The cottage he shares with Da and the clearing beyond are the only world Tousle has ever known. When a visit to see the King’s procession results in his being given a riddle to solve within seven days or be killed, the simple life he once knew seems long in the past.
Now on the run with the blind boy Innes, in a desperate attempt to find the Queen, the only person who knows the answer to the riddle, he and Innes must avoid being caught by the King’s Grip, a man with a terrifying tempter and a lust for gold that knows no bounds, at the same time attempting to elude Lord Beryn and his men. All the while he is trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the young prince who disappeared from the castle so many years ago. And what happened to Da, who has likewise disappeared?
Full of adventure and mystery, this book should be on every school library bookshelf. Boys who claim they don’t like reading will find this a gripping story. I challenge them not to like it.
This book is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story, but I didn’t mention that in the review above. This book has enough adventure and chivalry that I think a lot of boys will like it, but some of them may be put off by the term “fairy tale.”
The origin of the novel is clear enough: while talking with his wife, author Gary D. Schmidt wondered why Rumpelstiltskin wanted the boy in the first place. As he says, it’s never really explained in the original fairy tale, where Rumpelstiltskin is usually described as tearing himself in two. As a child, the story of Rumpelstiltskin, which you can read in full here, scared the heck out of me, so I found this retelling, in which Rumpelstiltskin is a compassionate, benevolent creature, a wonderful experience.
That said, there’s a lot to talk about in this book. Schmidt is a professor at Calvin College here in Michigan, and the theme of predestination versus free will runs quite strongly throughout this book. I can see quite lively debates in middle school classrooms about whether Tousle is following a predetermined plan or if he is acting of his accord. Schmidt is not dogmatic about this point, and there is plenty to argue either way.
Schmidt, Gary D. Straw Into Gold. New York: Clarion, 2001.