When twenty-nine rubies go missing from the Royal Treasury, the chief guard is accused. But did he do it?
Gawain the goose is the chief guard of the Royal Treasury. Wearing his red and gold uniform and carrying a dangerous halberd, he paces back and forth in front of the treasury's door, occasionaly stopping to be photographed by tourists. Once a day Gawain has to enter the treasury and check that all is in order. Imagine his shock when he discovers that twenty-nine rubies, amongst other royal treasures, have gone missing. He immediately reports this finding to King Basil the bear. The king tries to calm the frantic Gawain down, but soon becomes suspicious. When the Prime Minister, Adrian the cat, is asked for advice on the matter, he all but accuses Gawain of the crime. The poor goose in swiftly thrown into the tower and then brought to trial, at which he escapes, flying away, refusing to be found guilty for the crime. He never stops claiming his innocence.
Who could be the real thief? It's soon revealed to be Derek the mouse. He found a chink in the treasury door and was mesmerised by the treasures held within. At first he took only a few rubies, but quickly became addicted, decorating his humble home and making it look like a royal palace. Having these jewels made the mouse feel important. He walked the town's streets with a proud gait. But when he finds out that his best friend Gawain has been accused and found guilty of the theft, he doesn't know what to do. Misery and suffering set in until all is resolved by a humble confession.
The Real Thief (1973) by American illustrator and writer William Steig is a perfect gem of a story that deals with themes of guilt, redemption, the importance of honesty and how lies can destroy whole communities. The novel has a wonderful psychological truth as we learn of Derek's subtle weaknesses – his need to make himself feel important through the acquisition of the jewels – and how such treasures come close to ruining his life. Derek must be one of the few criminals in literature that evokes a real fondness in the reader. It's impossible not to feel pity for the mouse as someone who is not bad at heart, but has lost their way.
A story that teaches valuable lessons about the importance of finding self worth not through riches but by maintaining personal integrity and how lies can destroy the soul.
The Real Thief, by William Steig. Published by Pushkin Children's. ISBN: 9781782691457 RRP $19.99
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