The Indian in the Cupboard

The Indian in the Cupboard

The Indian in the Cupboard
Author Lynne Reid Banks
Illustrator Brock Cole
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Indian in the Cupboard
Genre Children's fantasy
Publisher Doubleday/Avon (US)
Publication date
OCLC 8878954
Followed by The Return of the Indian

The Indian in the Cupboard is a low fantasy children's novel by the British writer Lynne Reid Banks, published in 1980 with illustrations by Brock Cole (US) and Robin Jacques (UK). It was adapted as a 1995 film.

The original book was followed by four sequels: The Return of the Indian (1985); The Secret of the Indian (1989); The Mystery of the Cupboard (1993); and The Key to the Indian (1998). All were published by Doubleday Books in hardcover, then by Avon Books, now HarperCollins, in paperback. There have been multiple reprints, in various formats, including movie tie-in editions. The publisher recommended reading level is age nine and up.[1]

All the stories revolve around a young boy discovering that when he locks a toy plastic Iroquois Indian in an old bathroom cupboard, the figure comes to life.

The Indian in the Cupboard (1980)

This book was reviewed for The New York Times where it was called "the best novel of the year". The book has been used as part of teaching curricula for children at the novel's reading level.[2][3] It was illustrated at least by Brock Cole, Robin Jacques (UK), and Piers Sanford (later).[4]

Reviewing its first sequel in 1986, Kirkus observed, "The first book had a fine balance between childish desire to play with the tiny figures and awareness that, though small, they were real people who ought not to be so manipulated."[5]

Plot summary

Omri gets a cupboard from his older brother for his ninth birthday. With it, he uses a key inherited from his great-grandmother. Omri, unaware that the key is magical and can bring inanimate objects to life, puts a toy Indian in the cupboard. When he awakes the following morning, he discovers that the toy has been brought to life, and has a name: Little Bear. Soon, Omri's best friend, Patrick, finds out about the magic cupboard and brings a toy cowboy called Boone to his house to test the cupboard's properties. Despite Omri's warning not to put Boone in the cupboard (as Boone and Little Bear will inevitably fight), Patrick ignores his request. Boone and Little Bear start to fight, and Patrick refuses to reverse the process until it is too late and Boone has been shot by Little Bear with an arrow. Omri has a toy World War I medic that could be used to treat the injured Boone, but the magic key necessary to bring it to life has gone missing. After a brief adventure with an escaped pet rat, the key is found and Boone is treated.

Little Bear is a demanding character, and ultimately Omri must provide him with a bride, Bright Stars (in some editions she is called Twin Stars). Omri thinks it is best to send Little Bear, Bright Stars and (with Patrick's agreement) Boone back to their own time, and Omri gives his mother the key so he is not tempted to bring them back.

The Return of the Indian (1985)

The second book in the series was published in paperback by Avon books, now an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. It was a New York Times Notable Book.[6] It was illustrated at least by Bill Geldart, William Coldart (UK), and Piers Sanford (later).[7]

Omri and Patrick intervene aggressively in Little Bear's home world, Kirkus observed in contrast to the first book. "Feisty, likable characters and the precise logic by which Banks evolves events from her premises make this one of the better recent fantasies. Readers, enjoying the action and adventure, may also ponder its moral dilemmas."[5]

Plot summary

One day Omri receives a letter announcing that he has won first prize in a story-writing competition for his tale "The Plastic Indian" (actually a factual recount of everything that happened in the first book; everyone else assumes that it is fictional.) Wanting to share his good news, Omri brings Little Bear and his wife, Bright Stars, back through the magic cupboard. However Omri sees right away that Little Bear has been badly wounded by French soldiers. To make matters worse, Tommy, the World War I medic, has died. Little Bear will probably die if they cannot find a way to help him.

Omri confronts Patrick again, and Patrick accepts that the magic and the little people are real once more. Patrick shows Omri a set of plastic figures that his cousin Tamsin recently received as a birthday present; it includes a modern surgical team. They intend to sneak out with the group and bring them to life in the cupboard, but Tamsin catches the boys on the way out and Omri is only able to retain one of the figures.

On the train home, Omri sees that he has taken the nurse from Tamsin's set. Seeing this as better than nothing, he and Patrick put the nurse in the cupboard and bring her to life. The nurse, called Matron is led to believe that she is dreaming and saves Little Bear's life through careful operation. Matron also announces that Bright Stars is pregnant and the boys decide that they will bring her again when the baby is born.

