(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Above a mob of acquaintances, the narrator climbs against a bitter wind, inching up the glass mountain toward a castle of pure gold that is guarded by an eagle. In it sits the beautiful enchanted symbol of happily-ever-after fairy tales. The narrator is two hundred feet above the street. Below him, his rapine acquaintances pillage among groaning knights and horses—who are apparently failed climbers of the mountain.

These acquaintances pass around a brown bottle, speak inanities, and jeer crudely at the climber. As he climbs six feet higher, it becomes evident that he is new to the neighborhood; that the people below have disturbed eyes. He tells readers, “Look for yourselves.” Hundreds of young people shoot up drugs and older people walk dogs.

Climbing the mountain requires a good reason; the narrator’s reason is to “disenchant a symbol.” Contemporary egos still need symbols; he considers conventional literature’s arbitrary distinction between its “symbols” (nightingales) and mere contemporary “signs” (traffic lights); he sees a nightingale fly past with traffic lights affixed to its legs. From a surreal, slightly unconventional but nevertheless happily-ever-after Americanized fairy tale, he learns the conventional means of gaining the castle: that “means” is an eagle. The tale makes him afraid, but recalling a literary quotation that celebrates humankind’s imagination, he bravely follows its conventions. The eagle appears, and he uses it to reach the castle, where he claims the beautiful enchanted symbol. Unlike the aforementioned tale, the climber’s story continues: At his touch, the symbol changes into a beautiful princess, whom he promptly throws down the mountain where his acquaintances will deal with her. A final paragraph deconstructs any conventional theme or meaning that the story’s prior content may suggest.