Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Victorian Fantasy: "The King of the Golden River"

As the discussion series on the fantastic in Victorian literature nears its end, this month we discussed John Ruskin’s 1851 novel, The King of the Golden River. A charming short novel, a modern parable of greed and kindness, this volume is Ruskin’s only work of fiction (he is better known for his works on art criticism).

The plot is a simple one: two cruel brothers, Schwartz and Hans, live with their younger brother, Gluck, in a lush valley in Austria. The two older brothers mistreat everyone, not least the younger Gluck. The rich land has made the brothers rich. Yet when a visitor, Southwest Wind, Esquire, receives ill treatment at the hands of Schwartz and Hans, the rich soil washes away, leaving their land arid and worthless. The brothers work as goldsmiths, but drink away their earnings. One day they melt Gluck’s prized possession, a golden mug, which frees the king of the Golden River, a finely-dressed dwarf. The king tells Gluck that someone who climbed the high mountain to the source of the river and threw in at least three drops of holy water would find the river turned to gold; fail, and that person would be turned into black rock. Naturally, first Hans and then Schwartz make the attempt. Their greed and indifference to the suffering of others cause them to fail in their attempts, and they become black rocks. Gluck works for a goldsmith, but he, too, succumbs to the temptation to seek the Golden River. He is kind, however, and uses his flask with holy water to slake the thirst of an old man, then a child, and finally a small dog, to whom he gives the last of the holy water. The dog turns into the King of the Golden River, who gives Gluck three drops of water from a lily plant and urges Gluck to cast those into the river. When Gluck does so, the waters of the river diminished and flowed into the valley, making the land fertile once again. Gluck became a wealthy man who, unlike his brothers, never turned away the needy.

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Some of the discussants

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Mr. August Dominicus, Miss Astridh of Hulya, and Miss Isabelle

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One of our discussants

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Miss Ellie Mink

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Your humble scribe

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Sir JJ Drinkwater

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Miss Herndon Bluebird

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Dame Kghia Gherardi

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Miss Zanicia and Miss Janet Rhiadra

(Apologies to those not pictured (particularly M. Ravenstask Bayn) or not named - my note-taking skills were deficient. I attribute that to my attention being taken by discussing Mr. Ruskin’s book. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.)

Next up: Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, on Wednesday, February 19, at 4 p.m. SLT.

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