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June 2001
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Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison (1952)

With luck, and perhaps the right illustrator, this could have been one of the last century's most popular children's books. Instead you might find it in its most recent incarnation (a rather sober Virago reprint) languishing on the fiction shelves in used book shops.

Halla is the northern King's baby daughter. The King remarries and the new Queen wants rid of the baby. Halla's nurse becomes a bear, and carries her off into the forest.

Halla lives with the bears, then a dragon, before returning to the human world. She speaks every language, including those of animals. She travels, first to Micklegard (Constantinople), then north again to Holmgard, near where she was born.

It is a rich and wonderful with echoes of Mitchison's best known work, The Corn King and The Spring Queen. Both novels have magical and non-magical peoples and places. As in Samuel R. Delany's Nevèrÿon series, Mitchison describes a world in flux where the old ways are being lost or left behind.

Mitchison wrote over 70 books of poetry, plays, wonderful autobiographies and novels of every kind---including science fiction such as Memoirs of a Spacewoman and Solution 3. She was always political and even here gender, religious, and national politics play their part. But mostly Travel Light is a wonderful story that will transport you into Halla's world where a basilisk might be met in the desert, heroes are taken to Valhalla by Valkyries, and a fortune might be made with a word to the right horse.

—Gavin J. Grant

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