Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I wrap up my time with the Bastables

With New Treasure Seekers, or the Bastable Children In Search of a Fortune, my time with the Bastable kids has come to an end, along with the series of books.

The Story of the Treasure Seekers was A. E. Nesbit's first children's book. Her influence on children's literature really can't be underestimated. She made her child protagonists realistic, full of believable flaws and virtues. She was also a forerunner in what would become urban fantasy, having fantastic elements appear in the contemporary world.

The Bastable books are a beloved part of her work and I decided that I would make 2016 the year I finally read them. I have long loved her Psammead trilogy of Five Children and It, the Phoenix and the Carpet and the Story of the Amulet.

As those of you who have already read my blogs about The Story of the Treasure Seekers and the Wouldbegoods know, I haven't really been taken by the Bastable books.

The formula for the stories is that each chapter has the siblings get into wacky hijinks. Whether it be trying to earn some money or do a good deed or just playing a game, they actively use bad judgment and poor impulse control to get into trouble, although their hearts are always in the right place.

Part of what turned me off from the Bastable books was how clueless the kids are. At the very least, the older pair of Dora and Oswald should have a better idea of how the world works and be better judges of character. Instead, Oswald seems dead set against the idea of maturity.

They do get a pass in the first book, seeing as how their mother is dead and their father's business is in ruins. While Oswald's narrative is allegedly about them trying to restore the family fortunes, it's really about them coping with how the household had fallen apart. The second book has them have a vacation in the countryside (they're wealthy again, by the way) and trying to do good deeds. Frankly, it's a surprise that a petition isn't passed in the neighborhood banning them from good deeds. 

The third book lacks the overarching narrative structure of the first two books. One of the stories even takes place before the first book, the story of their first Christmas without their mother. If someone told me the third book was originally published as standalone stories in magazines, I'd believe them. In fact, them becoming treasure seekers again, trying to raise money for a woman who doesn't need it, doesn't take place until over halfway through the book.

So, while the book does have some of the strongest single adventures of the Bastables, the whole is the weakest of the three books. It also ends abruptly, with Oswald literally writing that he's done with all this writing.

In comparison, in my beloved Psammead trilogy, each book has a strong structure and the overall series forms an arc with plenty of character development. I know Nesbit has written better and more meaningful books.

Still, if you've read the first two Bastable books and enjoyed them at all, you will enjoy this one. If nothing else, you should at least reading the Christmas pudding chapter.

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