The Keys to the Kingdom
|Genre||Fantasy, thriller, Young adult fiction|
|Published||1 July 2003 - 2010|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
The Keys to the Kingdom is a fantasy–adventure book series written by Garth Nix, published in seven books between 2003 and 2010. The series chronicles the adventures of Arthur Penhaligon, an asthmatic 12-year-old boy who is chosen to become the Rightful Heir of the House, the center of the universe. The core storyline involves Arthur attempting to defeat the Morrow Days, the criminal Trustees of the House. The series takes place over a span of three weeks (time moves at different speeds at different locations in the series).
The series' protagonist is an asthmatic 12-year-old boy, Arthur Penhaligon. The series begins on a Monday, with the main events starting a week later on the next Monday. Each book moves onto the next day of the week, over the course of about three weeks in Earth time, concluding on a Sunday. Each day features beings, collectively known as the Trustees, who each govern a portion of the House, which is the center of the Universe. The seven demesnes of the House are, in the order Arthur visits them: the Lower House, the Far Reaches, the Border Sea, the Great Maze, the Middle House, the Upper House, and the Incomparable Gardens.
In the beginning of the first book, Arthur lives a relatively normal life as an adopted child in a large and caring family. An asthma attack on a Monday that should have killed him brings him into contact with Mister Monday, who rules the Lower House. He eventually finds his way to the Lower House himself, where he is to find the cure to a plague brought to his world by dog faced 'Fetchers'. By convenience, he is declared Heir to the Kingdom and given the Lesser Half of the First Key, which is shaped like the minute hand of a clock. Because of this Key's magical properties, Arthur is relieved of his asthma while in contact with the Key or in the House, and proceeds to a strange and dangerous set of adventures.
As Arthur discovers, the Will of the Architect (creator of the House and the "Secondary Realms" that surround it) was not fulfilled as it should have been. Instead, it was broken into seven pieces by the Architect's Trustees, the self-named Morrow Days. The Will was forced to act on its own, and its First Part chooses Arthur to be the Heir to the Kingdom. It thus becomes Arthur's responsibility to recover each of the missing pieces of the Will, defeat each Trustee – each of whom has been afflicted with one of the seven deadly sins - claim their domains by taking each Key, and ultimately fulfill the Will.
After Arthur has taken each of the seven keys, and the will becomes fulfilled, a huge wave of Nothing dissolves the Incomparable Gardens, Lord Sunday's domain, and the first thing the Architect created. This causes the whole of creation to be destroyed with it including all of the secondary realms (including Earth). Arthur regains consciousness in the void of Nothing (as he holds the power of all seven keys, he is unable to be destroyed unless he so wishes), and he meets the Architect, who is revealed to be the Old One and the Will, once split into two parts to govern the house and the secondary realms respectively. When the Architect and the Old One fell out, the Architect chained the Old One eternally. Doing this meant that she could not return to Nothing when she wished, as she had to go as one. The only way to release the Old One was to destroy creation. These terms were laid out in the will.
In the void of Nothing, the Architect explains this and also explains how she has appointed Arthur as the New Architect. When the Architect finally lets Nothing destroy her, Arthur decides what to do as the New Architect. He uses the Compleat Atlas of the House, a magic book which contains all the information of the entire house, to rebuild the house, and the secondary realms exactly as it was a few seconds before its ultimate demise. Unfortunately, as it only "saved" the universe a few seconds before its end, only one tiny part of the house remained, containing only a few people. The Great Architect splits himself into two, one part himself and the other part Arthur, whom he lets go back to Earth.
- Arthur Penhaligon — The 12-year-old boy was chosen as the Rightful Heir of the House by the embodiment of the Architect's Last Will and Testament.
- Suzy Turquoise Blue — A female Piper's Child who chooses to work with the Will and the Rightful Heir. Though she appears to be 12 years old, Suzy has been in the House since the Black Plague on Earth and is centuries old. After Mister Monday, she gains the title of Monday's Tierce, assistant to Monday's Noon.
- Leaf — A 12-year-old human girl who befriends Arthur. She unexpectedly becomes involved with Arthur's adventures in the House.
- Dr. Scamandros — An Upper House trained sorcerer, he set about looking for his lost test results in the Border Sea as a ship shaman before meeting and subsequently helping Arthur. Arthur appointed him the Dusk of Wednesday and is one of Arthur's most helpful allies.
