On keeping magic to oneself

I first (and possibly only ever read) The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks when I was eleven, as one of the books in my English classroom library. We had silent reading time, and I picked that book to read. At the end of the year, everyone got to choose one book from the classroom library to take home, and I picked The Indian in the Cupboard. I’m not entirely sure why I picked it – I can’t remember particularly enjoying it more than any of the other books in the classroom library, but I suppose I remember reading that book, and can’t really remember what else what on the shelves of the library. So it became part of my own library, although I don’t think I ever reread it until a few weeks ago.


The premise of The Indian in the Cupboard is that Omri is given a cupboard for his birthday that turns out to be magic – it bring plastic figurines (such as the Indian given to him for his birthday as well) to life. Omri looks after the Indian (quite responsibly for a young boy) and eventually is made to tell his friend about it, but never tells an adult. In fact, he is mortified when his friend shows their principle one of the little alive figures. The principle thinks he has gone mad, and goes home to bed.

In many children’s books that includes magic of some kind, adults never have any part of the magical fun. It is actually quite unusual for an adult to be actually shown the magic, as Omri’s friend does. Usually magic is reserved solely for the children, and adults are the enemy as they will either 1) think the children are lying 2) take away the magic, possibly to give to the police or government 3) ruin the fun.

As an adult, I think this is a bit unfair. I would do none of those things.

Obviously, in fantasy books for adults, magic does come into adult lives, but in children’s books, it is usually reserved only for children. Adventure in general is usually reserved for children – this is why there are so many orphans in children’s fiction, as it is an easy way to get rid of those pesky grownups. Is this because adults generally get to have all the adventures in real (grown up) life, and books are a way for children to have all the unadulterated fun? Is it because, in real life, if magic were to happen and a child was to show an adult, the adult would confiscate the magic, or think that they are lying? Or is it because it is more fun if the children get into their own messes and troubles without adults?

As to that dreadful principle in The Indian in the Cupboard, who couldn’t believe his own eyes and thought he was unwell, I can only quote Roald Dahl, ‘And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’



  1. Ah, the memories! I think I first read this at 11… it was probably my first ‘favourite novel’. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. I loved this book! There are a lot more if you want to read them. I suggest the movie (my favorite part is a Star Wars scene that is not featured in the book. There’s Darth Vader and a short lightsaber battle)! Thanks for posting.

  3. Pingback: On where the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much) comes from | 1001 Children's Books

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