The Indian in the Cupboard (and Return)

The Indian in the Cupboard
© 1980 Lynne Reid Banks

I had to keep watch in the children’s department today, and there bumped into an old friend: Omri, the boy with a seemingly magical cupboard that can turn plastic figures into real, albeit tiny, people.  I can’t remember how young I was when I encountered the Indian in the Cupboard series, though I do remember being puzzled as to why the “dollar” signs looked funny (£).   The story begins when Omri receives a plastic figure of an Iroquois warrior and a cupboard for his birthday.   There’s no key for the cupboard, but oddly one of Omri’s mother’s heirloom keys fits the lock perfectly.   When Omri locks the figure up for safekeeping, however, he’s astonished to hear yelling and muted scraping from within. Somehow, the toy has come alive.  When Omri is able to talk to the figure — now a very animated and angry warrior — he learns that the man is not simply a moving toy, but a real man suddenly ripped from history. The book follows Omri and Little Bear’s evolving friendship, as well as the near disaster that ensues once Omri trusts his friend Patrick with the secret.  Oddly enough, the arrival of this tiny figure from the French and Indian Wars is a pivotal experience for Omri, giving him his first taste of responsibility, an opportunity for wrestling with the morality of his own actions. Ultimately he decides that he doesn’t have the right to play with lives from history like this, and he and Patrick will send back Little Bear and a few others back closing and locking the cupboard door once again.

I loved this series as a child, and I enjoyed it no less today when I decided to revisit the first two books. I remembered much about the story — I should, considering how many times I read the first few books —  but was amused by some of the things I’d forgotten.  The memory of the weird dollar signs, for instance — I didn’t realize the book was set in another country back in the day, and there were some jokes that went over my head because ‘whiskey’ wasn’t a word that I had encountered at age seven, or whenever it was that I found these.  What a delight this book was to me back then, already in love with history — even in fourth grade, my history book was the first one I looked for on the first day of school — and immediately interested in any notion of toys coming to life. One of my favorite childhood books was Elvira Woodruff’s Back in Action,  about a magic kit that brings toys to life and shrinks their owner down to have adventures with them.   This book was genuinely educational, however, as Little Bear behaves nothing like what Omri expects a ‘savage’ to act like. Through Omri and Little Bear, I learned that there were all kinds of different native Americans, that some lived in longhouses and some in tipis, that they fought each other and fought on different sides against  European powers.  Omri becomes fascinated by Iroquois culture, and when in the sequel his friend makes a churlish remark about  the ‘savages’,, it is Omri who chides his friend for not knowing what he’s talking about.

Return of the Indian is more of an adventure than a moral drama — Omri brings Little Bear to life again to tell him some good news, and then learns that the warrior’s village about to be burned and his friend killed, so Omri tries to figure out a way to help out — but is still enjoyable.  There’s so much to appreciate about these two books, but I suppose the days of children playing with little figurines instead of their parents’ phones are passing into memory.

This book appeared in a 2011 Top Ten Tuesday list, “Childhood Favorites”.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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7 Responses to The Indian in the Cupboard (and Return)

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    i've long felt that what happens to us at an early age affects us for the rest of out lives… i think my fascination with Freddy the Pig books had a lot to do with the person i became…

  2. CyberKitten says:

    Sounds fantastic. I do love how childhood encounters with books opens whole new worlds for people – like a revelation…

  3. Brian Joseph says:

    Thanks for posting this. I had forgotten about this series.I think that I read the first two books. It is so interesting how memory and images from childhood stay with us forever.

  4. Stephen says:

    I'd never heard of those before! Very interesting…

  5. Stephen says:

    Often recorded without our being aware — they just float up from the bottom of our minds randomly, or in response to a trigger of sorts. I imagine if I smelled hairspray, I might be transported back to the early 90s, where my sister and mom were working on their poofs!

  6. Stephen says:

    Perhaps I can blame my prolonged interest in the medieval epoch on Redwall, what with its castles and mice in monk's clothing…

  7. CyberKitten says:

    Quite possibly….. One of my first teen books was 1984. It could explain a lot!

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