________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 13 . . . .March 3, 2006


The King of the Golden River.

John Ruskin. Illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev.
Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books, 2005.
65 pp., cloth, $24.95.
ISBN 1-894965-15-9.

Subject Heading:
Fairy tales.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

*** /4




In traditional folkloric tradition, this is the story of three brothers: two older nasty brothers and kind-hearted 12-year-old Gluck. They lived in a very productive valley which provided them with much wealth. Despite their fortune, Hans and Schwartz had never given "so much as a penny or a crust in charity; they never went to mass; grumbled perpetually at paying tithes; and were, in a word, of so cruel and grinding a temper, as to receive from all those with whom they had any dealings, the nick-name of the 'Black Brothers.'”

It was drawing towards winter, and very cold weather, when one day the two elder brothers had gone out, with their usual warning to little Gluck, who was left to mind the roast, that he let nobody in, and give nothing out. Gluck sat down quite close to the fire, for it was raining very hard, and the kitchen walls were by no means dry or comfortable looking. He turned and turned, and the roast got nice and brown. 'What pity', thought Gluck, 'my brothers never ask anybody to dinner. I'm sure, when they've got such a nice piece of mutton as this, and nobody else has got so much as a piece of dry bread, it would do their hearts good to have somebody to eat it with them.'

Just as he spoke, there came a double knock at the door, yet heavy and dull, as though the knocker had been tied up—more like a puff than a knock.

No, it wasn't the wind: there it came again very hard, and what was particularly astounding, the knocker seemed to be in a hurry, and not to be in the least afraid of the consequences. Gluck went to the window, opened it, and put his head out to see who it was.

     When Gluck peers out, he is confronted by a very strange little man dressed in doublet, billowing cape and a large hat topped by a three-foot long feather. Despite the admonishments of his brothers not to let anyone enter while they are out, he invites the man in. On the brothers’ arrival home, they are furious and turn the old fellow out. Because of their cruelty, the man, The South West Wind, ruins their farm and the surrounding valley. They are reduced to poverty and, as a last resort, melt down Gluck's golden mug that releases the King of the Golden River from his enchantment.

     Gluck is bid by the King to climb to the top of the mountain and pour three drops of holy water into the Golden River thus turning it into gold. True to form, when the older brothers hear of this, each attempts the journey but resorts to trickery and cruelty to those they meet along the way. Consequently they receive their "just desserts" and are transformed into black stones. Gluck, on the other hand, displays his usual kindness and is rewarded.

     First published in the mid-1800s and written for the girl who would later become his wife, this classic fable by John Ruskin has been beautifully illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev. The book has a very elegant and spacious feel. The heavy off-white paper is edged with a narrow coloured band simulating matte gold. Generous borders surround the illustrations and wide-spaced text. Each chapter is faced with a small vignette and number emphasizing the spaciousness.

     The illustrations, which range from double spreads to small vignettes, are rendered in what appears to be soft grey pencil. All are subtly shaded and rich in details. In many of the full-page illustrations, the background is merely hinted at thus causing the viewer to focus on the central action and characters. Several are softly coloured reminiscent of old hand-tinted photos. The medieval setting is emphasized by the depiction of buildings and clothing typical of the 17th century.

     With its old-fashioned language, this book may not appeal to all. However, for more sophisticated readers of fairytales, the story is well told, containing many folkloric elements and satisfying action.


Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary school librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia in the spring of 2005.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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