June 25, 2009

The Amulet of Samarkand

Posted in Adventure, Children's Literature, Fantasy at 12:00 pm by j128

The Amulet of Samarkand The Amulet of Samarkand by British author Jonathan Stroud is the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It was published in 2003 in the U.K. and North America. The story is told in two different perspectives: first person (Bartimaeus) and narrative (Nathaniel). It is often viewed as a paralel world of our own world and I really like how Mr. Stroud manages to integrate magic into everything, even ancient history i.e. the fall of the Roman Empire, which is covered in Ptolemy’s Gate. Of the entire series, this one is my favourite.

The protagonists are twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice Nathaniel and a cheeky, often hilarious, djinni whom Nathaniel has summoned named Bartimaeus. The plot revolves around a powerful magical object, the Amulet of Samarkand, which Nathaniel ordered Bartimaeus to steal from the powerful and harsh magician Simon Lovelace.


Set in an alternate London, England, Nathaniel was early on in life given away by his parents to become a magician’s apprentice, mainly because of the money gained. He is told to forget his name forever as it is vital information that can be used by enemies and demons (djinnis and the like). His master, Mr. Underwood, has hardly any interest in him, let alone any interest in acquiring an apprentice, and his wife, Mrs. Underwood soon takes the scared boy under her wing and even manages to find out his name, as she says she does not want to call him “boy” all the time despite her husband’s furious remarks later on.

Nathaniel is educated in all sorts of subjects from world politics, geography, history, foreign languages, swimming, music, art, and magic. Of course, not all these things are taught to him by Mr. Underwood. They are taught by several tutors, who are all commoners: non-magical people who don’t have as much living standards as magicians do.

Everything is all very well until one fateful day when Nathaniel is summoned by Mr. Underwood so he can show off his apprentice. Mr. Underwood’s associates, however, do not take to Nathaniel very well, especially the man whom Nathaniel would later find out to be Simon Lovelace, and whom Nathaniel calls “a sore loser” after a cruel remark.

Set against revenge, Nathaniel releases mites upon the party and he is beaten sorely for his crimes. In an attempt to defend him, his art tutor Ms. Lutyens is sacked, yet another demonstration of injustice to the commoners.

After this cold, hard incident Nathaniel decides to speed up his studies on his own and begins learning far more magic than he ever did from his master Mr. Underwood and magic that his way beyond his years. Finally after a period of time he is ready enough to summon the five-thousand-year-old djinni Bartimaeus and orders him to steal Simon Lovelace’s most prized possession, which is none other than the Amulet of Samarkand and Nathaniel does this all without his master or his wife’s knowing. It is unfortunate, however, that Nathaniel does not even realize the extent of power the Amulet holds.

Eventually Nathaniel is given a new name by Mr. Underwood, which Nathaniel shall be known for the rest of his life: John Mandrake, after Nathaniel’s attempt to be named William Gladstone, England’s saviour, or at least, the England’s magicians’ saviour and whom Nathaniel regards as his hero.

Soon after his Naming, Nathaniel attends a special gathering of other magicians with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood. He also first sees the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux. An attack ensues upon the party with the use of a magical object in the shape of a disc and the suspect held is the Resistance, a group of commoners who oppose magic and continually battle against magicians’ power.

The climax heightens when Bartimaeus is caught and prisoned in the Tower of London after a fight in Sholto Pinn’s merchant shop, which results in considerably serious damage to the humans and the store. Inevitably, Bartimaeus is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London (I think), but escapes as he is rescued by Farqual (another djinni and sort of archenemy of Bartimaeus’s). Bartimaeus also escapes Farqual after the initial rescue.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel has been found out by his master, and has been severely punished. Mrs. Underwood sympathizes but cannot do anything in her power except to give Nathaniel advice about his actions and their consequences. Soon afterwards, it is announced that Mr. Lovelace has called, and wishes to see Mr. Underwood.

Nathaniel breaks out in a sweat and the sense of danger is heightened. Just at that moment, Bartimaeus appears, and discovers through Nathaniel he has lead Simon Lovelace to Mr. Underwood’s house. For a brief moment, Nathaniel is trapped between either running away or saving Mr. Underwood, despite him being a lousy master. The young apprentice’s good heart wins over and he attempts to save the Underwoods but fails. Mr. Lovelace uses the Amulet and destroys Nathaniel’s home and everything in it.

However, as Bartimaeus is there, he manages to rescue Nathaniel from the raging fire, and also prevents his young master to go back into the flames to try and rescue Mrs. Underwood. They find refuge in an abandoned old building and Nathaniel broods over the loss of the person who was dearest to him and how he could have saved her. Bartimaeus is sent out to get some food and brings in the morning paper, the headlines screaming about the wreakage of the Underwoods’ residence.

The two learn of Mr. Lovelace’s function, which will be in the countryside, and while Bartimaeus goes off to investigate, Nathaniel ventures out to buy the evening paper. Unfortunately all the newpapers have been sold and even more unfortunately, Nathaniel is confronted and his scrying disk is stolen

On the day of Mr. Lovelace’s function Nathaniel and Bartimaeus disguise themselves as a father and son business; their ticket to getting inside. Nathaniel looks around while he serves as a waiter and finally gets away to explore and discovers Mr. Lovelace’s devastating plot behind the whole function – ultimately leading to a political take-over.