As Little Bear recovers, Patrick brings back his old friend Boone through the cupboard. When Boone talks about ways to help Little Bear's people, Patrick gets the idea to take plastic soldiers (with modern weaponry) back through the cupboard to Little Bear's time. Little Bear likes the idea of using new weapons (he now calls them "now-guns") but wants to only take fellow Iroquois warriors with him. So the boys buy several more plastic figures from the local shops and bring them all forward with the cupboard. They also recruit a miniature Royal Marine corporal (later sergeant) named Fickets to instruct the Iroquois in weapons usage.

After Little Bear and his troops are sent back, the boys express a desire to go back themselves. A casual comment by Boone prompts Omri and Patrick to wonder if it is merely the key which is magical and not the cupboard — meaning that if they found something big enough they could indeed go back. Using a large chest he recently acquired, Omri is sent back and inhabits a drawing on Little Bear's teepee. Omri witnesses a group of Little Bear's enemies, the Algonquins attacking the village, and he is nearly burned to death before Patrick brings him back. He bears a few scars from this encounter and is visibly shaken. Later that night Patrick brings the Iroquois back only to find that they were completely unprepared for the use of modern weapons and their numbers have been decimated; their unfamiliarity with the power of the weapons resulting in them surrounding their enemies and shooting without realizing how far the shots would travel, with some of them being shot by their own side by accident. Matron is able to save several lives but many are near death and eight of them have already died. Little Bear feels ashamed of leading his troops into death, but Bright Stars is able to comfort him by showing off their newborn son, whom he names Tall Bear.

As Omri sleeps downstairs, he spots a trio of skinheads breaking into the house and taking a few of his family's possessions. He becomes enraged and brings back their Marine friend Fickets along with a complement of troops to deal with the burglars. Omri, Patrick and the soldiers defeat and scare the skinheads, leaving Omri free of their oppression for good as they are now too scared of him to hurt him any more. As the story concludes, Little Bear learns why Omri originally brought him back to this time, and reflects that his son will be proud to know that his father will live on in Omri's story long after his death.

The Secret of the Indian (1989)

The third book in the series was illustrated at least by Ted Lewin, Graham Philpot (UK), and Piers Sanford (later).[8][9]

Plot summary

Following the previous book, Patrick deeply wants to travel back to Boone's time. Omri agrees to "hide" Patrick's true whereabouts in the large chest he has in his room.

Patrick mistakenly keeps the Boone plastic figure in his pocket during time travel and nearly kills Boone in doing so. Boone is unconscious when Patrick arrives in the Wild West. Patrick manages to find a saloon and meets Ruby Lou. Ruby Lou (and the saloon piano player) helps him find the unconscious Boone.

Meanwhile, Omri gets Patrick's cousin Emma to help by providing more toys. She chooses Ruby Lou as her own "person" to bring to life.

Also Omri is left alone to deal with the consequences of the battle in the last book. Many Indians are seriously injured and nine die despite Matron's best efforts. Due to Patrick's carelessness Boone nearly dies too, but is saved by the combined efforts of Matron and Omri. Thanks to the toys Emma provided Omri, Matron is able to get a surgical team that saves the rest.

Ultimately Omri can't keep Patrick in the past anymore and brings him back using the chest, using its powers to send the Indians back to their own time at the same time. Doing so saves Patrick and Ruby Lou as a tornado was about to kill them, but the tornado is pulled forward through the chest, destroying it, severely damaging the cupboard and sending the key to an unknown location while the tornado wreaks havoc on England. Ruby Lou is pulled forward in time thanks to Emma's toy version of her, but she and Boone are trapped in the cupboard. While Omri manages to repair the cupboard (which inadvertently saves Boone's life), the key is still missing. Boone and Ruby settle in the present and fall in love and want to get married, but also want to return home. One day Omri, by sheer luck, finds the key in the bushes. Omri uses it to summon all of the group's friends for Boone and Ruby Lou's wedding before sending everyone home. Afterwards Omri decides to put the key and cupboard into a safe-deposit box and not use them again, leaving them perhaps for his children, having realized that the power is just too dangerous after everything that has happened.

