The Farthest-Away Mountain
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|Author||Lynne Reid Banks|
Dakin is a fifteen-year-old girl, who when she was small was asked what goals she has for her life. She responds that she will travel to the Farthest Away Mountain, meet and speak to a gargoyle, and marry a prince. Everybody she tells, including her family, just laughs and tell her that it was extremely unlikely, or impossible, to do any of it. The Farthest Away Mountain is visible from their village, but no matter how long you walk towards it, you always remain the same distance away, and is covered with snow of every colour but white. Everyone knows that gargoyles are nothing but stone statues, and the only prince around is unable to marry because the Ring of Kings has been lost for a very long time, and he can't marry until it has been found. Dakin bears the laughter of her family and friends, but is only more determined than ever to reach her goals.
One morning, she wakes up early having heard someone call to her in her dreams. She looks out the window and sees the Farthest-Away Mountain nod. She takes that as a sign that the time has come to complete the three goals she set and so packs what she can before anyone else in the household wakes, and prepares to leave, taking with her a strange little bronze statue of a man sitting cross-legged. She doesn't know why she takes the statue except that it makes her feel less alone.
She begins her journey, but first she must get through the Wicked Wood, which no one has ever been able to navigate successfully. She is soon lost and begins to cry, thinking of how alone she is. She takes out the brass statue to comfort herself with, and one of the tears she is crying lands on the little man's nose and the magic of her tears wakes him up. He finds out that she is going to the Farthest Away Mountain and tries to talk her out of the journey, but when he finds out that the Mountain called to her and nodded, he realizes that she has to go, though he doesn't explain what this means. He gives her some advice - telling her to bathe in the lithe pond, whatever that is - and also warns her about the dangers of the Mountain. There is a witch, a giant, and the giant's pet monster, as well as the Master of the Mountain whom everyone is terrified of. He then tells her to follow the direction that the pine needles on the ground point and she will be able to reach the Mountain. Dakin thanks him, and he scurries off while she continues on.
She continues on her way and soon comes to a forest at the foot of the Mountain, where her white stocking cap is lost in the branches of a very tall tree. She is confused how it could have been lost so high when she was on the ground, but dismisses this and continues her journey, coming to a cottage in a clearing. The Mountain is definitely getting closer now, and though the cottage has no door, she is able to speak with someone through a window that instructs her to enter through the chimney. She climbs onto the roof, and enters as instructed, to discover that the cottage is a single room with a large lily pond in the center and a large talking frog that lives there. His was the voice she heard through the window and he tells her his name is Croak. They become friends and Dakin leaves some of her food there so that it will attract more flies for Croak, then continues on her way.
She begins to climb up the Mountain path and is surprised to discover a gargoyle guarding the path named Og. She speaks to him and he speaks back and while at first he is quite happy to bar her from the path, when she tells him she has always thought that gargoyles were more sad than they were cruel, he is overwhelmed and agrees to help her. He sends her on to his two brothers, Vog and Zog, who aid her on her way. It is Zog that reveals the truth, that it is the Witch that makes the snow different colors, because she fears the color white. He also tells her that the Witch is in fact the Master that everyone - including the giant and his pet monster - fears. He also becomes very frightened when he learns that she failed to bathe in the lithy pond - the pond that was within Croak's house.
Dakin makes her way to the snow-covered slopes on her way to the summit to confront the Witch, but becomes stuck in some magic snow. The giant's pet monster discovers her and picks her up, flying with her back down the mountain. Dakin is at first frightened, but when she sees Croak's cottage again, manages to get free from the flying monster and slide down the chimney again. She bathes in the lithe pond, and then exits the cottage and retrieves her stocking cap - the one white thing she possesses - believing it might help against the Witch.
The flying monster returns and though she believes the lithy pond must offer her protection now, she is nevertheless carried away again and this time is taken back to the giant's cave, where she is able to hide with the help of a magic blue bead that makes her invisible. She then returns to her gargoyle friends to learn the true history of the Mountain.
The Farthest Away Mountain was a place of magic and the Mountain itself was alive. It called good people to come and live upon its slopes, and for many years everyone that called was very happy and lived in peace. But more than two centuries ago, a young man living in the village Dakin had come from, had been called to the Mountain. He was a teacher and among his pupils was the son of a wicked magician whom he hoped to help and keep away from evil. So he took the magician's son with him on his journey to the Mountain. This turned out to be a grave error, for the son was also very wicked and turned everything on the mountain to his own purpose, becoming the Master of the Mountain. He turned his teacher into a frog - Croak - and every person then living on the Mountain fled from before him.
It was not until years later that the Master discovered a ring that had great power and sent his four gnome slaves (Og, Vog, Zog and their fourth brother Gog) to steal it - the Ring of Kings. The gnomes were successful, but Gog stole the ring from his brothers and refused to return with it to the Mountain, so the master sent a spell down the mountain and turned him into a bronze statue. Then the Master turned the other three in gargoyles and forced them to bar the path up to the summit of the Mountain, to protect himself.
Dakin learned all of this and decided it was up to her to stop the Master - who during the night, spent time about the Mountain in the form of the Witch. She formed a plan based on what she had heard the giant speaking about, and went to see the Witch. She told the Witch that she herself had seen the Ring of Kings sparkling at the bottom of the lithe pond and could get it for her. The Witch at first does not believe her, for the lithe pond is believed to have no bottom, but Dakin convinces her. The Witch transports them both there and Dakin confuses her further by shoving her white cap in front of the Witch's eyes, then pushing her straight into the pond. This is what Dakin had overheard the giant saying. The good magic of the lithe pond destroys the Master and the Mountain is freed.
All of the master's spells are now broken, and Dakin returns to find Gog and return the Ring to the royal family, now hoping to fulfill her third goal to marry a prince. She is appalled to find, however that the prince is rather unintelligent and dull, and decides not to marry him. She takes Gog back to the mountain to reunite him with his brothers and encounters Croak - now a handsome young man once more. They marry and become the Prince and Princess of the Mountain, completing her final goal.