After Nathaniel has defeated a magician who was intent on killing him, he and Bartimaeus do their best to warn the rest of the magicians, but their attempts are seemingly hopeless as the magicians are blind to everything except the main entertainment. The boy and djinni are trapped in a magical bubble consequently when Bartimaeus bites an earlier character Jessica Whitwell.

After a presentation, Simon Lovelace unleashes the terror: the most powerful djinni from the Other Place, which Mr. Lovelace controls by a horn. All is confusion and fright and everyone scatters. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus some how break out of the bubble and send back the monster and Simon Lovelace with it. Peace is restored and Nathaniel becomes apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell; other than that, the aftermath of the near-disaster is quiet as, in Bartimaeus’s words, the Prime Minister doesn’t want others to know his life was saved by a mere boy.

At long last, Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus, and the ancient djinni departs but not without leaving a memento of sorts: the smell of brimstone.


The Amulet of Samarkand has also been planned for film adaptation for some time and it has only been recently revealed that Mirimax will be financing the film; other details aside from director and screenwriter is unknown as it is still in development.


http://www.bartimaeustrilogy.com/ – Official website of The Bartimaeus Trilogy

September 2, 2006

So You Want to Be a Wizard

Posted in Children's Literature, Fantasy at 6:55 pm by j128

So You Want to Be a Wizard

So You Want to Be a Wizard

So You Want to Be a Wizard, by American author Diane Duane, was written in 1982 and published in the next year. It is the first book in the Young Wizard series.


The protagonist, Juanita Callahan, or Nita, is a thirteen-year-old girl and is constantly bullied and beaten up, in and out of school by Joanne’s gang. The reason why Nita is bullied and beaten up is because she can’t always supress from talking back and keeping quiet.

The first time we see Nita, she is being chased by Joanne’s gang and takes refuge in the library. The librarian, Mrs. Lesser, takes care of the bullies. Meanwhile downstairs in the children’s library Nita discovers a book she had never seen before. Its title says: So You Want to Be a Wizard. Nita had thought she had read every single book in the children’s library and she wonders how this one had escaped her eye.

Nita takes it home and comes back with the book, a black eye, and a few other injuries from being beaten up.

While Nita recuperates she reads as much as she can and before she falls asleep takes the Wizard’s Oath. Next morning she sees her name in the list of wizards.

When Nita had been beaten up, Joanne had nicked Nita’s space pen that her uncle gave her. The space pen can write on anything. Nita realizes this and goes to a quiet place to make a retrieval spell for her pen and there she meets another wizard, Christopher “Kit” Rodriguez, who is a year younger than her. They tie both spells together and are taken to Manhattan, but it is a different Manhattan.

A huge, ominous shape is coming there way and the two children make a spell to gain energy, and the result is a white hole from space, which, is simply put, Fred. Fred’s name when translated into English is Khairelikoblepharehglukumeilichephredeidosd’enagouni.

Next day Nita and Kit go to school earlier than usual and wait for Joanne. Fred helps them get Nita’s pen back, though, unfortunately he swallowed it and the consequence is that he begins emitting various objects that includes a new widescreen colour TV, a learjet, and a blue Mercedes Benz, etc. To fix the problem, Nita and Kit go somewhere they never dared before: Old Crazy Swale’s house. It is the local Advisories’ house and they are Tom and Carl. Fred’s problem is fixed and Tom and Carl tell the young wizards and Fred about the bright book also known as Book of Night with Moon and the bright book’s opposite: the dark book also known as Book Which Is Not Named. Nita is told that they can retrieve her pen by using a World Gate.

On the weekend Kit and Nita travel to Manhattan to go to the World Gate and get Nita’s space pen. The problem is, though, the World Gate has been moved due to reconstruction and they have to walk up to the top of a building in order to reach the World Gate.

Perytons, wolf-like creatures, come along while Nita is doing the spell and something you are never to do is to break off during a spell. Upon seeing the perytons, Nita does this exactly: break the spell and then the children are whirled into a dark world, which is reminiscent of Manhattan. It is Manhattan, but something has gone terribly wrong.

This Manhattan is wrought with hate and darkness. There are no human beings or animals. Vehicles are twisted and are killer-machines, even an innocent-looking fire hydrant, which sucks up a pigeon with a long stick tongue. It is here that Nita and Kit must retrieve the bright book and the book of darkness. But they must be careful, because there is danger lurking at every corner.


Visit the website www.youngwizards.com for book descriptions in the Young Wizard series and the Feline Wizardry sequence.

For series description and other related topics in the Young Wizard series read the article on Answers.com: Young Wizards.

August 27, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

Posted in Children's Literature, Fantasy at 9:46 pm by j128

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle by British author Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1986. It was adapted in 2004 as an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. See my previous post Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 film) for more information about the movie Howl’s Moving Castle.


