The King of the Golden River Analysis

John Ruskin

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The King of the Golden River: Or, The Black Brothers, a Legend of Stiria was published anonymously in 1851, a decade after it had been composed for a twelve-year-old girl who would later become the authors wife. John Ruskin was one of the most influential critics of the Victorian era. This novella, his only work of fiction, is a moral tale in which nature punishes the cruel and rewards the compassionate.

Hans and Schwartz are the harsh and greedy masters of Treasure Valley, a fertile farm high in the mountainous region of Stiria. Gluck, their guileless youngest brother, suffers much abuse but retains his good-heartedness. Left alone one rainy winter afternoon, Gluck allows a peculiar stranger into the house and cuts him a portion of mutton. Such hospitality is strictly forbidden, and Gluck knows that he shall go hungry himself and shall probably be beaten. His older brothers return home and attempt to expel their guest. It immediately becomes apparent, however, that the stranger is no ordinary traveler. In the morning, when the storm has washed away their wealth and devastated the valley, the strangers calling card is found upon the kitchen table: North West Wind, Esquire. The wind never again brings rain to the valley, the farm fails, and the three brothers are forced to move to the village.

Hans and Schwartz become goldsmiths, though not very honest ones. When Glucks beloved gold mug is melted, it turns out to be an enchanted dwarf,...

(The entire section is 574 words.)

The King of the Golden River

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed


Gluck, a good youth who, with his two brothers, owns and farms Treasure Valley in the ancient kingdom of Stiria. His brothers make Gluck work hard at the worst tasks but give him nothing. After his brothers fail to change the Golden River into gold, he tries. He succeeds because he is kind; he earns the help of the King of the Golden River, who had in turn tested each brother’s mercy toward a thirsty child, an old man, and a dog. Only Gluck shared his water. All of his life, Gluck proves that he is charitable and thoughtful, even after he becomes a rich man.


Schwartz and


Hans, nicknamed the Black Brothers. They are stingy and mean, mistreating Gluck, killing anything that brings in no money, cheating their servants, and giving nothing to charity although they are very rich. Both the brothers, because they are evil men, fail to turn the Golden River into gold and are themselves metamorphosed into black stones.

The South-West Wind

The South-West Wind, a strange little old man befriended by Gluck when he appears at the brothers’ house. Gluck gives the man shelter and offers him his own meager portion of food. When Hans and Schwartz try to throw the little man out of the house, he causes a storm to ruin the entire valley and permits no more rain to fall, so that the valley becomes a wasteland.

The King of the Golden River, who is imprisoned in a gold mug until released by Gluck. He tells Gluck how to turn the Golden River into gold by dropping holy water into it. When Gluck succeeds, the river irrigates Treasure Valley for him, making it fertile and a source of wealth.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Though The King of the Golden River is not set in a specific time or place, the story's details suggest that, like many...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

As in most fairy tales, the characters in The King of the Golden River are relatively one dimensional. For instance, Hans and Schwarz...

(The entire section is 938 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The King of the Golden River has a clearly stated moral at the end: "And thus the Treasure Valley became a garden again, and the...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Gluck is obviously a kind, innocent young man. Why doesn't the King of the Golden River simply reward him without requiring him to climb...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Which of the characters in The King of the Golden River do you think is the most interesting? Explain your choice.


(The entire section is 205 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Coyle, William. "Ruskin's King of the Golden River: A Victorian Fairy Tale." In The Scope of the Fantastic—Culture, Biography,...

(The entire section is 148 words.)