Literature / The Egypt Game

The Egypt Games is a 1968 Newbery Honor book by Zilpha Keatley Snyder in which a group of children who play Ancient Egypt in the backyard of the local Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, known only as the Professor. The "Egypt gang" consists of:

But all is not well in their neighborhood when two children are murdered and everyone thinks the Professor is behind it. (You didn't think a Newbery book would be free of death, did you?)

It was followed by Sequel, The Gypsy Game, published thirty years after the original.

Provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: The serial child killer. The kids (naturally) don't take the issue very seriously and are mostly just upset that their playtime has been ruined.
  • Asian Airhead: Elizabeth might count, although her naïveté is attributed to her being two grades below April, Melanie, Toby, and Ken.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: The impetus for inviting Elizabeth into the game: in profile she looks like the famous statue of Nefertiti.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Ken Kamata and Toby Alvillar are mentioned early on as nicknaming April "February": a sign that she's becoming accepted in her new class. They later become part of the "Egypt gang".
  • Clueless Mystery: Somewhat justified, as it presents the events the same way the children learn of them, which is the point.
  • Comic-Book Time: The Egypt Game seems to take place in the '60s. The Gypsy Game begins the moment its predecessor left off, but appears to take place in the '90s.
  • Convicted by Public Opinion: The Professor for the child murders.
  • Curtain Clothing: At one point, Melanie makes Egyptian robes for everyone using old curtains.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: The Professor whose wife was killed while traveling.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: April. It's not too hard to defrost her, though. Just let her get bored with her Jerkass Fašade.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: A kid does die, but in this book it's someone the characters didn't know. In the aftermath Melanie realizes that April is much less worldly than she appears due to not having close relationships with family or friends, and ends up explaining criminal insanity to her.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Happens twice in-story with regard to the oracle. Toby confesses that he was writing the answers and says he'll stop, but then the oracle answers Marshall's question about Security, in different handwriting. At the very end of the book the Professor reveals he wrote that answer.
  • Epiphany Therapy: Inverted; after nearly seeing April strangled, Marshall gives up Security. It then ends up subverted in The Gypsy Game.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Professor. At the end, it's revealed that his real name is Dr. Julian Huddleston, although he still prefers to be known as "the Professor".
  • The Fashionista: April tries being one.
  • Five-Token Band: April and Toby are white (the latter with a Hispanic surname and turns out to be one-quarter Romani), Melanie and Marshall are black, and Elizabeth and Ken are Asian. But Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped. The novel was written back when Uhura was making waves by sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise and saying "Hailing frequencies open, sir."
  • Free-Range Children: A Deconstructed Trope. The novel was written in 1967 and this trope is played straight—11-year-olds walk to school, and the library by themselves—until the murder of a child in the neighborhood causes the adults to temporarily be overprotective. (In other words, exactly the way they are all the time nowadays.)And at the end, April is almost killed by the murderer when she goes down to Egypt at night.
  • Girls Have Cooties: April and Melanie are still holding onto the "boys are gross" mindset at eleven years old, which was considered normal at the time.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: "The Professor".
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: April says "words that Melanie wasn't allowed to say". After that, the words in question are replaced by dashes.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The setting is an unnamed "large university town in California", which is almost certainly Berkeley or a fictional version thereof. (Incidentally, Zilpha Keatley Snyder once taught at the University of California at Berkeley.)
  • Parental Abandonment: Melanie, Marshall, and Ken are the only kids to have both parents and that's with Melanie and Marshall being siblings.
    • Disappeared Dad: April and Elizabeth's fathers died prior to the story.
    • Missing Mom: Toby's mother. April's mother is still living, but, well, see below...
  • Must Make Amends: After learning the Professor wasn't responsible for the murders and saved April's life, everyone in town comes to his shop and buys items they don't need.
  • Only Sane Man: Ken sees himself this way. When the rest of the group acts as if they believe in their invented rituals, he says they're "cracking up".
  • Parents as People: April's self-absorbed mother Dorothea sends her to live with her grandmother Caroline, promising her this will be a very temporary arrangement. Months pass, Dorothea doesn't write much, doesn't send for April when she said she would, and finally sends a letter explaining how she freakin' got married without her daughter and is now living in an apartment with her new husband. All the while, April gets to come to the slow and painful realization that she has essentially been abandoned.
  • Pretty in Mink: April, showing off with a hand-me-down from her mom. Melanie decides to help April get rid of it.
  • Protected by a Child: A nonviolent version: Ken and Toby threaten to tell on April and Melanie for sneaking off from the trick-or-treat group and using the Professor's backyard without permission, but Elizabeth (who's two years younger, and looks even younger than that) steps forward and says, "Please don't tell on us, and we'll let you play too." The boys back down, and end up joining the game.
  • Security Blanket: Marshall with a stuffed octopus named Security.
  • Sequel Hook: "Melanie, what do you know about Gypsies?" It took thirty years in real time for Melanie to answer "Not very much, I guess. Why?"
  • Teacher/Student Romance: The Professor had one when he was young, with a woman who enrolled in a class he was teaching about ancient peoples.
  • The '60s: Written and set in the '60s
  • Team Mom: Melanie. Among other things, she rethinks the idea of sneaking off during trick-or-treating because it might be dangerous, and talks April down when they find out Ken and Toby have been spying on them because punching them won't solve anything.
  • Those Two Guys: Ken Kamata and Toby Alvillar. They're best friends; Ken is more reserved and is solidly built and clean-cut, while Toby is talkative and creative and is skinny with shaggy hair. They become more developed individually once they join the group.
  • True Companions: The Egypt gang.