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A boy named Mossy hears tell of a golden key that can be found at the end of the rainbow. One evening at sunset, he crosses into fairyland and finds that keyonly to become involved in a much longer quest, to find the lock that it opens. A girl named Tangle runs away from her sad home and is adopted by a fairy grandmother, who is served by feathered fish that swim through the air. Years pass in moments, characters age backwards and forwards, and a young couplenow together, now separateseeks out the meaning of the mysteries that gather around themtime, love, life, death…
But beware of putting too fine an interpretation on it!
The Sunburst edition of this slender book by the author of The Princess and the Goblin comes with atmospheric illustrations by Maurice Sendak and an afterword by W. H. Auden, which cautions: To hunt for symbols in a fairy tale is absolutely fatal. In The Golden Key, for example, any attempt to interpret the Grandmother or the air-fish or the Old Man of the Sea is futile: they mean what they are. The way, the only way to read a fairy tale is the same as that prescribed for Tangle at one stage of her journeyand then Auden quotes the part of the story where the Old Man of the Earth opens a trapdoor which goes down into darkness, and says, You must throw yourself in. There is no other way.
I hope you will spare an hour or so to throw yourself into this original fairy story. It reminded me vaguely of Saint-Exuperys The Little Prince (which Im still not sure I like) and again, it reminded me of Tolkiens Smith of Wootton Major (which I deeply, deeply love). Obviously I still have a lot of thinking to do over this fascinating, moving story! For what MacDonald lacks as a writer, in terms of turning just the right phrase or putting together just the right paragraph, he more than makes up in creating images that will haunt your imagination far beyond the brief time it takes to read them.