The King of the Golden River or The Black Brothers: A Legend of Stiria by John Ruskin was originally written in 1841 for the twelve-year-old Effie (Euphemia) Gray, whom Ruskin later married.
Ruskin's 1850 fairy tale, a paean to generosity and environmental conservation, gets a pleasing visual treatment from Ghiuselev (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland). Ruskin's story concerns the unscrupulous "Black Brothers," Hans and Schwartz, drunkards who hoard their corn and don't pay workers: "It would have been very odd, if with... such a system of farming, they hadn't got very rich; and very rich they did get." Their gentle 12-year-old sibling, Gluck, suffers from their cruelty. After the angry South West Wind ruins the Brothers' material wealth, Gluck must melt his favorite mug, with its "very fierce little face, of the reddest gold imaginable"; when Gluck pours the liquid metal, it shapes itself into the title's king, who tells Gluck how to transform the Golden River into treasure with holy water. Hypocritical Hans and Schwartz each try their luck, but refuse to share their water with dying individuals; the offended king says, "they poured unholy water into my stream." Gluck, who does share, reaps the rewards. Ghiuselev works with a soft touch in gray pencil, and tints some images with earthy sepia tones that allude to the gold and copper of the story. His steep precipices and rocky glaciers nod to the Romantic sublime; he depicts the characters as 17th-century landowners in breeches and billowing cloaks, posing as dramatically as N.C. Wyeth's swashbuckling figures. Ghiuselev's outdoor images can be too ethereal the people never seem to stand on solid ground yet animistic characters like the Wind look satisfyingly mysterious. A sophisticated book design, with a dark-ochre strip down every vertical margin, offsets this ethically-minded classic and appeals to fairy tale admirers. Ages 6-up.