The Castle in the Attic

by Elizabeth Winthrop

Paperback, 1994



Local notes

PB Win




Yearling (1994), Edition: Corners Dog Earred, 192 pages


A gift of a toy castle, complete with silver knight, introduces William to an adventure involving magic and a personal quest.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

192 p.; 5.12 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member ncgraham
The Castle in the Attic and its sequel, The Battle for the Castle, were two books I very much enjoyed as a child, but for some reason I never numbered them among my very favorite fantasy novels. How delightful it is to come back to them now and find that, if anything, my regard for them has grown
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over the years. This is probably due to the illuminating power of hindsight; I don't think it was until this recent reread that I realized how much the Castle books influenced my early novel-writing attempts—or, for that matter, how much I have in common with its protagonist. But more on that later.

At its most basic level, the story is deceptively simple. Mrs. Phillips, the Lawrences' housekeeper and nanny, is leaving. As a parting gift, she gives William a model castle with a little lead knight, both of which have been passed down through her family for generations. What neither Mrs. Phillips nor William knows is that the castle is magical, so it is quite a surprise when the knight comes alive at William's touch and introduces himself as Sir Simon, the Silver Knight. He has been turned into lead by an evil sorcerer and transported out of his kingdom, bringing with him one of the conjurer's magic tokens, a token that can shrink living things down to the knight's own size. Once William sees it, he hatches a scheme to prevent Mrs. Phillips' departure ... and from his selfish action there emerges a dangerous adventure that will test the strength and courage of knight, squire, and lady.

When summarized thus, the story appears more than a little cliché, and it could very well have turned out that way. Indeed, it is a tribute to Winthrop's art that it did not. Her attention to detail is a strong point, both in the "real world" and the fantasy land Sir Simon comes from. It simply wouldn't be the same novel without William's struggle to land that Arabian dive roll at the end of his floor routine, Mrs. Phillips' treasured picture and pin, Mr. Lawrence's unfinished projects, or even the overview of the castle's architecture. All of the characters are intensely human; there is not a single one that I do not believe is real.

In William, Winthrop has created a character I can not only relate to, but one that so thoroughly resembles me, it is almost scary. Obviously there are surface differences: I was never a gymnast, both of my parents were around more than his are, and I never had a nanny. But at the age of ten we were very much the same sort of people. I too was small, I too was sensitive, and I too was quite a bit more in tune with the etiquette of bygone eras than the contemporary social concerns of my peers. Also, I must admit that if someone I loved as much as William loved Mrs. Phillips were to leave me, I would have been intensely jealous and possessive as well. All of this may seem superfluously subjective, for I realize that not all ten-year-old boys were like William and I, but I think it once again points to the strength of Winthrop's art, for she was able to create a character unnervingly like a real person, full of flaws and insecurities and little virtues mixed in.

Morally the book is quite strong as well. As the author has said in interviews, part of The Castle in the Attic's appeal is that "without being didactic or moralistic, there is a strong sense of right and wrong in the book.... I think kids (and adults) are looking for that." Personally, I could have done without the statement (made, I think, by Mrs. Phillips near the book's finale) that William just had to look into himself to find all the answers; aside from the fact that it isn't true—he needed help from others in order to accomplish his quest—it is painfully cliché, and sticks out like a sore thumb in a story that is otherwise notable for its freshness. On the other hand, I love the code Sir Simon runs over as he makes William his squire:

"Be compassionate to the needy. Neither squander wealth nor hoard it. Never lose your sense of shame. If questions are asked of you, answer them frankly but do not ask too many yourself. Be manly and of good cheer. Never kill a foe who is begging for mercy.... Be ever loyal in love."

If there is one criticism I have of the book, it's that it should be longer. The dramatic situation involving Mrs. Phillips and William in our world is so thoroughly explored that the adventure in Sir Simon's medieval fantasy-land seems rather rushed in comparison, although what we have is still quite brilliant.

