Travel Light

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Overview


"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

From the dark ages to modern times, from the dragons of medieval forests to Constantinople, this is...

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Travel Light

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Overview


"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

From the dark ages to modern times, from the dragons of medieval forests to Constantinople, this is a fantastic and philosophical fairy-tale journey that will appeal to fans of Harry Potter, Diana Wynne Jones, and T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone.

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

"Read it now."—Ursula K. Le Guin

"You will love this book."—Holly Black

"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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781931520140
  • Publisher: Small Beer Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2005
  • Series: Peapod Classics Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 363,403
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet 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.
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Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1
The Bears

Travel LightIt is said that when the new Queen saw the old Queen’s baby daughter, she told the King that the brat must be got rid of at once. And the King, who by now had almost forgotten the old Queen and had scarcely looked at the baby, agreed and thought no more about it. And that would have been the end of that baby girl, but that her nurse, Matulli, came to hear of it. Now this nurse was from Finmark, and, like many another from thereabouts, was apt to take on the shape of an animal from time to time. So she turned herself into a black bear then and there and picked up the baby in her mouth, blanket and all, and growled her way out of the Bower at the back of the King’s hall, and padded out through the light spring snow that had melted already near the hall, and through the birch woods and the pine woods into the deep dark woods where the rest of the bears were waking up from their winter sleep.

Now when anyone changes into a bear, it is bearish they become, and the nurse Matulli was the same. Little Halla crawled around with the bear cubs, and many a knock she got from hard claws and many a lick from rough tongues. She learnt to fight the other cubs, and, having the use of her hands, she would get her own back from time to time, pulling ears and scrambling on to black backs, and sometimes she wondered when her claws would grow. She got to know the thought and language of the bears. It was a language that did what it wanted to do well enough, so that there were many ways of showing the difference between one taste and another, the taste of crunched mice, the taste of many different berries and roots and the taste of honey either on the front, back, or sides of the tongue. It did the same for smells, and the forest was always speaking in smells to the bears. It did much for hearing and something for sight, but there was no way, for instance, to think about clouds or the flying of eagles, because the bears did not look up into the sky. And if anyone had wanted to explain to the bears about Halla and her stepmother, they would just not have been able to do it at all.

There were plenty of other wild beasts in the woods, wolves and foxes and martens, reindeer and elks and roe deer and hares. But most of them kept clear of the bears. In summer the woods were full of tangles and hollows and mosses, scented with crushed ferns, rich earth scooped for sweet shoots and young mushrooms, birds’ nests full of warm eggs, and the thick friendly fur of bears. Matulli-bear looked after Halla-baby as well as any bear can be expected to look after any baby. Halla had plenty to eat, a long tongue to wash her and a warm bear to cuddle against all night. But Matulli was a fine figure of a she-bear and the he-bears all wanted her to keep house for them. It came on for winter, and behind rocks and under fallen fir trees were deep and cozy dens waiting for Matulli and her bear husband. The nights got longer and colder and every morning Matulli found it harder and harder to wake up. But Halla woke and fidgeted and pulled Matulli’s whiskers and wanted her breakfast. And it came back to Matulli that one of the queer things about human beings was that they did not sensibly sleep all winter, but instead went to a great deal of trouble to cut fuel and shear sheep and weave blankets and thick cloaks and make themselves hot soup. And Halla, in spite of her excellent upbringing, was going to take after the rest of them. What was a poor bear to do?

And then a very fortunate thing happened. Matulli and her bear husband were walking through the woods, looking for the last of the wild bees’ honey or a late fledgling from a nest, and Matulli’s husband was grumbling away to himself because he could feel that the snow was not far off and it was time to go home to the den and sleep and sleep. But Halla was running around like a crazy butterfly and clearly had no intention of sleeping. Sometimes the he-bear thought it would be both nice and sensible to eat Halla, but he did not dare because of Matulli.

And suddenly a deer came galloping past them, looking back over its shoulder in a terrible fright. And after that a badger which was in a hurry too. But the badger had time to tell the two bears that there was a dragon coming along and they had better get out of the way. The he-bear turned round at once and went galumphing back; never had his den seemed so desirable. But Matulli sat back among the cranberry bushes in the wet moss and pulled Halla down beside her. Sure enough, in a little while the dragon came along, puffing and creaking and rattling. Matulli in the bushes coughed and said: “My Lord.” For she knew in her mind that dragons appreciated politeness from the rest of the world.

This dragon was somewhat startled and blew out a flame which singed the tops of the cranberry bushes and the tips of the fur all along Matulli’s back. But he had meant no harm, and he stopped and listened very graciously to Matulli’s story about Halla Bearsbairn. Matulli was speaking in the language of humans, since the thing could not be explained in bears’ language. But dragons are, within their limits, very intelligent, and most of them understand, not only the language of several kinds of animals, including the birds who have beautiful feelings but few facts, but also the languages of trolls, dwarfs, giants and human beings.

Now, if there is one kind of human being which dragons dislike more than another, it is the kind commonly called kings or heroes. The reason is that they are almost always against dragons. So when the dragon, whose name was Uggi, heard that the poor little pink human had been so badly treated by a king and a queen, he did not hesitate, but said at once that he would adopt Halla Bearsbairn and see that she grew up in all the right principles of dragonhood. “And you will see that she gets regular meals, my lord?” said Matulli.

“Have you ever heard of dragons going hungry?” said Uggi.

