By the time I picked this book up, I’d almost overdosed on myths and traditional stories and fairy tales, but wanted to take a look at The Kingdom Under the Sea by Joan Aiken and with illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski. I could skim it.
That’s what I thought. It only took me a little of the first story to be hooked. That’s the thing with Joan Aiken. She didn’t do things the way others do them.
To begin with, none of these stories were of the same old, same old kind. Nothing wrong with well known tales, but new (to me) traditional ones are more refreshing. They are all in the same vein that I remember from my childhood collections, but new and very well told.
It’s always the youngest son or the prettiest but poorest girl who are true and good. Why this is so I have no idea. There is a wonderful tale about a poor knight and his many animals. That story didn’t go in the expected direction, and was so much better for it.
Perhaps there is too much killing, even when done by the good characters, but it sort of belongs in this type of literature. (Witches don’t absolutely have to be bad…)
And as if Joan Aiken’s stories weren’t enough, we get beautiful illustrations by Jan Pieńkowski. Many of them are black silhouette ones, which somehow make more of an impact than a colourful and detailed ordinary picture would. You can see the warty, crooked nose of the witch so much better. (Ahem.)
This is the second recent reissued collection by Joan and Jan, and I adore these books. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to go shopping again. This is perfect Christmas present stuff.