Although not everyone may have quite the personal connection I do to The Castle of the Attic, I do think it has numerous qualities aside from my own sympathy and nostalgia. Well-written, with wonderful detail, poignant human drama, and an exciting quest story, it is a book I recommend for all lovers of children's fantasy.
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LibraryThing member atimco
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop is a book I should have read in my childhood. With whiffs of Narnia and the Indian in the Cupboard series, this story evokes the rich fantasy tradition in children's literature. When William's nanny Mrs. Phillips announces she must leave him to go live
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with her brother in England, William tries to think of a way to make her stay. As a going-away present, she gives him a model castle and a little leaden knight to go with it. But the knight doesn't stay leaden, and the magical coin he carries soon becomes part of William's plan to prevent Mrs. Phillips' departure. But his choices have unexpected consequences and William must enter the knight's castle himself to defeat the evil magician Alastor.

Early on, I thought this was going to be overly similar to the Indian in the Cupboard books, the first of which was published in 1980 (The Castle in the Attic came out in 1986). Many of the elements are the same: the protagonist is a young boy who is not overly popular among his peers, whose small toy figure comes alive, perfect and miniature, through the agency of a magical object; the best friend character, whom the protagonist isn't sure he can trust with the secret; the loving but slightly detached parents; and even the dangers posed by rodents who are larger than the miniature person. But Winthrop's story quickly takes a different turn and becomes distinct from others of a similar cast.

Nor did I find the similarities to C. S. Lewis' Narnia books too close for comfort. In both series, the young hero(es) must undertake a mission in the fantasy world, usually a quest to overthrow a cruel ruler. Also, as with Narnia, once you are transported to the medieval world of the castle, time doesn't pass for you in the real world (well, unless you go against your will — then you lose your time in the real world). Alastor and the White Witch can both turn their enemies into inanimate objects (lead and stone, respectively). Winthrop's poem of prophecy could be reminiscent of the rhymes the Beavers quote about Aslan's return and how evil will be conquered. But despite the points of likeness, the stories feel very different. There is no Aslan-figure in Winthrop's world, and that changes everything.

One thing I was fascinated to notice was the subtle commentary on William's relationship with his parents. They both worked full-time jobs outside the home and often did not have time to spend with him. William's father is always starting projects with him, but they never get finished. Winthrop clearly has strong views on the problem of working parents, but the book isn't overtaken by them. The story is always foremost, and indeed in fantasy stories like these, the children must always enter the fantasy world by themselves — no parents allowed! Lynne Reid Banks tries to change this by bringing Omri's father into the action in the last book, and though I initially liked that choice, I must admit that it's probably the reason that book is the weakest of the series by far.

I liked Winthrop's writing, which is unobtrusively graceful. For example, "She poured some honey into her tea. The floating spirals of gold slipped underneath the surface, one little circle after another" — doesn't that just make you want some?

