The Silver Crown

( 17 )


Ellen awakens one morning with a mysterious silver crown on the pillow beside her. What magic powers it possesses she has not yet discovered, but the sudden changes in her life are unmistakable: her house is burned down, her family has disappeared, and a man in a dark uniform is stalking her. Can Ellen ever find her family? Can she use the power of the silver crown to thwart the powers of darkness? What diabolical force hides inside the mysterious castle in the woods?

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Ellen awakens one morning with a mysterious silver crown on the pillow beside her. What magic powers it possesses she has not yet discovered, but the sudden changes in her life are unmistakable: her house is burned down, her family has disappeared, and a man in a dark uniform is stalking her. Can Ellen ever find her family? Can she use the power of the silver crown to thwart the powers of darkness? What diabolical force hides inside the mysterious castle in the woods?

Soon after waking up on her tenth birthday to find a silver crown on her pillow, Ellen's house burns down, her parents disappear, and she is launched on an adventure involving a trek through the woods, a castle full of brainwashed captives, and the powerful Hieronymus Machine which wants her crown.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
It was Ellen's tenth birthday. "She had known all along that she was a queen, and now the crown proved it." Then, inexplicably, her home burns to the ground and Ellen, with an unusual boy named Otto, begins a compelling journey to outwit the evil forces that need her magic crown. Originally published in 1968, Ellen's adventure is reminiscent of Frodo and his magic ring in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Reading it in 2001 summons up more immediate visions of darkness. Ellen's dangerous path leads to the remnants of a cult that once corrupted the teachings of an ancient religion and "lived apart, often in caves, and studied strange and mysterious things that had nothing to do with religion," evoking striking similarities to present-day terrorism. Murderous men are training an army of mind-controlled children to demolish a population. They take "Kill-The-Cop Courses," arson lessons and crafts classes that produce knives, bombs and guns. Violence, and the terrorist theme, may disturb some readers. Others, however, will discover a well-crafted, timeless fantasy that might even help them deal with "modern" evil while they savor a page-turning adventure that shares plot similarities with Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. 2001 (orig. 1968), Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, $17.00. Ages 9 to 13. Reviewer:Betty Hicks
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689841118
  • Publisher: Aladdin
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Series: Fantasy Series
  • Edition description: 1 ALADDIN
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 442,842
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

In real life, Robert C. O'Brien was Robert Leslie Conly. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, attended Williams College and graduated from the University of Rochester. He studied piano at the Eastman School of Music, and at one time considered becoming a musician. Instead, he became a writer and editor for such magazines as Newsweek and National Geographic. He lived in New York City and then in Washington, D.C., and he and his wife had one son and three daughters. His other books for young readers include the Newbery Medal winner Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which was the basis for the animated film The Secret of NIMH, and Z for Zachariah, which was completed by his wife and daughter with the help of his notes after his death in 1973.

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First Chapter

Chapter 20: The Dark Castle

Otto was gone all the next day. He returned just before dark, empty-handed except for berries, gloomy and rather preoccupied. He built a fire as usual, but only for warmth and whatever cheer it might bring. There was nothing more to cook. Their supper was a cold one; it consisted of the last few scraps of bread and some berries. They had reached the end of their food.

There was only one cheerful thing. Ellen's ankle continued to improve; she had, in fact, walked without her crutches all the way to the brook and bathed it, and herself, in the cool, dark water. She had barely made it back, however, and afterward the ankle ached quite a lot. Yet she was sure she had done it no harm. She did not tell Otto that it hurt. Her stomach, after the small meal, felt empty and uncomfortable; she was sure that Otto, having hunted all day, must be far hungrier than she. Yet he did not complain; at least, not exactly.

"When we get out of here," he said, "when we get to the highway, I hope we come out near a hamburger stand. I'm going to order six hamburgers with ketchup, rolls, onions, potato chips, and Cokes. And pie. Chocolate pie, and eat them all. I don't care if I can't pay. I'll eat them before they find out."

"I can pay. I still have more than a dollar."

"Yes, but you'll want some, too. A dollar isn't enough."

"They'll arrest you."

"I don't care. They have to feed you in jail. And you and Aunt Sarah can come and bail me out."

"If only I can find her. I hope she's there."

For some reason, thinking about Aunt Sarah made something in Ellen's mind roll back, and she suddenly remembered the dream of herfather. She described it to Otto.