The Mystery of the Cupboard (1993)

This book was illustrated at least by Tom Newsom and Piers Sanford (UK).[10] HarperCollins recommends its 2004 edition for ages 8 to 12.[11] Kirkus recommended it for ages 10 to 13 in 1993. And concluded, "Not the best Cupboard book, but fans won't want to miss it; with a first printing of 75,000 they won't have to."[12]

Kirkus observed that "Banks plots expertly" and develops the relationship between Omri and his father. "There's not much chance to stereotype Native Americans here, as Banks was charged with earlier, but Jessica Charlotte is certainly a caricature of a music-hall singer; one wonders whether it's reasonable, or merely foolish, to deplore such shorthand in popular fiction."[12]

Plot summary

Omri and family move to the rural country, where they have inherited a house from the family of Jessica Charlotte Driscoll, Omri's "wicked" great-great aunt. There Omri learns the origin of the magic key and its history of time travel. Omri does all of this as one night when the roof is being re-thatched; he finds a cashbox and a journal called the Account in the fallen thatch on the ground. The Account was written by Jessica Charlotte herself as she was dying of a fatal illness. Omri learns that she has a psychic gift that grants her some magical power to see the future by pouring lead for people, although she was also a dance-hall star in the early twentieth century. After she is separated forever from her niece Lottie (Omri's maternal grandmother who was killed in the Blitz during World War II) by Lottie's mother, she steals a pair of precious earrings from her sister. To do so she makes the Key, a duplicate of the key for her sister's jewel-case. She accidentally imbues it with magical power through her own Gift, as she is so bent on making it, which allows her to open any lock with it. She is also accidentally responsible for Omri's great-grandfather's death: Lottie is accused of stealing the earrings and runs out into the street where her father follows her, resulting in him being run over and killed.

Unfortunately Jessica grows too weak to finish the Account and has Omri's great-uncle Fredrick takes over. From this Omri learns that Fredrick actually created the Cupboard, which is itself somewhat magic. Fredrick had a hatred of plastic toys- which had replaced the metal toys he used to make as a profession- so Jessica had him create the cupboard and throw his hatred of plastics into it. Since Fredrick inherited some of her power this caused the cupboard to somehow only bring plastic toys to life, which is why no other materials ever worked when Omri tried them in the cupboard. Omri's interference with his own family history sets the stage for his first adventures.

Omri also meets one of the thatchers who worked on the roof when Jessica was dying, a man named Tom, and learns from him that Jessica somewhat let him in on the secret. She also gave him a little person to care for on his own named Jenny, a servant girl from the 1800s who sought to escape her home life after she lost her position, but after having lived as a little person for thirty years she had died a few months before Omri met Tom; Tom speculates that, based on the timing of the era when she would have left, hospitals were becoming so overcrowded that the doctors simply decided to let Jenny's seemingly comatose body die. Omri initially suspects that the stolen earrings are in the cashbox he found with the Account and realizes that the magic key could probably open it. He goes to get it out of the bank during his half-term, during which time he also has Patrick join him. Patrick breaks his arm and has to go to the hospital; while he's away, Omri opens the cashbox and finds five wrapped bundles, four of whom are people brought to life by the magic key (although one has died since he was last 'summoned' and only his damp uniform is left). He suspects the fifth bundle is the earrings. The people turn out to be Elsie, a widowed shop owner; Bert, a thief from Elsie's time; Ted, a retired policeman from around twenty years after them; and (the one who had died) Sergeant Charlie Ellis, a naval officer who apparently fought at the Battle of Trafalgar; all of whom Jessica herself brought to life repeatedly with the cupboard, along with Jenny. They reveal that Jessica knew of the power of the key and the cupboard but only found out when she accidentally brought them to life for the first time. She brought them back and forth many times like Omri did with Little Bear and the others and eventually revealed to them that she was dying before sending them all back, except for Jenny who had only a horrible life to go back to. Omri learns that one of them, Bert, is the one who stole his great-grandmother's jewelry box after her husband had died and made her live a poor life. After learning this (Bert had only just done it before he was brought forward, although he defends himself on the grounds that he believed that he had robbed the woman before her husband had died), Omri insists that Bert return the jewelry box to her hoping to change her future for the better. He finally convinces him and then sends them back one final time through the cupboard.