I've already moved on to the sequel, The Battle for the Castle. Though I think I would have loved this book more had I read it at a younger age, I did find it an imaginative story that I'm sure my children will enjoy.
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LibraryThing member t1bclasslibrary
William is desperate to keep his housekeeper/nanny from leaving and going to England, and he hatches a foolish plan with a present she has given him- a very realistic miniature castle. The castle's knight comes alive in his hands, and shows him a medallion that can make people tiny... which William
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uses to trap his housekeeper so she won't leave him. William realizes the foolishness of his action, and makes himself small so that he can help the knight and his housekeeper and generally save the day in a coming-of-age type way. In the end William has to say goodbye, but he is finally able to let go.
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LibraryThing member wchagin57
THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I'VE EVER READ!!!!! very action pact and funny.
LibraryThing member sokkr
This novel was pure fantasy. The adventures of a boy and a lead knight brought to life by William's touch. This book brings back memories from childhood.
LibraryThing member laf
I like this book because it is an adventurous fantasy.
LibraryThing member EmScape
This was one of my favorite books as a child; I read it over and over.
William's nanny is going back to England because she believes he's old enough to take care of himself. Before she goes, she gives him a castle that has been in her family for generations. It comes with one Silver Knight, and
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when William touches him, he comes to life. In order to defeat the wizard who placed the spell on the knight, William must become small himself and journey to another land.
This book actually holds up well upon re-reading as an adult, and thanks to LibraryThing, I now know there is a sequel. I'm off to read that next, for the very first time!
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LibraryThing member elizacats
I loved this book because it teaches the reader about knighthood, the code of knighthood, what life was probably like back in the middle ages. The boy character goes back in time to help out a friend and undo a wrong he did to someone else. It shows the character finding courage he didn't know he
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had, and deciding to do the right thing when he wronged someone very dear to him.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
An odd story in a lot of ways, but very enjoyable.The oddest thing was the way the fantastic and the mundane mixed - things like, in the middle of his quest, while he was being the fool for the villain, he thought how all the tumbling he was doing would have him in excellent shape for his
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gymnastics meet. He accepted Sir Simon very easily too. So this is a) a very ordinary story about a kid with two working parents, who has had a nurse/babysitter all his life and she's now leaving, and how he deals with that; b) a fantasy about a knight and a quest (complete with tasks, helping others helps you, and so on); and c) a quite explicit self-realization and finding oneself and coming of age story, with lines like 'the strength was always within you'. And the three mesh quite reasonably well. Not a strong favorite, but a good story.
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LibraryThing member multilingualmaid
I originally read the Castle in the Attic as a child and remembered liking it, but I couldn’t remember much about the actual story. So, I reread it the other day and had the pleasure of rediscovering it.

The story centers around a boy named William who receives a very special toy castle, complete
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with a knight that comes alive! Now, William must enter the world of the knight in order to undo a wrong he committed. But William will have to travel some dangerous paths and outsmart an evil wizard if he wants to get home again and make things right.

The combination of adventure, magic, and the story of an ordinary boy makes this tale appealing to many readers. Children may also be able to relate to William as he deals with his insecurities and finds courage he didn’t know he had. What an all-around wonderful story! I would recommend this book for children in grades 4-6 and especially for those who enjoyed books like the Indian in the Cupboard and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
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LibraryThing member molliewatts
When Mrs. Phillips, William's longtime nanny, tells him she is leaving, William reacts in a most illogical and selfish manner by shrinking his nanny to the size of his thumb and locking her away in the toy (and obviously magical) castle she gave him. His plans go horribly awry, though, when he must
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magic himself down to castle size and accompany the castle's knight, Sir Simon, on a very real rescue mission to face an evil magician.

This is a very good story about growing up and facing your fears.
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LibraryThing member amandawebster
Ten-year-old William is given a magical castle as a gift from his nanny, Mrs. Phillips, as she leaves to return to England. Sir Simon, the silver knight of the castle, comes to life and takes William on a quest to a medieval time where he helps break an evil spell.
LibraryThing member alanpan
it was a great book of adventures, excitment ,and other suspenceful fun parts.
LibraryThing member wyvernfriend
A lovely tale about a boy who inherits a Castle from his nanny and then finds that the lead knight is real. He's only 9 and his nanny is about to leave him when he shrinks her to the size of the castle and then realises that really, he shouldn't have done that, in order to restore the knight and
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nanny he too has to shrink and approach the world the knight came from and defeat evil.

I found it a charming story, with occasional stutters where it didn't bridge between scenes as well as it could have, but a fun story.
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LibraryThing member ShopALot
This is about a ten year old named William. He is very upset about his nanny leaving and so he uses magic to shrink her and he puts her in a miniture wooden castle.To undo the what he did he must make himself small so that he can fight the silver knight. William has too pure of a heart to fight off
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the magician and his own childish possession of his nanny. This story shows how Williams real life is very emotional and he has a hard time dealing with his problems so he escapes through fantasy.