- Dame Primus — The personification of the Will of the Architect, who agrees to act as Arthur's steward in the House when he chooses to return to the Secondary Realms at the end of Mister Monday. While she supports Arthur as the Rightful Heir, her true intentions regarding the Will of the Architect appears to be ambiguous.
- The Trustees — The seven Morrow Days (Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, and Lord Sunday) who were each entrusted with a Key to the Kingdom to keep safe and then hand over to the Rightful Heir. Instead, they broke the Architect's Will into seven pieces and locked it up, as they did not want to follow the will, which would entail the destruction of all reality.
- Dawn, Noon and Dusk
- Each Trustee was assigned three principal servants; however, technically there are only six of each as Grim Tuesday reshaped his attendants into seven beings, of lesser power than the original Dawn, Noon and Dusk, known as the Grim's Grotesques.
- Dawn - A Dawn represents the hour of sunrise, and is usually dressed in bright colours and speaks loudly. They possess a golden tongue.
- Noon — A Noon represents the hour between 12 noon and 1 pm, and is recognisable for his red, yellow, and white colouring. Noon is the most powerful of the trio. He has a silver tongue.
- Dusk - A Dusk represents the hour of sunset, and is known for dressing in dark colours and speaks softly. He has a black tongue.
- Each Trustee was assigned three principal servants; however, technically there are only six of each as Grim Tuesday reshaped his attendants into seven beings, of lesser power than the original Dawn, Noon and Dusk, known as the Grim's Grotesques.
- The Mariner — Known as Tom Shelvocke, the second son of the Architect and usually an ally to Arthur. His character is implied to be based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His harpoon is based on the spear used by the soldier who stabbed Jesus, one of the relics connected to the Holy Grail.
- The Piper — The third son of the Architect, who is able to take control of the Piper's Children he brought into the House with his pipes. He is the creator and leader of the New Nithlings, and intends to take control of the House. The piper is based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
- Pravuil — A spy trying to kill Arthur all the way through his campaign, serving under all seven of the trustees.
The House and The Morrow Days
The House is the second creation of the Architect and its purpose is to record and acknowledge the events of the Secondary Realms, essentially making it the epicentre of the Universe. The House is divided into seven parts, each ruled by a respective Trustee. Each is related to one of the seven deadly sins. These parts include the following.
- The Lower House — Ruled by Mister Monday who is afflicted by Sloth
- The Far Reaches — Ruled by Grim Tuesday who is afflicted by Greed
- The Border Sea — Ruled by Drowned Wednesday who is afflicted by Gluttony
- The Great Maze — Ruled by Sir Thursday who is afflicted by Wrath
- The Middle House — Ruled by Lady Friday who is afflicted by Lust
- The Upper House — Ruled by Superior Saturday who is afflicted by Envy
- The Incomparable Gardens — Ruled by Lord Sunday who is afflicted by Pride
The Keys to the Kingdom are seven objects of power given to the Trustees along with command over their demesnes. It is unknown whether, but implied that, control of the Key is that which gives one control over a demesne and its namesake day in the Secondary Realms. The Key will bond to the rightful owner of a Key, and protect him or her from harm, somewhat from pain but not at all from discomfort. A rightful owner of a Key is an Heir, the Trustee to whom it was originally entrusted, or a Steward. Over time, the use of a Key will irreparably turn a mortal into a Denizen, though it is mentioned that after a few centuries, this process may reverse a little. Because the presence of a Denizen in the Secondary Realms is inimical to mortal life, Arthur attempted to use the Keys as little as possible, as he wishes to remain mortal and return to his family; however, he later realizes that without the keys he would not be alive, and used the powers to protect the Lower House and his home town.
The Keys hold sovereign power in their own demesne and their day. All other Keys are of equal power when they are not in their realm. The exception to this is Sunday's Key, which is paramount over the others. They can do much of what is asked of them, such as opening, locking, manipulating, and freezing items. The full powers of the Keys are not known, as of Lady Friday. According to Arthur, the Keys have the ability to kill anything they wish, be it Denizen, mortal, or Nithling. Beings that are none of these, such as the Architect, her consort the Old One, their three sons, and possibly Arthur in later books, may be immune.
- The First Key can be separated into two Keys, taking the forms of the minute and hour hands of a clock. The Hour Hand is more powerful than the Minute Hand, but the Minute Hand is quicker and can be used more often. When combined, they make the First Key and take the form of a sword which bears some resemblance to the clock hands, having a silver and golden blade. It gives dominion over the Lower House and Monday.