Omri subsequently learns that the last bundle is not the earrings but another sleeping person, but before he can investigate further he is called to the house of the old thatcher Tom. Tom fell and was fatally injured but asked for Omri, having remembered something more. He tells him that Jessica sent him all over the place looking for a plastic figure of herself. He bought dozens not knowing which one was just right and after she looked through them and found the one she told him to take care of the rest, although still just plastic figures, saying, "This is me but everyone is someone". After he finishes his story Tom loses consciousness— his last words being "On my way, Jen" — and is taken to the hospital, where he dies without ever waking again. Omri and his father also retrieve Patrick from the hospital and head home where Omri explains that he's figured out the identify of the final person he brought to life: Jessica Charlotte herself, apparently just after she fell asleep after creating the key.

Omri wants to convince her to not to take the earrings but Patrick tells him that doing so could change the future and possibly result in him not being born due to Lottie's life turning out in such a manner that she never meets his grandfather. Omri freaks out, remembering that he convinced Bert to return the jewelry case, and worries that that will cause him to cease to exist. Jessica wakes up and Omri and Patrick tell her she's visiting the future and it's a dream and get her to give a performance for them. They greatly enjoy it, but when Gillon starts to come in they send her home suddenly through the cashbox. Later Omri learns from his mother that the jewelry box was returned in ruins with none of the jewelry inside, changing nothing (Bert only said he would return the jewel-case without specifying that the jewels would still be in it). He then remembers she mentioned something about this back when she first gave him the key so everything is alright. A week later he attends Tom's funeral and figures out that Jessica gave the earrings to Tom who gave them to his daughter after Omri sees her wearing them. He's solved the mystery but decides not to do anything about it.

He returns home to find that his father has added proper shelves to his room and bolts on the door so he can lock them. He's excited but can't find Little Bear and the others. He goes to his father to ask him about it and learns he locked them in the cupboard and heard them come alive. In the end Omri's father finds out about the "little people" and is let in on their adventures. He promises not to tell anyone and Omri brings him in on the secret and introduces him to everyone.

The Key to the Indian (1998)

This book was illustrated by at least by James Watling and Piers Sanford (UK).[13] HarperCollins recommends its 2004 edition for ages 8 to 12.[14]

Plot summary

Omri and his father learn that Little Bear needs their help as American colonists are starting to head into his people's land. The two realize that they must travel back in time and lend their aid but need to figure out how to do it. They have the key but they need something big enough to hold them. Omri's chest that he and Patrick used before was destroyed in the tornado they accidentally brought back and it isn't big enough to hold them. Omri's dad decides to use the car as the time machine and comes up with an elaborate plan to pretend to go on a camping trip as a cover for their time travel, but they realize that the key won't work in the car and start to despair. Omri tells his father everything about what he learned and shows him the Account.

After reading that, Omri's dad figures out that Jessica Charlotte could possibly create them a magical copy of the car key so they can travel back in time. The two also figure out that Omri has inherited some of her psychic power and that's most likely why he can tell when one of his friends from the past needs his help. It gives Omri the power to sense various things, like being able to figure out what's going on with Jessica in her time even though she was so weak at this point when she wrote the Account that only a few words can be made out: she's learned that her brother-in law has died and is going to try to drown herself. The two feel that they must bring her forward no matter what. Omri later brings her, initially planning on waiting, but his psychic gift senses her in trouble and causes him to bring her forward. She's drowned herself and isn't breathing so Omri summons Matron, who manages to revive her. He tries to comfort her about what happened and when she hears that he's Lottie's grandson she agrees to make a magical copy of the car key. He brings his father and they give her the key and send her back. That night they summon Little Bear to get something of his to use to travel back, and he gives them his wampum belt. He also agrees to have Bright Stars make toys for them to travel into when they journey to the past.

The next day Omri's father summons Jessica Charlotte without him and she returns the original car key and gives them the copy, but unfortunately the scale difference means that the key is too small to see, and hence is useless to them. They decide to go camping anyway and bring Gillon along, but Omri has an ivory elephant from India and Gillon is leaning against a knapsack from that time also and they suddenly find themselves in India about 90 years before. Omri figures out that Jessica Charlote's attempt to create the magical copy of the car key where she bent her entire will on it probably caused the original car key to become magical. He figures his father will realize what happened and bring them back by shutting off the car. During the trip Omri and Gillon are marionettes — Gillon, embarrassingly enough, is a female figure — and a couple of children spot them moving on their own and try to show them off. Feeling bad for the children Omri goes along with it but when the children's mother shows up both Omri and Gillon are dropped and Gillon hits his head. Thankfully before they can get hurt further they're pulled back to their time where Omri finds they never left the house as the father got pulled back to Little Bear's time due to the wampum belt being in his pocket and were pulled back when Omri's mother found them and shut off the car fearing they were dead. Omri's father ended up in a faceless doll but Little Bear promised that next time the dolls would have faces.