"And the strange thing about it," she said, "is that I didn't feel asleep at all, and when it ended, I didn't feel as if I were waking up."

"Maybe it wasn't a real dream. It doesn't sound like a dream. Maybe it was telepathy."

"How could it be?"

"He might be still alive. I bet he is."

"He isn't alive," Ellen said. "He couldn't be. The fireman said so. Anyway, you didn't see the house."

"Then you must have seen heaven. Maybe when you put the crown on, you can see heaven."

"Heaven wouldn't be so dark." She lay down and pulled the blanket around her. "It was only a dream." With that she was asleep.

When Ellen awoke the next morning, Otto was not there. She was not particularly surprised, since there was nothing for breakfast except a small pile of berries left over from the night before. She assumed that he had awakened earlier and gone hunting, or at least gone to gather some more berries. He had told her that early morning was the best time of day for hunting.

So she ate the berries, and then, without using her crutches, walked quite easily down to the brook to get a drink of water and to wash her face. Of course she was wobbly, and she limped, but she did not hurt. After she washed, she went back to the cave and waited for an hour or so, expecting Otto any minute — she hoped with a rabbit in each hand, but at least with more berries. But he did not come. All day she waited.

By nightfall he still had not returned, and she had begun to worry. Could he have gotten lost? She could hardly believe that, knowing how easily he found his way in the woods. Had he just hunted, hungry as he was — hungry as they both were — much farther than usual, not realizing how far he had gone? If so, he should be back soon, since he could not hunt in the dark.

Suppertime came and went. She was hideously empty, and there was not so much as a green berry left. Since Otto was not there, she built the fire herself; she kept it small, because the wood supply was low. It would be easy enough to build it bigger if he came back with some game. She felt thoroughly miserable, a little frightened, but most of all worried about Otto himself. For a dreadful suspicion had begun to work its way through her mind.

Eventually she fell asleep, and into her sleep crept a repeating nightmare that woke her up trembling each time she dreamed it. Each time she woke she looked through the dim firelight at Otto's blanket, and each time it was still empty.

In her nightmare Otto was lost, not in the woods but wandering in an endless maze of dark corridors of stone, inside the black castle. He could not get out, for all the doors were locked. At the end of each dream he turned a corner, and there before him stood a tall figure in black, wearing a green mask. And it was Otto's voice, calling for help, that woke her up.

In the morning Ellen knew that the time had come to stop worrying and start thinking. She was sure now that Otto was not coming back, and she was quite sure she knew why. She went over in her mind some of the things he had said when they talked about the castle, or prison, or whatever it was. "I could get in," he had said, and, "Wire fences are easy to climb." And then almost immediately he had talked about food. Ellen could put two and two together. She realized of course, that she might be wrong.

Assuming that she was right — then what? She could not stay here; she would starve. But could she walk well enough to leave? She tried a few steps and decided that she could. She should be able to make a few miles each day, at least. She wondered how long a person could keep walking without food — or without any food but berries.

Having thought this far, the next question was: Where should she go?

Finally, she worked out a plan; and having decided what to do, she wasted no time starting. She was terribly hungry, and at least she could eat some berries along the way.

She packed her rucksack with her own things and discovered — since there was no food to pack — that she had room for Otto's blanket, too, so she put that in just in case. She was careful to take all the matches; there were not many left, and she filled the water bottle from the brook. When everything was ready, she put the rucksack on and climbed up the first ledge, then the second, and walked toward the front door.

But just before she reached it she stopped, as if she had remembered something. She looked around her, considering. Then she walked over to one side of the cave, in the shadow, studying the ground. She dug the toe of her shoe into a gravelly part of the floor, pushing the gravel to one side, still thinking. She slipped off the rucksack, knelt down, opened it, and took out the crown. Using her fingers and then, when the hard stones tore her nails, a knife from her rucksack to help, she dug a hole six inches deep. She folded the crown into the smallest possible shape, placed it at the bottom of the hole, and buried it. She smoothed the gravel carefully over the top, so the hole became instantly invisible. Then she took the knife and on the wall directly over the crown she scratched a small "X" to mark the spot.

Outside the front door of the cave she saw the rocks where Otto had climbed in and out of the crevasse. They were not so formidable as she had feared; it was rather like climbing the steps of a pyramid — you could take them one at a time. Depending more on her knees than her feet, she scrambled to the top easily enough and found herself in the silent, birdless forest.

