My thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
I’ve been enjoying exploring Pushkin Press’ children’s titles from different parts of the world which has led me to discover several enjoyable titles, and which would have thrilled me even more had I had a chance to read them as a child.
The King of the Copper Mountains by Paul Biegel is another from this list. Originally published in Dutch in 1964, this fairy tale/fantasy story has been translated into English by the author and Gillian Hume.
In this book we meet Mansolain, the King of the Copper Mountains who lives in a castle full of copper corridors and rooms. King Mansolain has been ruling for a thousand years over the animals and dwarves. He now has a long white beard which falls to his toes and lives in his castle with his only attendant, a hare, who sleeps on his beard. One day Mansolain develops a cough, and the Wonder Doctor who is sent for finds he has an irregular heartbeat, something that will lead to his death unless a potion is brewed from the Golden Speedwell. The Wonder Doctor sets off in search of the Golden Speedwell but says the only way the King will make it till he can prepare the potion is if he is told a new story every day which will delight his heart and cause it to beat regularly for a bit. The doctor promises to send someone with a story everyday.
From then on, every evening an animal knocks at the castle door, bring with them a new story to help the King. These are either their own adventures or the stories of those they know of. From a wolf who must face a witch to a beetle who dreams of living in a beautiful flower, a horse with golden shoes, a three-headed dragon who is captured, and even a dwarf who tells of the kingdom from which he comes, the King and also us readers are treated to an assortment of stories. All who come are given room to stay in the castle and whether lion or dragon, once there, no one causes any other any harm. Alongside we also explore different rooms in the castle (including one that is full of books and stories) with the King and also follow the Wonder Doctor on his arduous journey to secure the Golden Speedwell.
This was as it sounds a very charming book that in its format reminded me of the Arabian Nights for here too, the stories help preserve someone’s life, though in this case it is the king (the hearer and not the teller). I enjoyed all of the stories that the animals tell. Not all of them are ‘happy’ or light, reflecting for instance on the futility of longing for what we don’t have but failing to appreciate what is around us. My favourites would have to be the story of the Woe wolf and his encounter with the Echo witch, the squirrel’s story, also that of the three-headed dragon and the one of how the King came to rule in the first place.
I also loved the atmosphere in the castle where everyone has a corner for themselves, and everyone can live in perfect security with no one causing the other any harm. Idyllic perhaps but a lovely thought, especially since it was for animals.
The book also has lovely illustrations by Sally Collins accompanying each story.
A sweet and lovely read.
9 thoughts on “Book Review: The King of the Copper Mountains by Paul Biegel”
I’ve not read any of Pushkin Press’ children’s books but this does sound completely charming! They’re a great publisher.
I’ve read the Blue Door books by Pamela Brown (except the last which I still have waiting), a Hungarian title, the Duck Princess, and some Dutch titles by Tonke Dragt. I love their children’s list, the mysteries and classics–pretty much all their catalogue
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Terrific review, Mallika. Living in the Castle on Copper Mountain sounds Idyllic.
Thank you Wendy, It is indeed–a dream place where everyone lives together peacefully
I seem to remember wanting to read this (probably in the 60s when must have first been translated) but never coming across a copy. Good to know it’s back in print! Thank you for this great overview!
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Hope you get a chance to read it soon; it was a delightful book