Today, it is very uncommon to come across illustrations in any book that is not meant for a child. However, in the Victorian Era, illustrations were considered to be an integral part of the text enriching the story, and, overall, creating a fuller experience. Ruskin utilizes sophisticated vocabulary and sentence structure; however, he has created a text that is easily accessible to a younger audience. There are layers of nuance and depth in the story—particularly the moral—to entice readers of any age. The surface simplicity of the moral allows even the youngest reader to learn from this story, but the underlying complexities provide an older audience with important food for thought. John Ruskin’s transitional story The King of the Golden River (1974) captivates a dual audience of both children and adults, and, in this way, carries on the legacy of the Victorian illustrated book for adults.
Modern Era children’s books typically consist of little more than basic sentences and some pretty pictures. Ruskin however, does not approach his story in a “see spot run” fashion, but weaves together complex and engaging sentences even from the very start of the story. The book begins “A secluded and mountainous part of Stiria, there was, in old time, a valley of the most surprising and luxuriant fertility.” CITE That is a far cry from the traditional and simple “once upon a time” and is a much more engaging beginning. From the very beginning Ruskin draws the reader in with a luscious description to set the scene for the rest of the story. While such a complex structure may be difficult for a child to follow easily, it will teach younger readers to speak in a more refined way. On the other hand, adults will appreciate the high quality of Ruskin’s writing.
The vocabulary that Ruskin utilizes is on a par with his sentence structure. By using advanced language such as: “contrived” pg 15, “melancholy” pg 23, “disconsolately” pg 35 and “myriads” pg 49, he opens up his writing to a much broader audience. Older readers will be drawn into the story because the higher-brow vocabulary makes for a much more lively text. While younger people might struggle with some of the words, it is an opportunity for them to expand their vocabulary and become better educated.
There are three major themes that appear repeatedly in The King of the Golden River, which Ruskin uses to bring across the didactic moral of the story: alcohol, religion, and money. Each of these three different elements eventually lead to either the success or downfall of Gluck and his two brothers Hans and Schwartz. The basic message behind these themes is obvious enough from the text for children to grasp it. However, there is underlying meaning to entice and entertain an adult audience.
The reader is introduced to the monetary wealth of the three brothers on page 15 when Ruskin lays out examples of the cruelty of Schwartz and Hans and links it directly to their yearning for wealth. Though these...