The two decide to pretend to go camping but head to the top of a nearby hill and time travel from there. They summon Patrick to send them there and back but Patrick is unhappy he won't be going until he realizes that he has the cupboard and can call any of their friends back. He sends them back and they meet up with Little Bear. The two eventually advise Little Bear to take his tribe to Canada but are attacked by two settlers. They set fire to the longhouse and start killing Indians. Old Clan Woman, the oldest and wisest member of the tribe manages to scare them off with Omri and his father's help, but she is killed by the two retreating men. Little Bear and his tribe escape and start the trek to Canada but Omri and his father are forgotten in the rush. They escape outside but are trapped in the stockade and the two men return and go to kill them. Before they can succeed Little Bear returns, having remembered them after hearing of their heroic actions earlier, and kills the two men and rescues them. He also retrieves a false face mask from the longhouse. He apologizes to them for leaving them behind and is ashamed as Omri is his blood brother. He tells Omri he is no longer a boy: Omri is now a warrior. He leaves the two a moccasin to use as a shelter until Patrick brings them back in the morning, and leaves after saying a final goodbye.

The next morning they are returned to their time by a frantic Patrick who explains that he brought Boone and Ruby Lou but lost them. They eventually find them in a septic tank and rescue and clean them up. Patrick also reveals that he planned to bring Little Bear to the present while they were away but Sergeant Fickets convinced him not to. A couple of weeks later Omri's mother brings him the wampum belt and he realizes that she knows the truth. She reveals that she, like Omri, has inherited some of Jessica Charlotte's psychic powers and, seeming to read his mind, explains that she's known the truth since the beginning but has kept it to herself. Omri's brothers have no idea and never will. They both agree that it's time to end the adventures for good. Omri closes his figures and the magical car key in the cashbox and decides to give the magic key back to his mother so he will no longer have the temptation to use it to bring the others back again. He first sends the wampum belt back and senses through his psychic powers that Little Bear and his tribe have successfully and safely reached Canada and reveals this to his father along with the fact that his mother knows the truth. However an apparently psychic dream indicates that perhaps he will still have further adventures.


  1. ^ [1]. HarperCollins Publishers ( "Sorry this book is unavailable"
  2. ^ "Lynn Reid Banks". Novelinks. ( Archived 2009-12-26. Retrieved 2014-08-28. With The Indian in the Cupboard Novel Information and Resources.
  3. ^ Denny, Phillip. A Guide for Using The Indian in the Cupboard in the Classroom. New York: Teacher Created Resources. 1995.
  4. ^ "Formats and Editions of The Indian in the cupboard". WorldCat. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  5. ^ a b "THE RETURN OF THE INDIAN by Lynne Reid Banks". Kirkus Reviews. 1986. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  6. ^ [2]. "Sorry this book is unavailable"
  7. ^ "Formats and Editions of The Return of the Indian". WorldCat. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  8. ^ [3]. "Sorry this book is unavailable"
  9. ^ "Formats and Editions of The Secret of the Indian". WorldCat. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  10. ^ "Formats and Editions of The Mystery of the cupboard". WorldCat. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  11. ^ "The Mystery of the Cupboard". HarperCollins. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  12. ^ a b "THE MYSTERY OF THE CUPBOARD by Lynne Reid Banks, Tom Newsom". Kirkus Reviews. 15 April 1993. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  13. ^ "Formats and Editions of The Key to the Indian". WorldCat. Retrieved 2014-08-28.
  14. ^ "The Key to the Indian". HarperCollins. Retrieved 2014-08-28.

External links

  • Interview of Banks about the book series
  • "An Interview with Myself" – "Lynne Banks asks herself questions that she wished other interviewers would ask her." []
  • The Indian in the Cupboard series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  • Works by or about Lynne Reid Banks in libraries (WorldCat catalog)