A Comparison Between Five Children and It and the Canary Prince

Published: 2021-08-05 19:25:07
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Five Children and It is a children novel by Edith Nesbit. Although it features Psammead, a sand-fairy, it does not fall under fairy tale genre because of the missing key elements of fairy tale. In my essay below, I will try to explain that Five Children and It is not a fairy tale despite the fairy appearance in the story and the magical nature that fairies often associated with and I will compare it to The Canary Prince that has no fairies presence but can certainly be categorized as a fairy tale.
Firstly I will explain the topic with the guidance of fairy tale common elements’ list. According to David-Glen Smith (2012:21), the first and the most important element in fairy tale is the presence of a magical creature and also the magical situations that happen through the story. However, even if magical creature exists in Five Children and It and magical events are frequent, the story is lacking in other fairy tales characteristics. Smith (2012:21) further explains in his list that the protagonists in fairy tales are commonly down-trodden; orphan, stepchild, cast-out prince, or prodigal son.
None of the criteria apply on the five children, but I see one thing orphan child and five children have in common, the absence of parents. However, instead of being unwanted children who live a pitiful life and are abandoned by their evil uncle/aunt/stepmother/father, the five children are living what seems to be a never ending holiday and almost have freedom to explore their adventurous world. The Canary Prince on the other hand, clearly has this characteristic. It is even very clearly stated in the beginning of the story where Calvino explains the unfortunate fate of the motherless princess.
The Canary Prince also has the magical event occurring in the story that is done by a witch. Smith also says that in fairy tale, the protagonists go through three phases; psychological, physical, and spiritual (2012:21). These three transformations can be found in The Canary Prince. In The Canary Prince, princess, the protagonist lost her mother and she lives with her father who remarries a wicked stepmother. In the story is also told that her stepmother always hates her and she tries her best to get rid of the princess.
In my opinion the beginning of this story reveals enough of the princess’ psychological burden. Later, the princess is sent to a castle in the middle of a forest, in my opinion this bit shows physical imprisonment of the princess, and lastly is when the princess finally gains spiritual pleasure in marrying the love of her life. As I cited from the excerpt of Propp’s Morphology of Folktale this last characteristic also appears as the 31st Vladimir Propp’s list (1968:42) where the hero marries the princess, or in this case, the prince, and ascends the throne.
These three aspects do not appear in Five Children and It, as I see it as a pure children adventurous tale. Another characteristic of fairy tale according to Smith is that the protagonists in the story must be pure good and the antagonists are pure evil, and that there is no in-between grey area (2012:21) as also stated by Propp (1968:79) who boldly lists eight characters that should appear in fairy tales, three of which are the villain who struggles against the hero/protagonist, the donor, who prepares the protagonist, and the hero/protagonist who reacts to the donor.
Now, I think this characteristic in which there should be a bold line between the good and the bad is rather unclear in Five Children and It. Throughout the story, I cannot decide which characters are the antagonists. If we look at the five children’s manner during all of the events they go through, we can see that they are pretty well-mannered. However, in my opinion some of their behaviors are somewhat rude or mean. For example in chapter two, they are portrayed rather mean in the part where Martha gone to Rochester to see her cousin and she is taking Lamb with her.
In the nature of their conversation, I sort of feel a tone of discrimination towards the lower class. First, it is how they call Martha as a servant. They know quite well that Martha and them do not belong in the same class therefore they need to address her with a particular label. Further in their conversation, Cyril also adds how servants like to take babies in their best to see their relations, where Jane then adds they might be pretended that the babies the servants are taking with them are theirs, to make an impression how they are now married with a noble duke.
This part also shows how the children view Martha as a low human being that she has to have something to prove that she has value or better than anybody else. Jane later adds that they should be polite and kind to make sure they can get rid of Martha and Lamb for a day. In this particular part, I sense children’s dislike towards Martha. They are probably either disturbed by her presence around them or are still annoyed by Martha’s treatment the other day where Psammead turn them into beautiful children.
