Travel Light

Naomi Mitchison  - published August 2005

978-1-931520-14-0, trade paper · 978-1-61873-006-0, ebook

Read an interview with Naomi Mitchison from April 1989.

Read the new Introduction.

Read the first two chapters.

Travel Light is a short, fabulous book that transports readers from a cave in the forest to a dragon’s lair to the wonders of early Constantinople. It is dense yet light, happy, deep, sad, amazing, and short enough that once it’s read all at once you’ll have time to read it again.

The second novel in our Peapod Classics reprint line is Travel Light, the tale of a marvelous journey by the late Naomi Mitchison. We’ve been fans of both the author and this novel for years — although we never got to meet her. Back in June 2001 (long before this reprint line was ever imagined) Gavin J. Grant wrote a short piece for F&SF on Travel Light:

“… 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.”

Reviews:

Travel Light is the story of Halla, a girl born to a king but cast out onto the hills to die. She lives among bears; she lives among dragons. But the time of dragons is passing, and Odin All-Father offers Halla a choice: Will she stay dragonish and hoard wealth and possessions, or will she travel light?”
—Amal El-Mohtar, NPR, You Must Read This

“A 78-year-old friend staying at my house picked up Travel Light, and a few hours later she said, ‘Oh, I wish I’d known there were books like this when I was younger!’ So, read it now—think of all those wasted years!”
—Ursula K. Le Guin, author of A Wizard of Earthsea

“The enchantments of Travel Light contain more truth, more straight talking, a grittier, harder-edged view of the world than any of the mundane descriptions of daily life you will find in … science fiction stories.”
— Paul Kincaid, SF Site

“A gem of a book.”
— Strange Horizons

“Every page is full of magic and wonder….well worth seeking out.”— Rambles

“Combines the best of Rowling and Pullman, being full of magic and fantasy with the hard edge of reality sharp at its edges.”
— The New Review/LauraHird.com

— Genevieve Valentine

“Disarmingly familiar, like a memory only half-recalled. You will love this book.”
— Holly Black (Valiant, The Spiderwick Chronicles)

Praise for Naomi Mitchison:

“No one knows better how to spin a fairy tale than Naomi Mitchison.” — The Observer

“Mitchison breathes life into such perennial themes as courage, forgiveness, the search for meaning, and self-sacrifice.”—Publishers Weekly

“She writes enviably, with the kind of casual precision which … comes by grace.” — Times Literary Supplement

“One of the great subversive thinkers and peaceable transgressors of the twentieth century…. We are just catching up to this wise, complex, lucid mind that has for ninety-seven years been a generation or two ahead of her time.” — Ursula K. Le Guin, author of Gifts

“Her descriptions of ritual and magic are superb; no less lovely are her accounts of simple, natural things — water-crowfoot flowers, marigolds, and bright-spotted fish. To read her is like looking down into deep warm water, through which the smallest pebble and the most radiant weed shine and are seen most clearly; for her writing is very intimate, almost as a diary, or an autobiography is intimate, and yet it is free from all pose, all straining after effect; she is telling a story so that all may understand, yet it has the still profundity of a nursery rhyme.”
— Hugh Gordon Proteus, New Statesman and Nation

Publication history

First published in the UK by Faber and Faber in 1952.

Reprinted: Virago Press, 1985; Penguin, 1987.

About the Author:

Naomi Mitchison, author of over 70 books, died in 1999 at the age of 101. She was born in and lived in Scotland but traveled widely throughout the world. In the 1960s she was adopted as adviser and mother of the Bakgatla tribe in Botswana. Her books include historical fiction, science fiction, poetry, autobiography, and nonfiction, the most popular of which are The Corn King and the Spring Queen, The Conquered, and Memoirs of a Spacewoman.

Read the New York Times obituary – including this hilarious correction: “An obituary on Saturday about Naomi Mitchison, the British writer and early feminist, misspelled the surname of the Labor Party leader at whom she once threw a half-plucked partridge. He was Hugh Gaitskell, not Gaitskill.”

A little more on Mitchison (This is somewhat dated as it first ran in Avenue Victor Hugo Bookshop’s Annotated Browser newsletter):

Naomi Mitchison was born in Scotland in 1897 and died at the age of 101 in 1999. In the USA she isn’t too well known, but I recommend her, even if you have to search for some of her books. Judging by the number of times it’s been brought back into print, the most popular of her historical novels is The Corn King and the Spring Queen. Soho Press have put it out under their Hera Series which includes novels by Cecilia Holland and Gillian Bradshaw.

If historical fiction isn’t your thing, don’t turn up your nose quite yet, she also wrote science fiction (Solution 3, [Feminist Press], Memoirs of a Spacewoman), some of the most enjoyable autobiographies I’ve ever read (You May Well Ask, Small Talk), children’s books (including the wonderful Travel Light), plays (with Lewis Gielgud), poetry, essays, short stories, and biographies; over 70 books in all.

Mitchison was born in Scotland because her mother wanted a woman to attend her at the birth which was difficult to find outside Edinburgh. Despite her proto-feminist leanings her mother never managed to get beyond her Tory beliefs and it wasn’t until Mitchison was older that she realized that she shared her deep Socialist views with her father. Socialism has a long and respectable history in Scotland and does not carry the same negative connotations that the media and populace seem to fear in the USA.

From an early age Mitchison seems to have been very self aware. Excerpts from her early diaries in The Nine Lives of Naomi Mitchison (Virago, 1997) by Jenni Calder and in her own autobiography show her as a learned companion to her older brothers as they study science and try to keep up with their father’s work. Her family lived well. Her father, J.S. Haldane, was a respected scientist and her uncle, Richard Haldane, a cabinet minister during World War I. She lived variously in Scotland and England until moving back to Scotland in 1937 with her husband, the politician Dick Mitchison. She was politically active all her adult life and came to the USA in the 1930s to see how the working class, poor and minorities were faring. She also was well-connected in the arts and political world and put her time into campaigning in support of her beliefs. She believed in sexual freedom, women’s rights and social justice. She was successful enough in her own lifetime to be consistently published but despite that and her family, money problems plagued her well past the usual retirement age.

 

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