Art Historians Who Wrote Fiction: The King of the Golden River by John Ruskin

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This morality tale/fairy tale comes from Arts and Crafts Movement leader John Ruskin.  For those who have read stories such as The Rough-Face Girl, Cinderella, and The Three Little Pigs, Ruskin’s story comes from the same moldBy the way, I recommend The Rough-Face Girl for its sweet story and absolutely gorgeous artwork.  Anyway, back to the Ruskin story.  The tale revolves around a trio of brothers named Hans, Schwartz, and Gluck.  Gluck is the younger brother whom the other two torment and abuse throughout the story.  Furthermore, Hans and Schwartz torment everybody they come across.  However, I think I saw Ruskin’s socialist side come through when he dedicates a paragraph to how Hans and Schwartz treat their servants.  By treating, I mean abusing.  However, I think they just beat Gluck up for that name alone.

The brothers live in a place called Treasure Valley.  After some horrible weather that damages  the place and the town nearby, an old man comes to their house and begs for shelter from Gluck.   If you know Beauty and the Beast, you can figure out how this will turn out.  However, the man was not a very good guest himself.  Since he was seeking shelter from the rainy weather, he tracks his wet clothes all over the place and nearly puts out the fire that Gluck lets him go near.  Gluck warns him that he is putting out the fire and preventing any food from being cooked.  However, instead of either standing still or moving away, he just acts snippy.  With a martyr’s acceptance, Gluck still provides relief even after telling him that he risks receiving a beating from his brothers.  When Hans and Schwartz do see him, the old man gives the brothers their comeuppance, however it does not scare them straight.  In fact, Gluck is further punished for showing kindness to the man.  When he leaves, they find out that this man was not a man at all, but a being called The West Wind, Esquire.  A wind decides to take on human form to test some humans.

After this episode, the brothers move to the city after draining Treasure Valley dry of its resources.  Have Hans and Schwartz learned this?  No.  Instead, they work for a goldsmith and try to con people into buying bronze objects that are actually made of copper.  Finally, the title character shows up and asks Gluck to complete a task.  If Gluck succeeds, he will become prosperous.  Hans and Schwartz catch wind of this and tries to complete the task themselves.  Like I said earlier, if you have read a lot of fairy tales with cruel siblings and one kind sibling, you know how this will turn out.

I enjoyed this story, then again, I love John Ruskin’s beautiful prose.  The surreal imagery he conjured up left me hypnotized and wanting more.  Although, I did laugh out loud when he used uppercase words to emphasize something.  The story plays out like every other morality/fairy tale, but still satisfying.  By the way, if you click on Google Books, you can check out the whimsical art of Richard Doyle.

Update 1-4-2015:  I removed a sentence that in retrospect, came off as foolish on my part.  I referenced a movie that I knew the plot of via other people’s commentaries and have seen clips of it, but not the whole thing.

Apologies.

ETA: Clarified an update and removed a border.

Update 12-12-2015: Changed the tense of my headline.

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