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The House of Arden    by E. Nesbit order for
House of Arden
by E. Nesbit
Order:  USA  Can
New York Review of Books, 2006 (1908)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The New York Review Children's Collection brings back another classic in E. Nesbit's The House of Arden, beautifully bound in this edition (the book was first published in 1908). The story opens on the crumbling remains of an old, noble house, and on the arrival of a letter to a seaside lodging house, where two Arden children - Edred and Elfrida - have lived with their Aunt since their father and uncle Jim died in South America.

When the letter sends Aunt Edith to town, the children take a picnic to their ancestral home. There, an old caretaker (who speaks in amusing malapropisms) tells them of a prophecy, which indicates that if Edred 'have skill to say the spell / He shall find the treasure and all be well!' Of course, Edred speaks the spell at sunset, and the children meet Mouldiwarps, a rather grumpy white mole with a country accent, who warns them that they must learn to be 'brave and wise' before they can win the treasure.

Since the letter informed their Aunt that Edred is the new Lord Arden, the children move to the ramshackle castle, looked after by a kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Honeysett. There, they discover they must avoid squabbling and make up poetry to call on the mole. He sends them on a series of quests into different eras of the past, where they find out how Arden children lived in older days and also how it was for the common folk. Elfrida helps a wise woman who promises her 'love around you and about you all your life long' and tells her 'That which is lost shall be found.'

After seeing it in its glory days, the children hope to find the treasure, in order to rebuild and maintain their ancestral home. They encounter smugglers and a highwayman. Careless words make them suspects in the Gunpowder Plot, and lead to a stint in the Tower of London, where Edred has long talks with Sir Walter Raleigh. Elfrida warns Ann Boleyn of her fate, and they befriend Cousin Richard, who also seems to know the future. Both children begin to develop that 'strong inside magic, that makes things clear, and shows you what things are important, and what are not.'

They do find a remarkable treasure, though not quite the one they expected in this heartwarming and timeless tale that melds strong values with exciting adventures for the children of The House of Arden. As E. Nesbit herself tells us, 'It is all very wonderful and mysterious, as all life is apt to be if you go a little below the crust, and are not content just to read newspapers and go by the Tube Railway, and buy your clothes ready-made, and think nothing can be true unless it is uninteresting.'

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