100 Cupboards summary and themes

 100 Cupboards Summary and Themes

Henry and his loving, overprotective, and somewhat distant parents have gone on a trip to South America. During their trip, Henry's parents are kidnapped, leaving Henry a temporary, or perhaps even permanent, orphan. Henry's Aunt Dottie and Uncle Frank agree to take him in to raise him until his parents are found, so Henry moves to their house in Kansas to live with his three cousins, Henrietta, Anastasia, and Penelope.100 Cupboards summary and themes.

Henry finds his aunt and uncle very strange, though loving, and supportive of him and his experience losing his parents. His aunt is much like his mother, but is Uncle Frank, who works selling tumbleweeds on eBay, seems to be carrying a secret. Uncle Frank introduces Henry to baseball and pocketknives, two of his hobbies, and Henry begins to bond with his uncle despite his eccentricities.

On Henry's first night in the house, he leaves his attic bedroom to go to the bathroom and discovers a stranger in the bathroom. He waits and a small man emerges and enters his grandfather's bedroom, which has been locked for the entirety of the two years since he died. When Henry returns to his room, he finds that the ceiling of his bedroom has cracked, and one hundred tiny cupboards locked with two master locks have emerged. Confused, Henry enlists Henrietta's help to investigate the next day when they are home alone. They find a key that leads them to their grandfather's bedroom, and a journal that serves as a map to the one hundred cupboards.

Soon after the discovery of the cupboards, Henrietta goes missing. Knowing that she has disappeared into the cupboards, Henry uses the journal to find her inside a decrepit old ballroom in a ruined city. Henrietta is safe, but soon after finding her, she and Henry realize that unless the master locks are put back in place, they can't return to their home in Kansas. To keep themselves safe until they can figure out how to get home, they hide in one of the dark cupboards.

While hiding, Henry and Henrietta see a band of people with domesticated wolves called “Witch-Dogs” attack and kill some travelers exploring the cupboards. Meanwhile, Uncle Frank realizes where Henry and Henrietta have gone and attempts to rescue them. Aunt Dottie explains to her other children that their father emerged from the cupboards long ago; the cupboards were built by their great-grandfather, and the key passed down through generations.

While trying to rescue the kids, a witch named Nimiane emerges from the cupboard and attacks the family. She stabs Frank and Dottie and is strengthened by Frank's blood. Henry and Henrietta follow the witch back to the attic, where they struggle to push the witch back into her world. They are helped by a neighbor boy Zeke, who arrives to ask Henry if he wants to play baseball and uses his bat to knock Nimiane out cold. Henry and Henrietta push the witch back into the eighth cupboard and then get medical attention for their aunt and uncle.

100 Cupboards summary and themes - The book ends when Uncle Frank explains that he came from the cupboard and that a mysterious creature called a raggant, which looks like a small flying rhinoceros, has come looking for him. Meanwhile, Henry receives a threatening letter and Nimiane, back in her cupboard, plots revenge.

American N.D. Wilson is the author of a number of series of young adult adventure and fantasy novels. The 100 Cupboards trilogy, his first series, consists of 100 Cupboards, Dandelion Fire, and The Chestnut King. He has also written the Ashtown Burials series, the Outlaws of Time series, and a number of standalone novels and picture books. Wilson studied theology and liberal arts and had a childhood interest in writing fiction. 100 Cupboards Character Analysis.

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Henry York is a 12-year-old boy whose parents have disappeared in a kidnapping. While staying at his aunt and uncle’s house in Kansas, Henry discovers dozens of cupboard doors hidden in the wall in his room. Bright but shy, Henry finds that his new life in Kansas demands much more of his courage and imagination than his old life in Boston, and he rises to the challenge.

100 Cupboards shares some of the plot elements of the Harry Potter books: An orphan boy discovers a world of wonders, learns of his magical heritage, joins with other children to learn more, and confronts the dangers of dark magic. In this sense, Nimiane is a similar antagonist to Voldemort, while Frank, also from the magical realm, takes on a fatherly Dumbledore role, and his cousins, especially Henrietta, are supportive friends like Ron and Hermione. As the protagonist, Henry, of course, is similar to Harry; Henry’s name is even like that of the Potter hero.

