The Well at the End of the World


Written by Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Rebecca Walsh

Chronicle Books, 2004

The King of Colchester was a king and just man, but not a very good ruler. Oh, he did fine dubbing knights or deciding what to have for dinner. But it was his daughter, Princess Rosamond, who really ran the kingdom.

This castle contains: A king, a queen and two very different princesses

Rosamond takes care of her father’s kingdom. The king marries a beautiful woman with a beautiful daughter and both are greedy and conniving. The king falls ill and Rosamond goes to the well at the end of the world to get healing water for him, receiving blessings along the way as she stops to help people. When she comes back richer and prettier than before, the queen sends her daughter, Zenobia, on the same journey. She, however, makes different choices along the way, and everywhere that Rosamond was blessed, Zenobia is cursed. She returns bloated and hideous. Rosamond heals her father and the queen schemes to wed Zenobia (in disguise) to Prince Egbert, from a nearby kingdom. One of Zenobia’s curses reveals her true face and the wedding is off. Rosamond and Prince Egbert become friends and then fall in love, but he’s not very good at ruling either, so she winds up running both kingdoms.

Perhaps the first recorded use of 'Talk to the hand.'

Perhaps the first recorded use of ‘Talk to the hand.’

This is a classic ‘hero’s journey’ type of story and author Robert D. San Souci gives us a very rich main character to undergo the journey, so we’re invested in her success. Rosamond is smart, good-hearted, selfless and sensible, with plain looks and no overwhelming desire to marry. Mr. San Souci has written many books that are retellings of folk and fairy tales and he includes a note in the front of this book with details about its origins. He was a story writer for Disney’s Mulan, which certainly gives him previous experience with writing a journey story for a female hero.

The artwork, from first-time picture book illustrator Rebecca Walsh, is a mixture of acrylic and watercolor. The illustrations do a wonderful job of taking us along Rosamond’s journey, particularly in the faces of the characters, which show us more than the text can provide. I particularly love the way that Ms. Walsh shows Rosamond’s physical change after visiting the well, having her become prettier but still retaining her own face and features, underscoring the message that the change just brought out what was already there. The story is complex and will take longer to read than many other picture books, but if you are looking for a story with a strong female role model, this would be a good selection.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it is who you are and what you do that defines your true beauty.


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