Another example can be seen in chapter three where Robert carelessly wish that his little brother would be wanted by somebody with all their heart so that he can have some peace in their life. In this narration, I think everybody agrees that this is a very selfish act of Robert to wish such thing upon his brother only for his ease. In my opinion, Robert’s saying in that part implies sibling rivalry. Once in a while, every child with siblings would wish that they do not have siblings, only to realize later that their siblings are not that bad as they think.
However, it is still not fair to wish something terrible for someone else solely for their comfort. In chapter eight, where Psammead turns Robert into a giant as he wish, Robert uses his power to “teach” the baker’s boy how to beat a boy who is smaller. I see that it is boys’ nature to compete, but he actually makes use of his power to get revenge. Surely there is no mention of revenge in the chapter, but it is felt in the atmosphere created in the story. Although at some parts of the story the children are pictured somewhat rude and mean, they are also shown to be thoughtful and decent.
In chapter four, Jane writes a letter to his mother, where at the end of the letter she asks her mother whether or not she has a wish to be granted, which later lead to a decision in which the children choose to wish an unlimited amount of jewels for their mother. In chapter four they also show the act of kindness where they actually pay for plums they take from the farmer. They also leave a note and enough money to pay for food they take while they can probably get away from spending any money on whatever they take that day.
If we take a look on Psammead role in this story, though it is a creature that grants wishes but for some reason the wishes it grants always end up badly. At first I cannot really tell if Psammead can be categorized as a protagonist since it can never turn down anyone’s request for wishes, but the part in which Psammead also cannot prevent anything bad from happening to the children makes me wonder if Psammead is genuine in its act to grant someone’s wishes.
Above explanations demonstrate how the role of protagonists and antagonists has the characterization of in-between grey area as we cannot tell very clearly who is the bad guy and who is the good guy in the story. However, I think the five children’s characters that are depicted in the story are somewhat innocent and foolish; therefore the five children in the story, in my opinion, can be categorized into the protagonist type. I think Psammead can also be considered to be a protagonist character in the story, as it does not cause trouble to the children on purpose.
Unlike The Canary Prince that has a very obvious depiction of an antagonist; Five Children and It has no presence of antagonist. In The Canary Prince it is told that the step – mother hates the princess and she isolated the princess. The witches, in The Canary Prince act as the donor, although they do not prepare the princess to go through her quest, they do provide information for her. Lastly, the hero/protagonist in The Canary Prince is the princess who reacts to the donor. Smith (2012:21) also mentions that violence and gruesome situation are often occurred in fairy tale.
Similar to Smith, Propp (1968:16) argues that one of 31 fairy tales functions is villainy, where the antagonist causes harm to the protagonist’s family member. One example is in The Canary Prince. There is a scene where the evil stepmother put her hairpins in order to hurt the princess but it turns out that the canary form of the prince is the one who got hurt. The scene later describes how the prince is badly hurt. The detail of the scene’s sequences is quite graphic for a children’s story in my opinion, but to some extent it actually required in fairy tale according to Smith.
As we all can see in Five Children and It, we do not find this kind of event happens. Smith (2012:21) in his list also includes the pattern number of threes, such as three tasks, or three wishes. Neither The Canary Prince nor Five Children and It has this requirement in the story, but The Canary Prince has a part in which the protagonist has to do a sequence of action in order to save her prince, as can be seen in the part which the princess overheard the witches talk about the only cure that can save the prince.
This element cannot be found in Five Children and It, in Five Children and It, there is no mention of certain order that the children have to accomplish. They are sort of absent mindedly choose their decision, which they probably almost have no idea of what would be the consequences, as children are innocent and lack of experience. Other than Smith’s and Propp’s descriptions about fairy tale, in my opinion, the lack of fairy tale characteristics can also be seen in Psammead depiction. Its’ appearance are ar from what fairies are usually described. Nesbit in her novel even says that the fairy that the children find is not like any other fairy we have ever saw, read, or heard about (1993:20). Lewis (2012: 122 – 123) mentions fairies as Longaevi or longlivers whose residence is ambiguous between air and Earth. Lewis later adds that Longaevi are marginal and fugitive creatures. In addition, in my experience in reading about fairies, they are almost always pictured as adorable little creatures with sparkly wings, pretty faces, and pleasant manners.
