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Literature / The Silver Crown

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All that glitters...

"It lay beside her on the pillow, shinier than silver, glowing softly, with twinkling blue stones set all around....It did not occur to her to wonder from whom it had come; she was merely aware that it was hers by right."
— Robert C. O'Brien

A novel for young adults/ children by Robert C. O'Brien, author of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Z for Zachariah. Published in 1968.

Protagonist Ellen awakens on her tenth birthday to find a silver crown on her pillow. Delighted with the present, she sets off for the local park, where she can pretend to be a queen. Upon her return, she finds her house has burned down and her family is dead. Frightened and alone, Ellen decides the only course of action is to find her way to her Aunt Sarah's home in Kentucky, which is four hundred miles of mountainous terrain away.

Opting to hitchhike, Ellen ends up in a car driven by a mysterious man who tries to kill her. Fleeing from him on foot she meets Otto, a young boy who joins her on her quest to reach Aunt Sarah's home. But their journey is fraught with peril, as they encounter a castle inhabited by evil minds and a vile force to which all who enter the castle fall prey — all, except for Ellen. It's up to Ellen to harness the power of the silver crown and conquer this force before it's too late.


The Silver Crown contains examples of:

  • Brainwashed and Crazy: The victims of the Hieronymous Machine.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: The Call not only knew where the heroine lived, it firebombed it. If she'd not opted to go on an early-morning stroll, it'd have been a rather different story.
  • Call to Adventure: The titular silver crown that shows up in Ellen's room.
  • Cool Crown: It's a gorgeous silver crown with blue gems and semi-magical powers... what's not to love?
    "And although it looked hard and solid, when she touched it she discovered that the silvery metal was actually a finely spun fabric, strong but soft as silk, so that if she wanted to, she could fold the whole crown in the palm of her hand and tuck it in her pocket."
  • Everything's Sparkly with Jewelry: The crown is apparently "shinier than silver" and full of beautiful blue gemstones.
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  • Fell Off the Back of a Truck: Many of the objects in Otto's "mother's" house really did fall off the back of a truck, as there's a sharp turn nearby that often leads to trucks driving into a ditch. Of course, if someone wasn't covering up the warning sign, it probably wouldn't happen nearly as often...
  • The Hero's Birthday: The story starts as Ellen receives a mysterious silver crown on her tenth birthday.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: Inverted - it's the driver that turns out to be a murderer intent on kidnapping Ellen.
  • Hypnotize the Princess: The black metal is being used to brainwash just about everyone, but it only applies so long as you're near the stuff. Ellen is apparently immune. She breaks into the fortress to free Otto, and manages to escape with both Otto and a new girl who's also apparently immune. But when they get back to the location where Ellen hid the silver crown, the girl turns traitor. She was wearing a belt made of the black metal, and calls in the enemies to capture them all.
  • Kid Hero: Ellen is ten years old when a magic piece of headgear shows up in her room and sets off a chain of events that include her house burning down, being stalked by a man in a dark uniform, hitchhiking to Kentucky, escaping from a murderer, and a slew of other dangerous and exciting activities. Otto is eight when he joins her on the adventure.
  • School for Scheming: A secret school that brainwashes children and trains them as assassins and arsonists through the magic of the Heironymous Machine.
  • Tyke Bomb: The children brainwashed by the Heironymous Machine become arsonists and assassins.


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