- The Second Key takes the form of two large silver gauntlets (gloves when Dame Primus wears it), laced with gold, which were used by Grim Tuesday to form objects and creatures from Nothing. It gives dominion over the Far Reaches and Tuesday.
- The Third Key takes the form of a trident that is capable of increasing and decreasing its size. Drowned Wednesday once used it as a fork. Wednesday's use of the Key was limited keeping her from becoming any bigger than the massive 126 mile long Leviathanesque whale she has become after her failed attempt to fulfill the Will and the subsequent betrayal by the Morrow Days (with the exception of Monday, who was incapacitated by his sloth). It was used by the Will to control the borders of the Border Sea that were spilling out into the Secondary (mortal) Realms and in battle to remove the inherent water from others' bodies. It gives dominion over the Border Sea and Wednesday.
- The Fourth Key takes the form of a Marshal's baton, white and glowing green, and wrapped in gold laurel leaves, but it can take on the form of any weapon depending on its wielder, notably a broadsword when used by Sir Thursday, and a rapier for when Arthur fights. It gives dominion over the Great Maze, the Glorious Army of the Architect and Thursday.
- The Fifth Key takes the form of a bright silver mirror. Using it, one can travel to any reflective surface in existence, provided the owner of the Fifth Key has been there before by other means. So far, it is the only Key that has been used in a way other than to accomplish a mundane task; it is able to drain the experiences from mortals, which Friday can then absorb, enabling her to experience mortal emotions for a short time. Experiences can also be returned to mortals (as shown in Lady Friday, wherein Arthur does so), within a time limit, by one who can control the Key's power. It gives dominion over the Middle House and Friday.
- The Sixth Key takes the form of a quill pen. It can be used to write extremely powerful spells that are capable of creating illusions and wiping out large numbers of the creatures of the Incomparable Gardens, among other things. Saturday is also seen combining the power of the Key with ordinary sorcery. It gives dominion over the Upper House and Saturday.
- The Seventh Key takes the form of a small, golden key. Unlike the other Keys, this Key is paramount, retaining its full, sovereign power anywhere in the House or Secondary Realms. Among its powers seem to be the ability to suppress the powers of other keys, and confer a greater power upon the wielder. It gives dominion over the Incomparable Gardens and Sunday.
Nothing is the mythical substance used in the series. From it the entire Universe formed through a concentration-based process. It appears as oily black smoke, or a black liquid, and contains the properties of being able to dissolve (with the exception of Immaterial objects) or create anything. When enough Nothing comes together, it can form a Nithling. Nithlings are creatures not created by the Architect, but self-made from uncontained or uncontrolled Nothing. The Nithlings have this autonomy in common with both the Architect and the Old One, but apparently lack the power and creative impulses demonstrated by those elder beings. Nothing is likely based on Aether. For more information on the various types of Nithling, see below.
Nithlings are entities formed from Nothing. They are feared by most of the House due to their ability to kill even an immortal Denizen with a festering bite. Nithlings take a variety of shapes and are incorporated into every book in some form. They appear to lack complex intelligence, although some types can be used as servants (notably the Fetchers, sent to retrieve the Key in Book One). Most lower forms of Nithling can be dispatched with silver or salt, though this has little effect on higher or more substantially Made Nithlings.
Nithlings dissolve into Nothing when killed. They are employed by many Denizens and the Morrow Days for menial tasks, especially when someone is needed to venture into the Secondary Realms. Nithling species usually are named; this implies that they are usually made in regular forms. The Nithlings seen so far in the books are:
- Fetchers (Mister Monday, Lady Friday) — resembling men with the faces of bloodhounds, sent to retrieve objects. Fetchers cannot cross thresholds uninvited. They can be banished with salt, which causes them to dissolve, and are forbidden to wear wings or carry weapons.
- Bibliophages (Mister Monday) — a snake-like Nithling, expelling a venom that reduces any kind of writing to Nothing. They are attracted to writing, which they then try to destroy.
