In the fairy tale, a king driven mad by grief over the loss of his wife becomes fixated on his daughter. Not only is he obsessed with preserving her happiness at all costs, but he also rages against the passage of time and its ultimate effects on his beloved child. Time, after all, is the only enemy he can’t defeat, the only country he can’t conquer.
To protect her from the fate of being subject to time, he takes some dwarfs up on their offer of a crystal casket made of the finest spider silk, with a seal so tight time can’t penetrate it. The princess is placed in the casket, allowed to come out only for brief moments. The king’s desire for power and control eventually dooms the kingdom, as all manner of sins are used to justify the preservation of one girl’s endless, perfect youth.
As Sigurn and her friends try to understand the connection between the story of Obsidiana and their own situation, they start to see an entire world cursed by the sin of greed. Only if they work with others in the spirit of generosity and cooperation, they learn, will the world right itself.
I loved this book so much — it is a cerebral tale, well told and unabashedly philosophical. It is dark, funny and grim. So grim that I fear it will not be for everyone. Mad kings, after all, have a tendency not only to wage endless wars, but also to heap untold sorrows and horrors and pain on their subjects. So it goes in “The Casket of Time.”
But despite the beheadings, the grave-robbing, the people casually thrown to the lions, the central message of the book is clear, and it’s welcome. Greed hurts us; power ruins us; and time has never been our enemy. Indeed, Magnason reminds us, as long as our tendency toward self-destruction doesn’t get in the way, time is the earth’s, and humanity’s, greatest healer.