Wilson is not copying Rowling, just as Rowling was not necessarily copying Eva Ibbotson (who published a similar novel years prior to the first Harry Potter book). Rather, they are both following a familiar literary storyline. This type of plot is called a lost prince because it features a hero who thinks he’s ordinary but learns he’s special. Luke Skywalker of Star Wars is a son of royalty who’s hidden away on a lonely planet. His character is a famous modern example of the “lost prince” plot type; Harry Potter is another, as is Superman. It’s a popular narrative device because it allows for immersive reading: As regular people, like the protagonists, readers can more easily imagine themselves in the same situation and wonder how they’d behave under those circumstances. Because Henry is a seemingly regular kid with regular fears and flaws, readers can identify and empathize with him.

The plot is also an example of a hero’s journey, as described in Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2020). In this type of story, a young hero leaves the ordinary world, journeys through a realm of magical danger, and returns with new powers for doing good. (A study guide for Campbell’s book is available at SuperSummary.com.) There are common elements to these stories—a call to adventure and a reluctance to answer it, a series of trials, some sense of atonement with a father figure—that readers will recognize from dozens of other narrative works and that Henry noticeably fulfills.


The central villain of the story and a powerful witch who destroyed FitzFaeron Hall, Nimiane was exiled to the dark world of Endor until Henry and Henrietta accidentally let her out. She is blind and ugly but can spellbind others to see her as beautiful and do her bidding. When Henry fights briefly with her at the cupboard wall to protect Henrietta, he cuts himself, and the witch tastes his blood and feels revived. Her purpose, once out of Endor, is to find and consume Henry for his vitality.

Witches are common figments in literature, myth, and lore. Most often, witches represent a type of femininity that falls outside of society’s accepted bounds of womanhood. Perhaps they are too old, too confident, too unattractive. They often transform themselves into figments that make them more socially acceptable as wily tricks to convince their audience to do their bidding. We see this in 100 Cupboards when Nimiane transforms herself into a more beautiful, younger woman, abandoning her frightening visage to manipulate the characters.

As mentioned above, Wilson pulls many of his narrative elements from history and legend. FitzFaeren Hall is destroyed in the name of the witch Nimiane. She’s later described as “not tall,” and though she refers to the faeren as “faeries,” it’s possible she was once one of them and has a grudge against her own people. Nimiane has a counterpart in the Arthurian legends: the lady Niniane, Nimane, or Nimue, who is imbued with magic powers and commonly known as the Lady of the Lake, a sometimes good, sometimes bad witch. Her acts in Arthurian legends include bestowing Arthur with his sword, Excalibur, and eliminating the wizard Merlin.


The middle Willis child, perhaps a year younger than Henry, Henrietta has “thick brown curls and green eyes” (7), and she takes a keen interest in Henry’s progress with the 100 cupboards, sometimes helping him figure them out. She’s way too adventurous for Henry’s taste, sticking her hand in a dangerous cupboard and nearly getting kidnapped by something on the other side. She finds a human-sized cupboard in Grandfather’s room and promptly disappears into it; Henry searches for days before finding her and helping her return home.

Henrietta, whose name immediately connects her to Henry, functions as a foil to the protagonist throughout the course of the novel. Henrietta’s easy courage upsets Henry; as cautious as he is, she’s equally overconfident. Their relationship serves to bring friction and conflict to the narrative; without Henrietta complicating matters, the storyline would stall. Her actions also drive Henry’s personal growth. She pushes him to be braver, more adventurous, and even function as her rescuer after she is lost within the cupboard.

Henry also serves as an equal counterweight to the willful Henrietta. They meet in the middle and manage to resolve most of the problems they uncover in the cupboard universe. In Henry and Henrietta, the reader learns the value of collaboration and teamwork and finds that difficult problems often require the differing opinions and approaches of multiple people. These are common plot points and narrative lessons imparted by hero’s journey works mentioned above.