An extension of this book would be to maybe talk with the children on how to deal with their emotions.
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LibraryThing member miakabella
A Castle in the Attic has been one of my favorites since I was little. It has enough adventure with knights and sorcerers to hold a younger child's attention. This is definitely not like Harry Potter or Septimus Heap. It does have lots of good things about chivalry and doing the right thing. The
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vocabulary is a little tough with all the stuff to deal with the medieval age.
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LibraryThing member AngelaRenea
I finally found this book and finished it! My 3rd grade teacher started reading this aloud for the last week of school and we got out of school for the summer before we finished! It has literally been driving me crazy since then. It was a pretty good book, I think I hyped it up a little in my head
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over the years, but I enjoyed it. Would recommend it to any grade school kids.
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LibraryThing member AprilBrown
What ages would I recommend it too? – Five and up.

Length? – An afternoon.

Characters? – Memorable, several characters.

Setting? – Real World and Fantasy.

Written approximately? – 1985.

Does the story leave questions in the readers mind? – Ready to read more. At the end, a scene is
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referenced that did not occur in the book. Almost 4/5 of the book was the set up. The actual story was over in just a few pages.

Any issues the author (or a more recent publisher) should cover? No.

Short storyline: A boy tries to figure out how to keep his nanny from leaving.

Notes for the reader: The boy meets his challenges, though he doesn't have much real difficulty. Along the way, adults provide him with the solutions before he even tries to meet the goal.
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LibraryThing member engpunk77
My almost 9-year-old son and I read this together, a chapter or two a night. He can't believe this book hasn't received some kind of award--he's enjoying it much more than Indian in the Cupboard, even though it's the same concept. A perfect adventure story for this age group, especially if the
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child is interested in knights & chivalry. Enough technical castle terminology to make him feel smart :), and enough symbolism, foreshadowing, character growth, etc. to ponder for his English-teacher mother to approve.
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LibraryThing member wealhtheowwylfing
I wanted a magic castle so, so much.
LibraryThing member Herenya
It’s about ten year old William, who is upset that their housekeeper is returning to England. Mrs Phillips gives him a model castle with a silver knight that she inherited. When William finds out about the enchantment on the silver knight, he comes up with a plan which he hopes will stop Mrs
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Phillips from leaving.

I can see how this story would have a lot of appeal for a kid. But I’m not one anymore and if I’m reading about characters who are much younger than me, I want more humour, more quirkiness, and more vivid scenery. This fantasy world is fairly straightforward. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I was looking for.
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LibraryThing member CurrerBell
The "nanny-child" relationship seems quite a bit outdated for a book first published in the mid-80s. It seemed like something you'd expect from a late-19th or early-20th century children's story, and likely one with a British setting. This one's good enough that I am going to read the sequel, but
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it's nowhere near the top of my Middle Reader reading.
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LibraryThing member elainevbernal
William is a young boy who is worried about his long-time nanny Mrs. Phillips, leaving for England to live with her brother. She reminds William that he is old enough to be without a nanny, and as a farewell gift, she gives him a toy castle that she played with during her childhood, complete with a
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silver knight. The knight comes to life and William learns about the knight's curse - the evil wizard Alastor had killed the knight's father, the king, and took over their kingdom. Alastor had used a magical medal to turn the knight into lead. The knight is in possession of another magical medal that shrinks live beings - which William uses to shrink Mrs. Phillips so that she wouldn't leave for England. She becomes highly upset, and William learns that he too must shrink himself and venture with the knight to battle Alastor for the other magical medal - so that the knight can reclaim his kingdom and return Mrs. Phillips back to normal. Ultimately, William is able to defeat Alastor himself and saves the knight and his nanny.

The tale truly captures the imagination with the knight coming to life and the use of the toy castle as a magical portal to the knight's realm, and the reader is easily engaged with William's heroic journey - initially he is completely dependent on his nanny, and finally realizes that he is a strong, confident, young man.

This book is perfect for ages 9-12, and teaches a great lesson about self-confidence and determination.
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LibraryThing member dbookmaniac
This book is definitly a good fiction classic. It's about a boy boy who dosen't what his nanny to leave, so the nanny gives William a Castle that had been in her family for years. Soon william finds out that the knight that came with the castle is real. William also realizes that it dosent matter
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how big you are,just how big your heart is.
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LibraryThing member FamiliesUnitedLL
YMMV- disrespect, element of not needing parents and a child being able to do all things by themselves.

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