- Spirit-Eater (Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday) — a creature made by sorceries and a seed item belonging to the person whose physical form it assumes, being designed to imitate them. It requires a year of House Time to grow from Nothing. It can grow mentally conducive mold on people and can only be destroyed if its seed item is plunged into Nothing. The mold originates from the (fictional) planet called Avraxyn; its mutant form, present in Spirit-Eaters, is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact between and only between the Spirit-Eater and natural beings, wherein after it communicates knowledge of its model to the former. A Spirit-Eater's true form varies and can only be seen through a veil of raindrops on a sunny day. At all other times, it resembles its model. Its technical name is 'Cocigrue', which it shares with a legendary monster called Cocquigrue or Coquecigrue.
- Scoucher (Grim Tuesday) — a Nithling originating from small, semi-enclosed spaces. Can take any form, but always has long, sharp, ribbon-like tentacles, with which it causes mortals or Denizens to bleed uncontrollably. It then obtains strength from their blood. Silver, ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum can kill a Scoucher upon contact.
- Feverfew's Cormorants (Drowned Wednesday) — heralds that communicate to the pirate Feverfew that his treasures have been breached.
- Feverfew (Drowned Wednesday) — Part Nithling, part human, this cruel pirate sails on the Border Sea. He is eventually killed while fighting Lord Arthur.
- Gore-Draken (Drowned Wednesday) — A rare type of Nithling created when certain lost items come into contact with Nothing.
- Not-Horse (Sir Thursday, Lord Sunday) — A Near Creation made in the workshops of Grim Tuesday. Not-Horses are red-eyed equines having a metallic skin, three clawed toes on each foot, discerning intelligence, personalities suited for battle, and the ability to march in step with each other. They are used as beasts of burden by the Glorious Army of the Architect, particularly by the pseudo- Mongol division thereof known as the Horde. Other versions of Not-Horses include Winged Not-Horses as in Lord Sunday.
- New Nithlings or Newniths (Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday,Lord Sunday) — Creatures created by the Piper in vast numbers to invade and conquer the Great Maze. The Piper made them as "new Denizens", incorporating as many mortal traits as he could. New Nithlings are much more docile then regular Nithlings. They possess creative impulses and the ability to adapt; without the Piper's leadership, he has said, they would probably prefer to become farmers.
- Nightsweeper (Mister Monday) — A Nithling taking the form of a tiny horse whose sole purpose is to spend one night gathering any contamination that has emanated from the House into the Secondary Realms, with which it then becomes Nothing.
- Soot, Grim Tuesday's Eyebrow (Grim Tuesday) — One of Tuesday's eyebrows, which was blown from its face when he was experimenting with Nothing. It was blasted into the Pit, where accumulation of Nothing upon it made it strong, mobile, and self-aware.
- Grannow-Hoinch (Lady Friday) — a monstrous creature consisting of pure Nothing contained within a silver armature or framework. It resembles a combination of a wild boar and a Unicorn, having a six-foot horn. It is black, and has no visible eyes or mouth. It is extremely aggressive, and will go to great lengths to defeat its opponent.
- Elephant (Lord Sunday) — Arthur's stuffed elephant which, while Arthur was trying to break free from a clock face and thinking of the elephant, was animated by residual powers of the Fifth and Sixth Keys and grew to the size of a large dog with sharp tusks.
Note: There is some question on whether all of the above species classify as Nithlings, shown in Mister Monday, when the Atlas says (in reference to creating Fetchers) "...it is not the high treason of treating with the Nithlings, those self-willed things that occasionally emerge from Nothing". This seems to imply that species created by someone are not true Nithlings, as a true Nithling is self-made.
Religious, cultural, and literary references
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The Keys to the Kingdom appears to contain many examples of religious symbolism and references, possibly as a reference to the idea that not even the architect is as creative as humans, particularly in Judeo-Christian tradition. One example is the title of the series, a reference to the words spoken by Jesus Christ to the Apostle Peter in the Bible at Matthew 16:19 - "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven". Another example is the affliction of each Morrow Day with one of the seven deadly sins that results from their choice not to obey the Will.