The setting is in the fictitious magical kingdom of Ingary, where many fairy-tale tropes are accepted ways of life. Another accepted way of life is that it is a misfortune to be born the eldest of three, for everyone knows that if the three ever go out into the world to seek their fortunes the eldest will fail first.

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, the younger two being Lettie and Martha. Sophie and Lettie were Mr. Hatter’s daughters by his first wife, and after his first wife died he married his youngest shop assistant Fanny.

The Hatters owned a family business in Market Chipping selling ladies’ hats. After Mr. Hatter died suddenly just as Sophie was old enough to leave school, Fanny plans her daughters’ futures.

Lettie becomes an apprentice to Cesari’s, the pastry cook in Market Square; Martha is apprenticed to Fanny’s old school friend Mrs. Annabel Fairfax; and Sophie would inherit the hat shop when Fanny retires as Sophie is the eldest and in the meantime becomes an apprentice to her mother.

During this time the Witch of the Waste has been rumoured to be stirring again and planning to terrorize the country. The King had ordered his personal magician, Wizard Suliman, to deal with the Witch. Unfortunately, it seemed Wizard Suliman had not only failed to deal with the Witch: he had been killed by her. So naturally people became fearful when they caught sight of a tall moving castle. It was then learned it was not the Witch of the Waste, it was Wizard Howl who was equally terrible: he was cold-blooded and sucked the souls out of beautiful young girls or ate their hearts. Because of these rumours, all the girls are warned never to go out alone.

The story really begins to happen when Sophie is magically turned into an old woman of about ninety by inadvertedly offending the Witch of the Waste.

Sophie flees Market Chipping and takes refuge at Howl’s moving castle. She hires herself as a cleaning lady and with good reason: the castle really needs it.

In the Castle she meets Calcifer, a terrifying fire demon whom she makes a bargain with to destroy the contract that binds Howl and Calcifer. She also meets Howl’s apprentice Michael Fisher, who is a teenager of about sixteen and then Sophie meets Howl himself. She realizes Howl is the same young man she had briefly met in Market Square on May Day when she went out to visit her sister Lettie at Cesari’s, a bakery.

Sophie gets to work on the Castle and cleans almost all of the Castle, despite the complaints made by the other occupants. The exceptions: the yard (b/c Howl says otherwise he will not know where his things will be for specific spells) and Howl’s bedroom (even though it is pigsty and Sophie wishes to clean it, Howl says that if he likes living in a pigsty, Sophie can’t do anything about it).

Howl turns out to be the kind of person who spends more time on himself than any other thing or person. He always comes down clean and fresh and smelling of sweet perfumes. In addition, he tries to weasel out of things by pretending to be much too busy with some other thing or any other kind of excuse he can make up.

An example of Howl’s weasling out of things is that the King had summoned Howl to find Wizard Suliman and now also called Howl to find his brother, Prince Justin, who went to the Waste to rescue Wizard Suliman, whom Prince Justin was great friends with. Howl tries to weasel out of this, but fails; he tried by talking Sophie into visiting the Palace and seeing Mrs. Pentstemmon, who trained both Wizard Suliman and Howl, and the King, but both attempts fail – though this is mostly due to the fact that upon the spot Sophie forgets everything that Howl told Sophie to say to the King and Mrs. Pentstemmon.

There are a series of adventures before and after visiting the Palace, including the fruitless attempt to carry out a peculiar spell that includes catching a falling star. Sophie and Michael do this spell together with their seven-league boots, after Howl realizes what they were trying to do he forbades Michael to ever try it. Howl won’t tell Sophie or Michael anything about the spell, but they can see it greatly upsets him.

Because of the bargain between Calcifer and Sophie, Calcifer carefully drops many hints related to the contract between Howl and Calcifer. Sophie eventually figures out what the hints mean and pieces them together.

In the end Howl defeats the Witch of the Waste and Sophie destroys the contract between Calicfer and Howl, thus freeing Calcifer and Howl back to normal. Sophie is reduced to her original age and she and Howl fall in love.


The curse that was placed upon Howl is in the form of John Donne’s poem, Song: Go and catch a falling star. Read the poem here.

For those people who have not read Howl’s Moving Castle before they saw the movie of the same name, it may be confusing (the book). The book and the movie are two different stories. The first part of the movie is based upon the book, but the rest of the movie is entirely original. One cannot relate the book and movie as one.

I am one of those people who read the book before the movie. I was not initially aware that the movie was based upon a book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones until later. But I can’t say I like the movie better than the book or the book better than the movie; simply put, I like both of them for what they are. As I said earlier, they are their own different stories.

If you would like a more detailed article about the book Howl’s Moving Castle, read Answer.com’s article . It includes, besides the plot, Calcifer’s hints, and a small summary of Howl’s Moving Castle’s sequel: Castle in the Air. The sequel’s title is not to be confused with Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, which is not at all related to Castle in the Air.

*On Answers.com, regarding Howl’s Moving Castle, there are two articles: Howl’s Moving Castle (film) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 Fantasy Film). The latter article has the article about the book below a review of the movie and the first article contains an article about the movie only.

See Also

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 film)