LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Double Edged Sword: Wishing in Five Children and It (Theme Analysis and Criticism)

on April 4, 2013 1:59pm

Be careful what you wish for…

Five Children and It is a seemingly simple story that shows why people cannot always get what they wish for and if they do, it carries unexpected problems. This theme, however, is a very interesting theme to tackle in a children’s book, especially since children are the demographic most likely to wish for unrealistic things. Children also usually do not weigh the pros and cons of situations and only work toward their idealized goal. In the novel, this idea materializes through the five children’s various wishes, ranging from wanting to be beautiful to wanting to be rich. However, each wish carries unforeseen consequences that always results in the wish providing more harm than good.

“What do you weirdos want now?!”

In my opinion, I think Nesbit included this theme as the ultimate moral of the story. Although morals are often presented at the end of children’s books, I think it was very intelligent of Nesbit to repeatedly convey the moral through different yet similar scenarios. However, I found the execution of the theme to be lackluster. As an adult reading this, I found the constant failings of the children’s wishes to be evident of the theme by the second or third chapter and the following chapters were too repetitive. I think the story would have been best served as a short story to present the characters and theme succinctly and would have avoid the tedium of the book. However, I can see why a child would enjoy the repetitive nature of the book. Nesbit cleverly finds new ways to ruin the wishes and that type of suspense appeals greatly to younger readers.

I don’t even know if I would approach this guy…

Another interesting dimension of the theme is that it does not present the idea of “being careful of what to wish for” as well as it could. Throughout the novel, the Psammead grants the wishes of the children. Although he could be interpreted as a microcosm for the larger idea of wishing for unrealistic goals and objects, I think including the character only aids in presenting the theme to children and fails on a thematic level. On a larger level, using the Psammead downplays the theme a bit because the consequences that often stem from the wishes are completely unexpected and random. Although this can play into the idea that wishing for some things yields completely surprising and undesired consequences, I still think the execution of the character’s ability to grant wishes compromises the theme. I do think the character works wonderfully in entertaining and making the idea more accessible for children, which I think is the greatest strength of the work.

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3 responses to “The Double Edged Sword: Wishing in Five Children and It (Theme Analysis and Criticism)

  1. mrmg0 says:

    I thought your examination of the children’s wishing was excellent however I would have to disagree with you on one point. In your blog you stated “unforeseen consequences that always results in the wish providing more harm than good” and I don’t think this is quite true in most of the cases within the novel.
    The first thing that must be taken into account is the amount of growth the children undergo from each successive “bad” wish. Although they never get around to making their true wish for money and instead “waste” wishes on relatively frivolous things they learn from their mistakes. In the end of the book, when their previous wish screws up, they decide to bite the bullet and sacrifice all their potential future wealth and wishes in order to save their mother and revert all their previous wishes. In addition each wish brings about experiences that the children would not otherwise be able to endure – how many children do you know that were able to fly, experience a castle siege, and meet “red Indians.”
    The second thing that must be taken into account is the ingenuity that the kids showcase whenever each of their wishes goes wrong. Despite begin given the wrong money, the kids still manage to take advantage of it. Another prime example comes from Robert’s “big” wish. Even though the wish inherently is a waste- a wish for petty revenge? – The kids show their entrepreneurially spirit and still manage to profit- if less than they should have – by showing off Robert the Giant.

  2. broatchlit says:

    I found this to be a very amusing read. It had an interesting notion about the concept of making wishes and the flaws of the wish granter. The sand-fairy named Psammead has the power to grant wishes, but his ability appears to be limited as he is only able to grant wishes once a day. Moreover, he often misinterprets a child’s wish which, in turn, goes comically wrong. As a reader we discover that even an all-powerful, wish granting sand-fairy has its limitations and flaws. Undoubtedly, the sand-fairy keeps his end of the deal and never once breaks his promise to the children about granting them a daily wish. However, in most cases, the children make very vague wishes and it can be assumed that Psammead interprets each of their wishes in a literal sense. For example, when one of the children, Robert, makes a wish to be bigger, the sand-fairy interprets that as transforming the young child into an 11 foot tall giant. Seeing as he did not specify what height or, at least, how big Robert wanted to become, Psammead just assumes that the child wants to become a giant.

    Now I wonder if perhaps the children were more specific on their wishes, would it had made their actual wishes come true. There is also the fact that Psammead does not want to grant adults any wishes as they would have wished for “real earnest things” and most likely taken advantage of his abilities. Perhaps he had the ability all along to grant the exact wishes the children initially wanted. In a way, it seems like Psammead is a prankster who enjoys taking advantage of a child’s innocence and their naïve nature by granting wishes according to the child’s exact words. The sand-fairy seems to be a lot more intelligent and cunning than most people would expect. In addition, I would completely overlook the whole “be careful what you wish for” saying considering this wish granter seems to know what he was doing from the very beginning.

  3. I enjoyed reading this post because I too believed that the moral Nesbit was trying to parlay onto her readers is that people cannot always receive what they want without experiencing some sort of consequence. The children consistently wish for things that they believe will bring them closer to happiness; becoming wealthy, becoming beautiful, wanting their little brother to grow up quickly so they no longer are annoyed by him, among others. They were essentially trying to rid themselves of their adolescent problems and wanted to reap the benefits of finding this wish-giving creature in the dust pit. It therefore became quite visually apparent to me while reading this story that the Psammead served as a character with a different purpose than simply being able to grant wishes, he was also a “microcosm for the larger idea of wishing for unrealistic goals and objects”, as Cody stated. However, unlike Cody’s interpretation, I did not find the repetition of the moral throughout the story to be bothersome at all. While I appreciate and understand the fact that as adults we may find the plot line a tad bit repetitive, I can also hardly believe that Nesbit had our generation in mind when she was writing this story. This particular novel, unlike some of the others that we have read, focuses solely on the child, rather than also trying to appease the adult. For children, or at least from my experience with them, if you are trying to teach them a lesson, it does not generally stick the first couple of times you tell them. It therefore becomes necessary to repeat the moral in the manner of this book to highlight that no matter what the wish is, if you are wishing for things to help yourself, rather than the “real earnest” wishes of adults, your wishes will come with less than advantageous consequences.

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