But the rest of the way was like a bad dream, and got steadily worse. Within a half mile she knew that her ankle was not nearly as strong as she had thought. Perhaps part of the trouble was the extra weight of the rucksack. Her limp deteriorated into a painful hobble, and she had to stop and rest, leaning against a tree, after every few steps. Still she kept going, a few yards at a time, and she did find some berries and ate them.

The rain came on not as a storm but as a slow, chill, foggy drizzle that ran down her neck, soaked her shoes, and made her slacks stick wetly to her legs. It turned the ground slippery underfoot, slowing her progress still further. Worst of all, it hid the sun, which she needed to guide her. In order to keep from getting completely lost, she had to stay near the edge of the crevasse, forcing her way through thickets rather than detouring around them. By noon she felt close to despair; she wanted to give up and go back to the cave. There at least she would be dry; she could sit before the fire and get warm. But if she did that, if she gave up, she would starve. She went on.

By midafternoon she could walk no farther. She slumped down on a fallen log under a huge oak tree, hoping that its branches would keep off at least some of the rain. Her hair hung lank and wet around her temples; her clothing dripped, and after she had sat still for a few minutes she began to shiver. The only warm part of her was her lame ankle, which throbbed and ached and burned.

She should, she knew, build a fire. But how build a fire when every leaf, every twig was soaked and soggy? Then another thought came to her. If she could not light a fire, she might at least make a shelter from the rain: She had two blankets; she would make a tent of one and roll up under it in the other.

She remembered how she and David, when they lived in the country, had made blanket tents. The easiest way was to find a long, low tree limb parallel to the ground, hang the blanket over it, and put a stone on each corner.

So, after a minute or two, she got painfully to her feet and started around the big bole of the oak tree to see if, by luck, it had such a branch. And then she discovered, to her relief, that she did not need to make a tent after all. Halfway around the tree she found that the trunk, as big as a dining room table, was hollow — or at least more than half hollow. An opening like a wide door led into it, and the floor inside was deep with brown oak leaves. She stepped in and felt the dry warmth of the tree enclose her like an embrace.

She spread one blanket, folded double, over the leaves. Then she pulled off her wet slacks, shirt, shoes, and socks and spread them beside it to dry. She rolled herself in the other blanket and lay down. In ninety seconds she was asleep.

When she awoke it was still light enough to see, though just barely, and she heard a small rustling in the leaves near the entrance to the hollow. She lay still, moving only her eyes to look. It was a chipmunk, a gay little animal hardly bigger than a mouse, striped brown and white and black. He, too, had come in out of the rain. He sat up on his back legs like a squirrel and nibbled something he held in his forepaws. It looked like a piece of bread. Bread? In the forest? How could it be? Then, as Ellen watched, the chipmunk finished the bit he was eating, darted out the door, and came back in a minute with a bigger piece — a mushroom.

Ellen rolled over so she could see better. The leaves rustled under her. The chipmunk looked at her, made a tentative hop toward the door, and waited, watching her. He did not want to go back out in the rain unless he had to. Ellen moved again, slowly. The chipmunk stayed where he was. Gradually she inched herself to where she could see out the door; the chipmunk, quite calmly, began to eat again. Obviously this big, sluggish creature was not going to hurt him.

Through the door Ellen could now see where he had found his meal. Back perhaps thirty feet stood a broken off tree trunk, a tall, jagged stump. And out of it, sides and top, grew a small forest of the white, crescent-shaped mushrooms. What had her father said, long ago? "The white ones that grow on stumps are..." She could not remember. But they were, he had said, good to eat. How to be sure these were the same? She pulled her blanket around her, stepping softly, skirting the chipmunk, and walked barefoot into the rain.

They looked the same. She broke off a crumb and tasted it..."oyster"...That was the name — "oyster mushrooms." They had a faint oysterish taste, but they were really more like meat, or like meat and bread mixed. She broke off another piece. It was delicious. She knew that some mushrooms tasted all right but were nonetheless poisonous. Still, the chipmunk was eating them. Could they poison people and not chipmunks? She doubted it. She picked a double handful and took them back to the hollow. As night fell, she ate them all, and went back to sleep feeling warm, full, and reasonably content.

The next day her walking improved, and so did the weather. Though it stayed cloudy and chilly, the rain stopped, and the ground dried out underfoot. She limped along quite nimbly all morning, though without the sun to guide her she still had to stay within sight of the crevasse. She had taken with her enough mushrooms to last the day — in fact, she had taken them all, except a few she left for the chipmunk.

