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Literature / While The Clock Chimes

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While the Clock Chimes (Russian: Пока бьют часы, Poka b'yut chasy) is a 1967 fairy tale by Sofia Prokofieva. It is set in a kingdom where all the royals and nobles wear magical caps that make them invisible, because they are so gorgeous that anyone who sees them will get blinded. The identity of an invisible can be determined by the smell of their perfume; for that purpose, a special Smell Keeper is entrusted with the perfume cupboard.

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However, the kingdom is getting poor, so the king hatches a plan to invade the neighboring country, and for that, he needs more caps to give to the army. For the caps, in turn, he needs a) the invisibility elixir b) a special sort of fabric. The first matter can be dealt with since Tseblion the Smell Keeper can brew the elixir, but the fabric can only be weaved by two brother weavers who refuse to do it, since they know it will be used to start a war.

Meanwhile, the weavers' little sister Tatti comes to the town, and by sheer ill luck, she is caught by the palace guards and ordered to wash the already existent caps that have gotten quite dirty and started to lose their magical properties. That’s when the whole mess really begins.

A loose film adaptation was released in 1975, combining elements from this book and A Girl Named Glazastik.

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While the Clock Chimes provides examples of:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Downplayed with Tseblion, who doesn't die but becomes broken, pathetic and near-insane. It's said in the last chapter that he has become a wandering beggar and survives thanks to people's kindness.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Practically everyone who wears an invisibility cap fits this.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The royal family and the nobles. Subverted in the end as they turn out to be hideous.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Tatti’s brothers are very protective of her.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Tseblion is an unscrupulous Manipulative Bastard, but everything he does is a means to secure his beloved son’s future.
  • Fake Aristocrat: Tatti pretends to be the princess after stealing the latter’s cap. She adorns herself with lilies-of-the-valley (the smell of the princess’s perfume) to avoid detection, but she’s still bad at mimicking the necessary manners and gets found out rather quickly.
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  • I Have Your Wife: The weavers agree to weave the fabric for the caps after the king tells them their sister is imprisoned.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Invisibility caps, to be exact. They function wonderfully, except when they are dirty or wet.
  • Karma Houdini: Tseblionok runs away with an invisible cap and fifty gold pieces, leaving his father alone, heartbroken and impoverished.
  • Meaningful Rename: Tatti plans to ask her brothers to think up a prettier name for Brush, especially since after the former invisibles run away he is no longer a cleaning boy.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Brush, who is black, is bullied by everyone in the palace for his race.
  • Puppy Love: Hints of it with Brush and Tatti.
  • Stupid Evil: The Minister of War and the Minister of Clean Linen. Why the king even keeps them around is a mystery.
  • Tragic Villain: Tseblion ends up like this. The king never intended to reward him, his own dearly beloved son takes all his money and callously leaves him, and it ultimately leads to his Sanity Slippage.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Tseblionok doesn’t appreciate his father’s efforts for his sake in the slightest.
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