Tenniel third plate "Chapter I. The Gift Bestowed," illustrates an early moment in the text that occurs immediately after plate four. A mother and her five children, the youngest an infant with whom she is playing, are foregrounded by shadows as they sit by the fire. In darkness, the oldest child is reading a small book, which he holds up to catch the flickering light of the fire, which illuminates the other five figures. Rising like smoke from the shadows are one-dimensional figures whose outlines fill the upper-left register of the page, enclosing the text: an old woman (a witch?) with a crutch, a turbanned Eastern warrior with a scimitar, a puppet, four identical toy soldiers, all surmounted by mistletoe, a round fruit (an orange, perhaps), and four mice running along a vine. In short, we have Tenniel's rendering of the real and imaginary worlds of childhood, connected by the chime or rattle by the reader that is the original of the shadow that, transformed into an ornate shepherd's crook, dominates the left-hand side of the page.
Plate three, we suddenly realise a few pages later, is actually an illustration of the passage after that realised by the fourth plate; plate three complements the passage which describes children reading tales from the Arabian Nights, specifically how Ali Baba's brother, Cassim, inadvertently trapped himself in the robbers' cave (as a result of his failing to remember the magic password) was subsequently cut into quarters, and how an old hag on crutches started out of the box belonging to the merchant Abudah, and exhorted to search for the talisman of Oromanes.
Dickens is clearly recalling his own childhood responses of terror and enchantment when reading these tales: "When little readers of story-books trembled" (6) has been interpreted by Tenniel as one child reading to its younger siblings. Dickens presumably chose to allude to these tales in order to point the moral that Redlaw must learn, that our own self-pity can trap us in a labyrinth of bitterness, and that the only way out, the open sesame, is forgiveness and acceptance. As in many later plates, the illustration encloses a small amount of print.
Created 19 October 2004
Last modified 29 December 2019