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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. First published in the UK in 1968, with slight edits made to subsequent printings and the US version that changed the final chapter.

Ellen Carroll awakens on her tenth birthday to find a mysterious silver crown on her pillow. Delighted with the present, she sets off for the local park to play pretend as a queen. Upon returning she finds her house has burned down and her family is gone. Frightened and alone, Ellen decides the only course of action is to make 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 kidnap 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 strange hidden 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 her silver crown, conquer the evil force within the castle, and rescue its hapless victims 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 described as "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 Girl Who Fits This Slipper: Only a wearer with a certain kind of mind can use the silver crown to control the Hieronymous Machine. Ellen, who is unaffected by the hypnotism, has that kind of mind.
  • Hat of Power: The eponymous silver crown. It allows a wearer with a certain kind of mind to control the Hieronymous Machine.
  • The Hero's Birthday: The story starts as Ellen receives a mysterious silver crown on her tenth birthday.
  • Hostile Hitchhiker: Inverted — Ellen tries to hitchhike to her aunt's house, but the driver turns out to be a murderer intent on kidnapping Ellen.
  • Hypnotize the Captive: 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, Otto turns traitor. He was wearing a belt with a buckle made of the black metal and calls in the enemies to capture them all. Ellen breaks the spell by tearing the belt off, but by then it's too late.
  • 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.
  • Law of Chromatic Superiority: The silver crown is more powerful than the black crown.
  • School for Scheming: A secret school that brainwashes children and trains them as assassins and arsonists through the magic of the Hieronymous Machine.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: The silver crown is a Hat of Power that allows Ellen to control the Heironymous Machine.
  • Tyke Bomb: The children brainwashed by the Hieronymous Machine become arsonists and assassins.