Psammead, on the other hand, despite him being a fairy, is pictured as an ugly, furry creature with eyes sticking out like snails’, bat ears, and tubby body like spiders’ and limbs look like monkeys’ (Nesbit, 1993: 25). Based on its look that rather monstrous looking than angelic, Psammead is not a typical fairy that a child would love to have as a friend. The way Psammead presents itself to the children also far from a typical fairy who are friendly and gentle. Psammead is rather rude, grumpy, and annoying.
In the beginning of its’ meeting with the children, it honestly states that it is tired of the children, later in the story when the children go to Psammead to try their chance with more wishes, Psammead behave somewhat annoyed, which then it admits that it thinks its meeting with the children is just one of odd dreams it sometimes has. The ugly appearance of Psammead and its not so nice behavior towards the five children lead me into thinking that it could be because of its appearance it behaves rather rude and bitter, whereas pretty fairies are much more sweet and charming.
It is almost similar to how pretty person would act nicer towards people and how less pretty person would act slightly mean towards others. Like how gypsies, who in the novel are pictured poor and dirty people, are described as a group of a rude and demanding people when they ask for the children to let them have the Lamb, whereas Lady Chittenden, although acts equally demanding but she is less rude and is more decent in manner.
However, much further in the tale, in the last chapter, a brief, deep heart-to-heart conversation between Psammead and Anthea reveals that the sand-fairy actually hates its task as a fairy that has to grant people’s wishes no matter what kind of circumstances it is into and how much pain it has to go through in order to grant a wish. I think in this part of the story it sort of encourage children to gain their wishes by their own action rather than relying on someone to do it for them, as we do not always know hat kind of situation people are into and we might hurt done some harm towards them. In addition to Smith’s and Propp’s list of fairy tale elements, Steven Swann Jones also states four major elements in fairy tales. According to Jones (in Juric 2010: 8), fairy tales had to have fantasy characteristic in them. Five Children and It and The Canary Prince undoubtedly have fantasy as the main theme of the stories. Jones (in Juric, 2010:8) adds that the second description on how fairy tales should have the characteristic of confrontation and resolution of a problem by undertaking a quest.
I do not think Five Children and It has this element in the story. In each chapter, the children are not really solving the problem that their wishes cause, although sometimes it seems that they are trying to get away from the trouble their wishes have made, I think they are mostly trying to prevent things from getting worse, for example in chapter three where the Lamb is wanted by everyone, they try to distract the gypsies’ attention from Lamb and just wait for the sunset to come so that the curse of their wishes will fade and their trouble will eventually end.
However, The Canary Prince on the other hand, shows how the princess struggles to escape from the castle and to be finally with the love of her life. The third element in Jones’ description (in Juric, 2010 : 9), is at the point where the protagonists overcome their problem and finally get their happy ending. The five children as the main protagonist actually do not really get their happy ending, but they help Psammead get its happy ending in which Psammead would not be forced to grant any of their wishes therefore it can finally has its peace.
The Canary Prince, in contrast, clearly has this element, where it can be seen throughout the story that the princess works her way to gain her happy ending. The last elements of fairy tale according to Jones (in Juric, 2010:9), the main protagonists should be described as ordinary people who are in some ways, have personal crisis to deal with. In both Five Children and It and The Canary Prince, the main protagonists are not entirely ordinary people. The five children do have ordinary life, but the fact that they sort of own Psammead makes them not so ordinary anymore.
The main protagonist of The Canary Prince is a princess, who clearly is not just an ordinary person. By explanation above, I would like to conclude that even Five Children and It has a magical creature in the story; it does not have other elements that are also considered important in building a fairy tale, whereas The Canary Prince that has no presence of a fairy in the story can be categorized as a fairy tale. The missing of most of the key elements of a fairy tale makes a story less of a fairy tale even though it features fairy and magical events throughout the story.

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