Cinderellis and the Glass Hill

I finished the remaining four Princess Tales books by Gail Carson Levine last night.  Sadly, someone seems to have stolen The Princess Test from my library, so that one will have to wait.  I know my last post was pretty harsh on the first book, The Fairy's Mistake.  Perhaps I was in a combative state of mind, or it was just a one-off.  Whatever the case, the rest of the books in the series more than made up for my unpleasant experience with the first one!

Cinderellis and the Glass Hill:  Not only do we have a gender-flipped version of Cinderella, we also have a princess who's willing to take matters into her own hands when it comes to her fate.  Hooray!  Ellis and his two brothers are farmers.  His older brothers Ralph and Burt are best friends, hardcore farmers, and probably the least imaginative people in the kingdom of Biddle.  Ellis is a scientist--he invents all sorts of powders to solve problems.  For example, he creates a flying powder, but things kept going all helter-skelter, so he added a ruler to the mix to help them fly straight!  This sly, ridiculous sense of humor of Levine's really shines in this book.

One night, Ellis feels the earth tremble and rock, and the next morning, all of the hay in the kingdom is gone!  Burt and Ralph take turns trying to catch the goblins they are convinced are stealing the hay.  Ellis, being a scientist, knows by his powers of deduction that it's not goblins, but probably some sort of horse or donkey.  He crafts special horse treats and manages to catch three magical horses: one copper, one silver, and one gold.  Ralph and Burt, of course, don't believe him, so Ellis keeps the horses for himself and they become his friends.

Meanwhile, King Humphrey III (it's a running joke in the series that all the kings of Biddle are named Humphrey) takes a magically-mandated break from questing (he never brings back anything useful, anyway) and decides it's time for his daughter, the Princess Marigold, to marry.  He wants the very best for her, so he devises a test: anyone who can walk his horse up the top of a glass pyramid and receive three golden apples from Marigold, who would be sitting at the top, can marry her.  Aside from her father's single-minded obsession with quests, Marigold is also distressed by the nature of the test.  Being an animal lover, she knows that most knights would be cruel and force their horses to do something dangerous.

When the glass pyramid is unveiled, Marigold disguises herself as a Royal Dairymaid to sneak around the festivities.  Cinderellis also arrives at the castle to see what the hubbub's about, and runs into Marigold.  All of their lives, both of them have desperately needed friends.  Cinderellis never had anyone willing to listen, and Marigold always wanted to know the "why" of things.  Cinderellis uses his scientific learning to explain things, and Marigold can ask him "why" as much as she wants to!  As you might have guessed, they fall in love.

In the end, Cinderellis attempts the challenge, not knowing that Marigold is actually the princess.  He devises a special sticking powder to allow his horses' hooves to adhere to glass.  Unfortunately, he has to wear old, rusty armor that makes it difficult to see or speak.  When Marigold speaks to him, the echoing inside the helmet transforms his voice into a booming, yet unintelligible gibberish.  She's convinced he's actually a monster!  Therefore, she devises a Last Resort to stop the monster from achieving the goal of going to the top of the pyramid.

Of course, everything is straightened out in the end.  This is a hilarious romp through fairy land and mythology alike.  I loved trying to spot all of the literary references!  Obviously, this is a take on Cinderella, but there are a lot of other stories that make guest appearances.  The concept of the impossible task is a motif that appears in many, many stories, from The Twelve Labors of Herakles to Psyche and Eros to Rumpelstiltskin.  The three golden apples recall both the disastrous Goddess Test with Paris, Prince of Troy and the story of Atalanta.  I knew that the concept of the three horses who can only be freed by human touch must reference something too, and I found a really interesting Russian folktale called The Enchanted Peafowl.  In this story, the king's golden apples (!!!) are stolen by enchanted peafowl (peacocks) who are really princesses.

Highly recommended!  Now, if only I could get my hands on some of that flying powder...


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