Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Book: The Fourth Pig (Oddly Modern Fairy Tales) by Naomi Mitchison

(Amazon US/UK Links)

The Fourth Pig (Oddly Modern Fairy Tales) by Naomi Mitchison (Author), Marina Warner (Introduction) falls into the category of "everything old is new again." Newly rereleased this week in the US and UK [see The Fourth Pig (Amazon UK)], the book is a fascinating collection of writings originally published in 1936. Sometimes its easy to forget that fairy tales have always been fodder for retellings and pastiches with the media regularly clamoring about the "new" popularity of fairy tales. But in reality, the popularity is always there, it just wanes and ebbs a bit in its visibility in popular culture. I've been running SurLaLune Fairy Tales for 16 years now and I never run out of fairy tale fodder--the opposite is true and I simply don't have the bandwidth to cover it all.

So thank goodness for Princeton University Press's Oddly Modern Fairy Tales series which is reintroducing some of these mostly forgotten examples. Here's the series description:

Oddly Modern Fairy Tales is a series dedicated to publishing unusual literary fairy tales produced mainly during the first half of the twentieth century. International in scope, the series includes new translations, surprising and unexpected tales by well-known writers and artists, and uncanny stories by gifted yet neglected authors. Postmodern before their time, the tales in Oddly Modern Fairy Tales transformed the genre and still strike a chord. Jack Zipes, Series Editor.
I had actually heard of Mitchison's work but I had never seen a copy or hunted one down--I'm a trained librarian and have those skills--but that bandwidth issue again. So I am thrilled to see it reprinted in this series to make it available for a larger audience once again. It is graced with a fine introduction by the ever knowledgeable Marina Warner, helping readers understand the greater scope and context of the contents almost 80 years after it was first published. I received a review copy and enjoyed exploring the offerings within its pages.

Mitchison was not a romantic, but a social activist and politically motivated, and so the tales found within are far from sweet and may surprise readers with some of their themes. For me it is especially fun to find lesser recognized tales and ballads offered within, from Katie Crackernuts--Mitchison gives us a play of that tale--to Soria Moria Castle to The Snow Maiden. Warner considers it fitting that Mitchison is finding a new audience in the Oddly Modern series for she considers oddly modern an apt description of Mitchison's writing style.

Book description:

The Fourth Pig, originally published in 1936, is a wide-ranging and fascinating collection of fairy tales, poems, and ballads. Droll and sad, spirited and apprehensive, The Fourth Pig reflects the hopes and forebodings of its era but also resonates with those of today. It is a testament to the talents of Naomi Mitchison (1897–1999), who was an irrepressible phenomenon—a significant Scottish political activist as well as a prolific author. Mitchison’s work, exemplified by the tales in this superb new edition, is stamped with her characteristic sharp wit, magical invention, and vivid political and social consciousness.

Mitchison rewrites well-known stories such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “The Little Mermaid,” and she picks up the tune of a ballad with admiring fidelity to form, as in “Mairi MacLean and the Fairy Man.” Her experimental approach is encapsulated in the title story, which is a dark departure from “The Three Little Pigs.” And in the play Kate Crackernuts, the author dramatizes in charms and songs a struggle against the subterranean powers of fairies who abduct humans for their pleasure. Marina Warner, the celebrated scholar of fairy tales and fiction author, provides an insightful introduction that reveals why Mitchison’s writing remains significant.

The Fourth Pig is a literary rediscovery, a pleasure that will reawaken interest in a remarkable writer and personality.

"At her best, Naomi Mitchison is forthright and witty, writes with brio and passion and lucidity, and conveys a huge appetite for life, for people, for new adventures, and for breaking through barriers."--From the introduction by Marina Warner

"These stories are important--both within the literary tradition of the fairy tale, and more broadly, as fantasy stories exemplary in their imagining of real-world matters. Warner's introduction to the collection strikes just the right note. A splendid reissue."--Stephen Benson, University of East Anglia

"The Fourth Pig makes a relevant and interesting addition to the Oddly Modern Fairy Tales series. The collection embraces more than fairy tales in the strictest sense and includes playful references to Greek and Teutonic mythology as well as to Gaelic traditions. The introduction is informative and engaging."--William Gray, director of the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, University of Chichester

Table of Contents:

Introduction by Marina Warner 1
The Fourth Pig 23
Omen of the Enemy 27
Frogs and Panthers 29
The Furies Dance in New York 49
Grand-daughter 54
The Fancy Pig 61
The Snow Maiden 62
Hansel and Gretel 74
Birmingham and the Allies 90
Soria Moria Castle 93
Kate Crackernuts 115
Adventure in the Debateable Land 180
Mairi MacLean and the Fairy Man 196
The Little Mermaiden 201
Pause in the Corrida 209
Brünnhilde's Journey down the Rhine 213
The Border Loving 221
Mirk, Mirk Night 222
Further Reading 247

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