“And you will see that she doesn’t fall into the fire, my lord?”

“I will fire-proof her myself,” the dragon said.

“And you will comb her hair every night, my lord?”

“I will comb it with my own claws,” said the dragon, “for I see that the child has hair the colour of gold, which is the only right colour for hair.”

“And you will dry her eyes when she cries, my lord?”

“I will dry her eyes with the silken scarf of the Princess of the Spice Lands who was so thoughtfully offered to my cousin, the Dragon of the Great Waste. For I see that the child has eyes the colour of sapphires, which is the only right colour for eyes.”

“What happened to the Princess of the Spice Lands, my lord?” asked Matulli, for she thought that this princess might be a nice playmate for her Halla.

The dragon coughed behind his claw. “The Princess of the Spice Lands was offered to my cousin by the populace. It was a very suitable and acceptable idea on their part. Unfortunately there was a hero sent to interfere with everybody’s best interests. In the result the princess – and the hero — perished. My poor cousin had a nasty jag over one eye. He gave me the scarf in exchange for a duplicate bracelet which I had acquired. Yes, yes.” And Uggi the dragon held out a glittering claw to Halla who caught hold and swung.

“And you’ll see she’s warm at night, my lord?” said Matulli, anxious to do her duty but thinking more and more pleasantly of the comfortable den and the uninterrupted sleep that waited for her.

“She will be quite warm, and what is more,” said the dragon, “she will always have a night-light, because I am proud to say that we dragons always breathe out of our noses while we are asleep.” He then put Halla up on to his back, where she held on by the spikes and shouted with pleasure because now she could see right up into the trees.

Suddenly the thought of her den and her husband and her long sleep was too much for Matulli-bear, and she tried to curtsey to the dragon, but that is too difficult for bears. So she just turned her large black back and went crashing back through the cranberry bushes and into the forest. Uggi the dragon raised his eyebrows and looked over his shoulder at Halla and winked slowly from the side of his eye across, in the same way that a crocodile winks, and then quickly up and down, the same way as an eagle, for he had something of the nature of both.

But Halla was delighted with it all and dug her bare heels into the scaly sides of the dragon, who went slithering and crackling off through the forest, every now and then accidentally setting fire to a bush or a drift of dry birch or oak leaves, or singeing the fur of one of the animals which was too proud or too stupid to get out of the way.

Chapter Two
The Dragons

On his way home that evening Uggi took a short flight to the top of Signal Hill, whose summit was all scorched and scarred so that not even the stillest stones grew moss on them. Here he gave a great blast and flames like enormous golden lilies shot out of his nostrils and vanished into sudden dusk. His cousins, Bauk, Gork, Hafr and Hroar, came flying over, creaking with their wings like a thousand flights of geese. They were told the whole story, while Halla Bearsbairn drummed her bare feet on her own dragon’s back. Very sensibly, they decided to fire-proof her at once, before anything awkward could happen.

The ceremony of fireproofing is a very old and beautiful one, which can only be performed by the Goddess Demeter or by not less than three members of the Ancient Order of Dragons, of whom one at least must be a Master Dragon. Halla, who was used to being licked by bears’ tongues, thought nothing of being licked by the forked-flame tongues of dragons. For a short while afterwards everything that she looked at appeared to have a fine fringe of flame, and indeed this would come back to her afterwards, when she was much older, if ever she got angry.

All that evening and far into the night and long after Halla was asleep, the dragons moved and danced round her in an earnest excitement, spiring up from Signal Hill towards the stars, shooting out bursts of flame which reflected from polished scales and claws and multiplied themselves into hundreds of flashes and twinkles. Sometimes they would spring into the air, clapping their wings together and undulating downwards. Sometimes they would shoot away till they were as tiny as rockets and then come thundering back. And they determined that they would bring up the maiden Halla to do credit to every kind of dragonhood and to be a bane to kings and heroes and all such enemies of true dragons. And carefully, before morning greyed the night sky, or dimmed the frosty stars, Uggi the Master Dragon carried back the sleeping child in his great claws, and her pale gold hair swished and feathered in the flame of his breathing, but was never singed.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Fans of Potter will enjoy this

    The new Queen took one loathing look at her dead predecessor¿s daughter and informed her spouse the King that the infant must go. The monarch not interested in female offspring or reminders of his late wife agrees so before she can crawl Princess Halla is tossed out of the castle to die. Her shapeshifting nurse turns into a bear to save her charge and takes Halla into the woods to live with her and her bear kin.------------- However, no one is available to tend to the child during hibernation until an aging dragon arrives changing the youngster from Halla Bearsbairn to Halla Heroesbane. She soars with her dragon who takes the human child to the dragon lair where they teach her their ways including abducting maidens. As the years pass, Halla looks forward to her wings, but they never arrive so she knows she must move on though she loves her mentors especially after her beloved Uggi dies. As a new religion based on the teachings of the Christ begins to move across the continent, Halla¿s adventures continue. these enabling her to become human and more than human.------------------ Fans of Potter will enjoy this excellent reprint of a 1950s young adult fantasy starring a wonderful heroine and a terrific support cast who makes shapeshifters and dragons seem real. The story line is more a coming of age series of vignettes in the life of Halla with her fifteen adventures fun to follow especially soaring with dragons. Fans will appreciate this fine tale of a heroic child and the ¿heroes¿ who adopt her.------------- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted April 28, 2014

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