Early in the afternoon, something began happening to the crevasse. With each few hundred feet she progressed, it grew narrower, until, except for her ankle, she could easily have jumped across. She went to the edge, lay down, and peered into it. As far as she could tell, it was still as deep as ever, and she was quite sure she could see the brook still running below, now covering the whole bottom.

She walked on, keeping closer than ever to the edge, since now she could scarcely see it at all. And then it disappeared entirely. The edges simply met, like the end of a long piece of pie; and from there on, the trees grew right across it. She walked back to the last bit where a crack was still visible and stared down again. She could see nothing but blackness. The brook continued somewhere down there in a tunnel of its own. But she had lost her guideline.

For the next few hundred yards or so she could continue in the direction the crevasse had been running. After that, when it was out of sight for good, there would be no way to tell which way she was going. People who walk in the woods with nothing to guide them, she had read, always ended up walking in great circles, getting nowhere.

But as it turned out she need not have worried. For she had hardly gone out of sight of the crevasse when she came, abruptly, to the end of her journey.

The castle rose before her like a black thundercloud. There was the high fence, just as Otto had described it, enclosing a grassy courtyard as big as a village. Through it, crisscrossing it like a gridiron, ran the strange black paths, shiny as wet asphalt, but curiously metallic in appearance. And just as Ellen arrived, a group of people came walking down one of them, heading toward her.

As they came closer, she saw that they were all boys, dressed in black. There were perhaps fifty of them, marching four abreast, not in step but in a sort of pathetic, shuffling disorder. They were all very careful to stay on the path, however.

Then, as they came directly in front of her and the column began to turn to her right, she saw that the boy nearest her in the second row was Otto. As he turned, his eyes looked directly into hers, but they were as blank as the eyes of a sheep.

Text copyright © 1968 by Robert C. O'Brien

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 17 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2007


    I'm having to write a report about a book and I choose The Silver Crown. Great job O'Brien, huge fan.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2007

    the best!

    my teacher read this to us in fifth grade and it was just awesome. i would recommend it to anyone who is at that reading level or if you like fantasy-type books. it remains a favorite of mine to this day!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2006

    I loved this book

    I love the silver crown. It was a little scary with all the dead talk but that made it hard to puyt down. This book is one of my favortie books. Robert has very detail stories and always gets a picture in your head. I hope you read this book. The next book Im reading of his is Mrs Frisby and the rats opf Nhim. Hope you will read them all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2010

    Nice book

    Read it when i was in P6. I was reading from the start as it was 1 of the story books in the reading programms. When i saw the cover, i thought that it was a boring book. But as i started to read it it was really interesting. Conclusion. READ IT ! Its nice.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2010


    this is a really bad book!!! in the first chapter, the girls family dies, there are several murders comitted, and she gets kidnapped!!! DON'T READ!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2008

    I started to like Fantasy and Fiction after this book!

    I read this book last year for my book report it is one of the best books i ever read in my whole life! If you don't like fantasy then give this book a try, right after this book i started to read more Fantasy books! READ THIS BOOK!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2005


    This was a wonderfully written story which will captivate many young minds. This story includes bravery, honesty, and integrity.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2003

    this book was awesome!~!~!

    this book was so thrilling and adventurous!!! i definitely recomend this book to anyone who wants a twist of fantasy, adventure, and danger in one book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2003

    MY TOP BOOK!!!!

    Well I hated reading untill this book it was exiting and thrilling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2003

    Great book with a great twist!

    This book is awesome! It is one of the greater adventure books out there. Do you want a real adventure? Do you want action? Do you want suspense and fear? Do you want fantasy? If so, this book is for you! Every page is grand and makes you cling to the pages begging for more. The ending is suprising and no one in their right mind would have been able to guess it. Fantasitc suprises and suspense is what this book is all about. I highly reccomend you read it today!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2003

    This one has stayed in my mind

    I read this book in grade school about a dozen times. I loved it and still remember it although it has been 25 years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    This book is thrilling..... much like lord of the rings and harry potter.

    This book is so exciting, much like the movies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2002

    Definitely one to remember

    I read this book as a child and have often remembered the adventures of Ellen and her crown; how I couldn't put the book down and cried when it was over. Recently, someone asked me to name the top 5 books that I've ever read and this book was #2. That says a lot considering I'm about to turn 34!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2008

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2011

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