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The Glass Mountain: Twenty-Eight Ancient Polish Folktales and Fables    by W. S. Kuniczak & Pat Bargielski order for
Glass Mountain
by W. S. Kuniczak
Order:  USA  Can
Hippocrene, 1997 (1992)

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

W. S. Kuniczak created an anthology of twenty-eight Polish folk tales out of more than 6,000 collected over 150 years. Kuniczak tells us that 'Its purpose is to stir the imagination and arouse curiosity about ... the enchanting world of simple moral lessons, broad wit, sly allegory and abiding faith'. Regarding the process of fairy-tale-telling, he says that 'Folktales are the earliest literature known to man, never meant to be set down on paper ... I render them from memory with no attempt to make them literary because I know that when they are tampered with they lose all their magic.'

The title story tells of a mountain made of sheer glass. At the top, in an enchanted castle, lives a beautiful princess held in captivity by a jealous witch. Many climb the glass wonder but fail, until one day a young man devises a way to reach the top. Another tale, 'Seized By the Wind', speaks of a powerful and evil sorcerer, who casts a curse on a lad that a wind take him into the sky in a whirlwind for seven years (the reason why 'no one remembers'). Watching helplessly as events develop below him, the lad devises a plan to out-curse the sorcerer. 'The Willow Flute' tells of three sisters, the youngest being the fairest. The oldest sister kills her out of envy, and buries her under a willow tree. A lad fashions a flute from part of the tree. The flute plays one tune over and over, telling of the sister's evil deed.

I consider 'The Ruler of the World' to be the finest in Kuniczak's collection. 'When the Lord God created the world he called upon all the creatures he made to send a deputation to him ... choose a council that might rule over all of them in his name'. Each beast presented its case, including the bear, the whale, the eagle, the serpent, the wolf, and the rabbit. When all had had their say, the Lord said 'let me put one other creature over all of you. He will have neither the eye of the eagle nor the teeth and claws of the wolf ... He will be the weakest of all the creatures and the most helpless'. When the animals asked 'How will he survive past dinner time?', the Lord replied 'He'll have a brain, and the skills to use it.' To Man he said 'Rule it well and wisely. Protect the weak and restrain the strong ... if you fail to show my justice and compassion ... you will not deserve the gifts I've given you'.

Kuniczak's Glass Mountain tells of rewards for bravery and good deeds, of envy and greed, of devils, witches, and sorcerers, of a hen that lays golden eggs, of magic items that help a princess to escape. Each tale has a moral to teach. Pat Bargielski's illustrations of finely-sketched black and white figures allude to motion and drama, enriching the stories. Over the ages, generations from all cultures have basked in the light of folk tales. Kuniczak adds to them this splendid portrayal of ancient Polish fables.

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