the sufferer; already his head was in Mabel's lap. Kathleen had tried to get it on to hers, but Mabel was too quick for her.
A plot summary makes this story sound ordinary by children's literature standards: the summer adventures of four children who discover an enchanted castle and a magic ring. But Edith Nesbit's adored classic (written in 1907) is so much more than the description suggests. Right from the start, the author plays with the idea of magic, teasing us with a sleeping princess who turns out to be a fake. Elsewhere, the magic is "real" as can be--in fact, though written nearly 100 years ago, prefigures the magical realism of modern novels in the matter-of-fact way it weaves the uncanny into the children's everyday life. And, while few authors are confident enough to parody bad writing, Nesbit does it hilariously (and ever so gently) through one character's tendency to "talk like a book": "'To brush his hair and his clothes... was to our hero but the work of a moment,' said Gerald." Things turn scary when the Ugly Wuglies, fake people made from painted cardboard masks, old clothes, and broomsticks, come to life. But on the whole this book about enchantment--much praised by such luminaries as H.G. Wells and Noel Coward--is, simply, enchanting. (Ages 6 and older) --This text refers to the edition.