Eccentric Frank pursues interestingly goofy ideas, especially for making money, his bountiful imagination spreading out into all areas of life in search of its wonders. He treats Henry warmly, and, if he’s not exactly a father figure to the boy, he’s certainly an excellent and entertaining uncle. Frank tends to be open and truthful—when he fails disastrously to break into Grandfather’s room and Dotty asks if he’s okay, he replies honestly, “My pride’s on the lower end” (79)—and his name symbolizes that emotional openness.

Like Henry, Frank comes from one of the cupboard worlds. Unable to return there, he’s made a life in Kansas and has tried to forget the cupboards, but he half-hopes Henry will reopen them and discover a pathway to his homeland. Frank’s similarities with Henry make his character somewhat prophetic; it could be that he is a vision of Henry’s future if he remains in our world. His similarities also provide Henry with a level of knowledge other characters would be unable to share. Only Frank understands what it’s like to adapt to our world after the life in a different one, and although Henry doesn’t remember his life before this one, Frank’s guidance still leads him to make more educated decisions.


Warm, loving, and patient, Dotty may be smarter, or at least wiser, than her husband, Frank, but she’s also smart enough to know when to let him try out his goofball ideas. She also knows his history with the cupboards, and she worries that Henry, another cupboard immigrant, might poke around in the cupboards too much and get them all into trouble.

Dotty serves as a central voice of reason within the novel. Where Frank is too whimsical and her children and Henry too young to easily navigate the trials before them, she serves as an anchor to center them and their actions. Other characters might be reckless or impetuous, but Dotty is a calm presence that steers their actions.


Youngest of the Willis children, nine-year-old Anastasia has freckles, reddish-brown hair, and much of her sister Henrietta’s defiant curiosity. She’s also a meddler, sniffing around in everyone else’s business. Though a minor character, she ferrets out secrets that, once revealed, force the others to make decisions that help protect them from the dangers of the cupboards.

Short for Penelope, black-haired Penny is the oldest daughter of Dotty and Frank, a bit too old to play with her younger siblings but willing to try. Penny has a crush on Zeke Johnson, the best baseball player in town. Like Henry, she tends to be cautious; like Anastasia, hers is a small but charming role that helps fill out the Willis family.



Adventures always contain risks. Those who pursue adventure sometimes pay with their lives, while those who never dare often pay with a dull existence. 100 Cupboards and its characters represent this push-and-pull of risky adventure and safe avoidance. In particular, the two titular characters—Henry and Henrietta—symbolize this dichotomy. Henry yearns for more adventure but fears it; Henrietta leaps to the next exploit but takes her life in her hands when she does so. Between them is Frank, who learned the costs of exploring the cupboards and walked away from them.

There’s an old saying: “Never solve a puzzle that opens the gates of hell.” Solving such a puzzle is precisely what Henry and Henrietta do when they find and open the hidden cupboards. Henrietta shows heedless courage when she opens the Endor cupboard and boldly reaches inside, but she faces the dire consequences of such action when something evil grabs her arm and tries to pull her through. Henry rises to the occasion and stabs at the evil thing, but now that the door’s been opened, it tends to re-open, and eventually the evil thing, Nimiane, gets through.

Henry and Henrietta strongly disagree about what limits to put on their adventure. Typically, Henrietta drives their actions, but it is Henry, in his efforts to save her, who considers and executes a successful plan. For example, when Henrietta finds a Faeren, Eli, in Grandfather’s room, she chases him without pausing to consider her return. The more practical Henry strategizes a rescue effort, and when he finally locates Henrietta, she casually says, “If it helps, I’m glad you came. This place was getting spooky” (237).

Henrietta thus launches the biggest adventures, and Henry, trying to repair the damage she causes, ends up having his own adventures as well. Hers are self-created; his are responses to emergencies. Henry scolds her and tries to keep her away from the cupboards, but Henrietta responds by asking why anyone would shy away from finding out more about so delicious a mystery as the cupboards. They’re opposites who meet in the middle, but only after the adventure is too far along to stop. In them the reader finds opposite ends of a spectrum, and they may develop an understanding of their own role within that spectrum—right in the middle.

