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 The Polish fairy tale ``The Glass Mountain'' appeared in Lang's The Yellow Fairy Book (1894) and more recently was given a mordant urban twist by Donald Barthelme in a short 1970 piece (same title). Here, Wolf (author of works on Bluebeard and Dracula) uses the traditional form to write about unhappy royal families and father/daughter incest. Two princes, Fat Klaus and Harelip Fritz, are alone atop a desolate tower, the last exhausted rivals for the beautiful Princess Amalasuntha, prisoner (or ex-prisoner?) of the Glass Mountain. Both men have survived handsome, dashing brothers who treated them with contempt during the long quest for the Princess. Nor were their widowed mothers much better. All Klaus got from his was hand-embroidered handkerchiefs, while Fritz's gave all her love to her vast bird collection. As for Amalasuntha, at 14 she allowed her father to become her lover; the relationship ended when the Witch of the Wood urged the King to give his daughter up ``to all other men.'' So he had the Glass Mountain built, and hundreds of suitors died trying to retrieve Amalasuntha from its peak. The stories of Klaus, Fritz, and the Princess twine like serpents as the questions multiply. Is Fritz's claim that he has already rescued Amalasuntha a lie? How come Klaus knows Fritz's story by heart? Could the two men be different parts of one misshapen whole, as the ending (still on that tower) suggests? What the reader sees is less fusion than confusion. Wolf's ease with the genre (which allows us to savor his crisp reenactment of stock fairy-tale scenes) falls short of an ability to integrate its ancient symbols with the angst of his alienated royals.

Pub Date: Dec. 17th, 1993
ISBN: 0-87951-498-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993


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