- Mister Monday: Sloth
- Grim Tuesday: Greed
- Drowned Wednesday: Gluttony
- Sir Thursday: Wrath
- Lady Friday: Lust
- Superior Saturday: Envy
- Lord Sunday: Pride
Other religious references include the Old One, a Prometheus-like character who held great power but was chained and punished by the Architect for his interference with Her creations, including the liver being chopped out and regrown before the 'eagles' come back again, only difference is that it is clockwork characters and they only chopped the liver previously, now they do eyeballs. (alternatively seen as a Lucifer character). However, the revelation in the final installment that the Old One was split from the entity of the Architect, and retained her powers, strongly suggest that he is a reference to God. The Drasil trees' name resembles that of the Norse "World Tree", Yggdrasil. There is even a range of literary and mythological reference in the series: Mister Monday's butler is compared to Nestor of The Adventures of Tintin; a character describes Monday's Noon as exactly how she imagined Jane Austen's Mr Darcy; the Piper is a re-creation of the legendary Pied Piper of Hamelin, who with his music led a population of rats from a city, later to do the same to the town's children, whose parents had refused to pay him the promised fee. The Mariner is likely a reference to the title character of the ballad The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Both the mariner of the book and the one of the poem had shot a bird and suffered misery as a result, though Garth Nix does not specify what type of bird the mariner in his book had shot. In addition, the name "Artful Loungers", used for Superior Saturday's servants, may be a reference to "Artful Dodger", the name of a street thief in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist. References to Dickens and the society wherein he lived are also implied in the personalities of the Piper's Children and in the Denizens' clothes. In Drowned Wednesday, Arthur suggests that a passage may open 'through the wardrobe', which is most likely a reference to the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, through which the protagonist children enter Narnia. The same book also includes an "exchange of blows" wherein each fighter tries to kill each other by means of one strike only, similar to the challenge issued by the Green Knight. Also, the Incomparable Gardens may represent the Garden of Eden,and Saturday's Tower would be analogous to the Tower of Babel, an attempt to reach Heaven.
The character of Lord Sunday who claims that his only wish is to care for his garden may be a reference to Candide, who decides that "we must all tend to our gardens". In addition, the three sons of the Architect and the Old One may reference the Holy Trinity, the Father (Lord Sunday), the Son (The Mariner), and the Holy Spirit (The Piper), as well as the three Greek gods Zeus (Lord Sunday), Poseidon (The Mariner), and Hades (Pied Piper; he was banished to the Void of Nothing)
Another cultural reference is the usage of the name Seven Dials to describe the Lower House's transport into the Secondary Realms. The Seven Dials is a large conjunction of roads in the West End of London.
Arthur's name implies reference to archetypes: Arthur Penhaligon might be a play on Arthur Pendragon, who is otherwise known as King Arthur. A pun to this is that he is known as Lord Arthur, by some Denizens. The "Return of the Pendragon", a supposedly prophesied idea wherein King Arthur would return from the land of the dead and bring a golden age to the Earth, may be implied here; Lord Arthur of the House represents the Pendragon, in which role he restores balance to the House and thence to the Universe.
The metal gloves of Grim Tuesday may be a reference to Járngreipr, a pair of metal gloves that Thor used in Norse mythology. This is made more likely by the fact that Thor used them to catch balls of molten iron, and Arthur and Grim Tuesday used them to catch floating gobbets of Nothing.
Books in the series
The title of each book refers to the antagonist that Arthur fights in the novel.
- Nix, Garth (2003). Mister Monday. ISBN 0-00-717501-9.
- Nix, Garth (2004). Grim Tuesday. ISBN 0-00-717503-5.
- Nix, Garth (2005). Drowned Wednesday. ISBN 0-00-717505-1.
- Nix, Garth (2006). Sir Thursday. ISBN 0-00-717507-8.
- Nix, Garth (2007). Lady Friday. ISBN 0-00-717509-4.
- Nix, Garth (2008). Superior Saturday. ISBN 0-00-717511-6.
- Nix, Garth (2010). Lord Sunday. ISBN 978-1-74114-591-5.
Possible film adaptation
In an interview, Garth Nix said that he was willing to sell the rights to studios and directors for an adaptation of the series, if they were "the right person". His reason is that he does not want to sell it to any studio over concerns that the studio would ruin the film. At the 2012 Texas Book Festival, Nix stated that "(I) have no plans for movies but would like to see a card game."
- Nix, Garth: Mister Monday, page 218. Harper Collins, 2003.
- Author News & Interviews | Kidsreads
- Book: Keys to the Kingdom (series)7 books (Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday, Lord Sunday)
- Series listing at SciFan
- Allen and Unwin - Keys to the Kingdom
- Scholastic's Keys to the Kingdom website
- HarperCollins Publishers' Keys to the Kingdom website[dead link]
- Author Garth Nix's personal website
- Books info page on authors official UK site[dead link]