Frank, meanwhile, has seen what happens to someone—in this case, Grandfather Willis—who explores the cupboards relentlessly. Frank covers them up, but it’s a futile exercise in a family as full of curiosity and mischief as the Willises. Henrietta definitely is her grandfather’s descendant; Henry is more like Frank, a fellow immigrant from the cupboard worlds. Though they both wish for a quiet life, each already has lived a great adventure simply by moving from the cupboard worlds to Kansas.

Despite their best efforts, Henry and Frank must confront their destiny, which calls to them from the cupboards. The debate over how much courage a person should have is resolved when Henrietta simply follows her own hunches and drags the others along with her. Sometimes, it’s the adventure itself that decides how brave one must be.


Both Henry and Frank come from the cupboard worlds. Marooned in Kansas, each faces the challenge of forming family ties in a place far from their original home. Frank does so in part by trying to put away the cupboard worlds, while Henry finds connection by reopening those worlds.

Frank arrived in Kansas as a boy by following Grandfather into an entry hole in his world and emerging in Grandfather’s room. Grandfather promised to help Frank return to his home world: “he was trying to find a way back and that he would help the boy when he did” (231), but his efforts failed. When bad things began coming through the cupboards, Grandfather plastered them over, permanently separating Frank from the world—and, assumedly, family—he had known before. So Frank created his own family. He grew up, married Dotty, and they had three kids. In this way, Frank settled into a good life with a strong family. He proves that family is the definition of home, and it is something one can create.

Henry also arrived during Grandfather’s time, and Dotty’s sister Ursula took him in. Henry grew up in Boston thinking Ursula and her husband, Phil, were his parents. His life there was formal and sheltered, and he doesn’t know anything’s missing until Ursula and Phil get kidnapped, and Henry, now 12, is sent back to Kansas to live with the Willises. His life begins to echo Frank’s, who, at that age, also lived in the same town as the result of similar circumstances. He finds among the Willises a lively and loving home, and he realizes he doesn’t miss his Boston life. Like Frank, he learns that family can be a matter of choice and creation.

The cupboards challenge him, and he begins to explore them with Henrietta. 100 Cupboards summary and themes , Together they develop a familiar bond that readers might recognize from their own siblings. She exasperates him, and he frustrates her, but they bond anyway, oftentimes serving to balance the other’s flaws or strengths. When Henrietta disappears down a cupboard passageway, Henry does everything in his power to locate her and bring her back home—“home” being the Willis’ house and his new family.

Henry learns he’s from the cupboard world, which explains much of his loneliness up to now, and he wants to know more about those places and find out which one he comes from. Like an adopted child who wants to know his or her ancestry, Henry yearns to search for his original world, but he does so in the company of those who love and care about him. Creating a new family, the reader sees, does not mean abandoning your old one. Without trying, Henry has found a place in the same family as that of another visitor, Frank. Together, the Willises and their newly forged family are strong enough to brave the cupboard worlds.


Intriguing as it is, the cupboard mystery practically begs to be solved. By the time Henry and Henrietta unravel only a portion of the puzzle, events unfold that force their hand: They must figure out how the cupboards work so they can defend against their dangers. 100 Cupboards summary and themes.

Solving the puzzle is equal parts logic and chance. Henry pursues strategies of logic, using the compass arrows on one cupboard door to try to open the others. He uses simple arithmetic to calculate the number of possible combinations—they’re in the hundreds—but when Henrietta reveals more arrows, it becomes apparent that the number of possible lock combinations multiply into the thousands. Henry’s strategic approach to solving this puzzle is not enough, and the cousins need more guidance. They find it in journals hidden in Grandfather’s room, one of which reveals the combinations to all the doors.

They also need chance on their sides, and that often comes at the hands of Henrietta. She is willing to take a risk on chance—putting her hand into Endor, following Eli—to see where it leads. This often results in dire consequences, but it also propels the entire family closer to a resolution in solving the puzzle.

100 Cupboards Summary and Themes : When Henrietta disappears, Henry must combine logic, chance, and the efforts of others to find her. He uses clues from the journals, employs the assistance of Richard, and, through a process of elimination and luck, stumbles onto Henrietta’s location.


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