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The Keys to the Kingdom is a fantasyadventure book series, written by Garth Nix; having started in 2003 with plans to span seven books, six books have been published thus far, with the final one yet to be released. 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 epicenter of the universe. The core storyline involves Arthur attempting to defeat the Morrow Days, the criminal Trustees of the House. The series takes the span of three weeks.


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 its agents. 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.

Author Garth Nix's approach to the narrative has drawn heavily on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, with continuous references to archetype and the number 7.


  • Arthur Penhaligon (Artie/Artur) — The 12-year-old boy was chosen as the true heir of the house by The Architect's will.
  • Leaf — A 12-year-old girl of human blood that just happens to end up entwined with Arthur's future hailing.
  • Suzy Blue — A 12-year-old female piper's child who is chooses to work with the will and the rightful heir.
  • The Trustees — The seven Morrow Days who were each entrusted with a key 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 didn't want to let go of their keys.
  • Noon — There are seven Noons, and each one serves its Trustee. A Noon represents the hour between 12 o'clock and one o'clock, and is recognisable for his red, yellow, and white colouring.
  • Dawn - There are seven Dawns, usually female, and each one serves its Trustee. A Dawn represents the hour of the sun's rising, and is usually dressed in bright colours and speaking loudly.
  • Dusk - There are seven Dusks, and each one serves its Trustee. A Dusk represents the hour of sunset, and is known for dressing in dark colours and speaking quietly.

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. These parts are:

The Keys

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 and 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 gauntlet (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.The Third Key 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, though it took the form of a broadsword when used by Sir Thursday. When used by Arthur, it prefers to take the form of a baton. It can, however, be changed into a rapier when Arthur is in danger or needs to fight. It gives dominion over the Great Maze 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. The only use of it so far shown is writing extremely powerful spells that are capable of wiping out large numbers of the creatures of the Incomparable Gardens. Saturday is also seen combining the power of the Key with ordinary sorcery. The Sixth Key gives dominion over the Upper House and Saturday.
  • The Seventh Key is held by Lord Sunday and gives dominion over the Incomparable Gardens and Sunday. Unlike the other Keys, this Key is paramount, retaining its full, sovereign power anywhere in the House or Secondary Realms. It has, as of yet, not been revealed what form the Key takes.


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. For more information on the various types of Nithling, see below.


Nithlings are animal-like 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:
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, whereinafter 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 Cocqcigrue 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) — 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.
  • New Nithlings or Newniths (Sir Thursday, Lady Friday, Superior Saturday) — a creature 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 tiny, equine Nithling 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. It is in the form of a horse.
  • 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.

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) " 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

The Keys to the Kingdom appears to contain many examples of religious symbolism and references, 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.

The House could also represent Heaven, as both supposedly have seven levels, and the Incomparable Gardens couldbe a reference to the Garden of Eden.

Conversely, each part of the Will embodied appears to hold a virtue. Each piece of the Will holds one of the four Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice) or the Three Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity). Each part of the Will also seems to act in a way of the seven deadly sins, differently from that which their forms imply. The bear for instance seems to act slothful, and the carp seems to embody pride, whilst the snake seems wrathful. This may simply be a side-effect of their isolation from the whole; i.e. justice without charity could be the reason for which the Snake acts wrathful. As the Fifth Part of the Will implies, the other parts may be unbalanced without his moderating influence.

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 (alternatively seen as a Lucifer character); and the Drasil trees, whose 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; 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 from the second book in the series 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.

Other literary references in the series, in this case to Dante's Inferno, include the scene of slothful Mister Monday being attacked by Bibliophages, a Nithling that takes the form of a snake, while fighting Arthur, in that the punishment in Hell for sloth is to be eaten by snakes. Grim Tuesday dies by falling into a pool of Nothing, while the punishment in Hell for greed (Tuesday's sin) is to be boiled alive. Finally, Drowned Wednesday is forced to eat every thing in her path and dies of Nothing contamination; the punishment for gluttony is to be force-fed rats, toads, and snakes.

A cultural reference is found in the use of the word Architect to designate the Creator. It may signify either an association with Freemasonry or a simple leap of logic, in that the Freemasons use the epithet "Great Architect" to signify the Supreme Being whereas in a history of the world wherein the Epicentre of the Universe is a house, its maker must necessarily be an architect.

Friday's actions in regard to "experiencing" the humans can be compared to those of a drug addict: She sadly remarks about the feelings "fading", then desires more before remarking that she would "run out" and then leaves to find "another distraction". It is also comparable to some perceptions of vampires.

Another cultural reference is the usage of the name Seven Dialsmarker 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. 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.

Books in the series

The title of each book refers to the antagonist that Arthur fights in the novel.

See also

External links

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