The Golden Goblet, by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, is about a young boy named Ranofer who is living as a worker in a goldsmith shop, back in ancient Egypt. He wants nothing more than to be apprenticed by a goldsmith and to become great at it, but since his parents died and his older half brother, Gebu, a stonecutter, started taking care of him, that dream was smashed to pieces. Ranofer discovers that his half brother has been stealing – from more places than one. But Ranofer is too scared to do anything about it. Ranofer soon finds out that sometimes you have to do the right thing, even if you’re scared to do it.
Just previous to the start of the book, Ranofer lived with his father, a goldsmith. Ranofer was training to be one as well, and his father often promised him that he could one day be an apprentice under Zau, a good friend of his father’s and the best goldsmith in Egypt. But Ranofer lost his father. When nobody else could take care of him, his older half-brother, Gebu, decided to take him in. Only then did Ranofer find out that Gebu was quite evil, and though he does let him work in a goldsmith shop, Ranofer is not allowed to become better because all he is permitted to do it pour molten gold into the molds and nothing else.
One of Gebu’s friends, Ibni, works with Ranofer. But his wife often makes wine, and Ibni gives Ranofer a flask of wine to give to his half-brother about every week or so. But often times Ranofer finds Gebu pouring the wine out on the ground outside carelessly – even purposefully.
Soon, the owner of the goldsmith says that somebody has been stealing gold. Not a lot, just a little at a time. Ranofer makes a friend, Heqet, and they both wonder who was stealing the gold. Ranofer remembers the wine flask, and how Gebu always seems very happy to get it, even though he never drinks a drop of it. He realizes that it would be very easy to slip small lumps of gold into the opening when nobody is looking. Ranofer tells Heqet of this, and they both think that it is the most likely option.
Ranofer feels very confident, and confronts Gebu, saying that he knows his secret and can tell the authorities at any time. Gebu says that who will the authorities believe, a petty worker in the goldsmith, or the head of a stonecutter shop? Ranofer gets beaten for his confidence, and he discards the idea of even going against Gebu. But he then realizes that he’s a part of the crime, too, because he takes the wine flask to Gebu. He thinks to refuse the wine flask, and does so, telling Ibni that Gebu no longer wants the wine. When he gets home, though, he is beaten for not bringing the wine. Gebu threatens to take Ranofer away from the goldsmith shop, and to put him to work in his own stonecutting shop.
Ranofer tells Heqet, and Heqet says that he will tell the goldsmith owner who has been stealing gold. Ranofer doesn’t want to, for fear that Gebu will think that Ranofer told. Heqet says that he will not even mention Ranofer’s name. Before Ranofer knows it, Ibni is gone and the gold stealing stopped.
Ranofer also befriends an old man, whom he and Heqet call the Ancient. Soon, though, Gebu makes Ranofer work in the stonecutting shop. Ranofer absolutely hates it. He has not seen Heqet in a while, either. Gebu seems to be getting richer and richer, even though a stonecutter’s wages aren’t that much. Ranofer thinks something is up, and he, Heqet, and the Ancient started meeting during lunch time and agreed to spy on Gebu and several of his suspicious friends.
Heqet is given the task of delivering an object to Zau, the master goldsmith, and he invites Ranofer to come along with him. Ranofer accepts, and he sees Zau. They talk for a while and Ranofer explains what happened to his father. Zau said that if Ranofer wished, he would apprentice him. But he could not provide food or other such things for him. Ranofer realizes that if he were to be apprenticed for Zau, there would be no doubt that Gebu would throw him out. Zau says that Ranofer has to change his life before he can be an apprentice.
One day in the stonecutter shop, Ranofer sees a plan for a tomb in the stonecutter shop. He notes a small room on the plans that seems to be useless, so he asks Gebu for what purpose it was to be used for. Gebu nearly explodes and tells Ranofer to mind his own business, which only makes Ranofer more suspicious. When Gebu is gone one night, Ranofer sneaks into Gebu’s room and finds the thing he would least expect: a golden goblet that belonged to king Tut, nearly a hundred years previous. Ranofer realizes that this goblet was stolen from the pharaoh’s tomb. In shock, he puts it back and crawls back to bed, unable to think about what had happened.
Ranofer discovers that Gebu and his friends are going to rob the tomb of the recently deceased king and queen, and that the small room was actually an entrance for Gebu to get to the rest of the tomb. Ranofer decides to keep this information to himself, and to not tell his friends and follow Gebu and catch him in the act, and maybe to get an authority when they were deep inside of the tomb. But he is discovered in the tomb by Gebu, and is chased out. Ranofer manages to but a boulder in the way of the entrance so they could not get out, and runs to get his friends. They run to the tomb to guard it while Ranofer finds help. He goes to Zau’s shop, to find that he isn’t there. With no other option, he runs to the palace, where the new queen ruled. He is caught on attempt to sneak in, and is brought to the queen.
The queen thinks he is lying, but then decides to test him. She asks him to describe an object in her parent’s tomb to see if he actually knew what he was talking about. Ranofer answered correctly, and immediately the palace guards go out and find Gebu and his friends, capturing them and sentencing them to death for the horrible crime. The queen asks Ranofer what he wishes to have – anything he wanted, for finding the criminals. Ranofer asks for a donkey, so that he might cut down papyrus and the donkey would carry it to the shop where he could sell it and make money for himself, so that he may work with Zau and become a great goldsmith. The queen grants his request with a smile, giving him the finest donkey in all of Egypt.
As you can see, even thought Ranofer was scared to confront his half brother and to bring him to justice, it was better to do the right thing. It is a very well written book, and I enjoyed it. It did get a bit complicated with the many characters coming in and out, and having to keep track of who everybody was: alive and dead.
The Golden Goblet (Newbery Library, Puffin)
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