Read The Fourth Pig Online

Authors: Naomi Mitchison Marina Warner

The Fourth Pig




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.

Naomi Mitchison,
The Fourth Pig

Kurt Schwitters,
Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales

Béla Balàzs,
The Cloak of Dreams: Chinese Fairy Tales

Peter Davies, editor,
The Fairies Return: Or, New Tales for Old




Princeton University Press
Princeton and Oxford

Copyright © 2014 Estate of Naomi Mitchison

Introduction copyright © 2014 by Princeton University Press

Published by arrangement with Kennedy & Boyd


Requests for permission to reproduce material from this work
should be sent to Permissions, Princeton University Press
Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street,
Princeton, New Jersey 08540

In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 6 Oxford Street,
Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TW
First published in 1936 by Constable and Company Ltd., London,
and the Macmillan Company of Canada, Ltd., Toronto

The frontispiece and title page were designed by Gertrude Hermes
Jacket Art: Bunches of hay © An Nguyen; piles of firewood © GoodMood
Photo; brick wall © antpkr. All images courtesy Shutterstock.

Jacket design by Jessica Massabrook.

All Rights Reserved

ISBN 978–0-691–15895–2

Library of Congress Control Number 2013954729

British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available

This book has been composed in Cronos Pro & Adobe Jenson Pro

Printed on acid-free paper. ∞

Printed in the United States of America

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by Marina Warner


The Fourth Pig


Omen of the Enemy


Frogs and Panthers


The Furies Dance in New York




The Fancy Pig


The Snow Maiden


Hansel and Gretel


Birmingham and the Allies


Soria Moria Castle


Kate Crackernuts


Adventure in the Debateable Land


Mairi MacLean and the Fairy Man


The Little Mermaiden


Pause in the Corrida


Brünnhilde's Journey down the Rhine


The Border Loving


Mirk, Mirk Night


Further Reading



I have said very little here about my writing. It is my job and I think I do it well. In some ways my writing is old-fashioned, but I doubt if that matters much. … I know I can handle words, the way other people handle colours or computers or horses.
—Naomi Mitchison, aged 90

Reviewing a book by the poet Stevie Smith in 1937, the year after
The Fourth Pig
was published, Naomi Mitchison opened with a characteristic
cri de coeur
: “Because I myself care passionately about politics, because I am part of that ‘we' which I am willing to break my heart over, and can no longer properly feel myself an ‘I,' because that seems to me to be the right thing for me to do and be, I see no reason why everyone has got to. Stevie Smith can still be an ‘I.' And that's good.” She is thinking about her contemporary's enviable singularity of experience and voice: “Such people don't have to be ‘we'; they can be ‘I,' proudly and bouncingly as
Blake was. … Stevie Smith bounces with Blake.”
The passage is revealing in many ways: Naomi Mitchison's style is colloquial, vigorous, and unsentimental; it drew praise from E. M. Forster, for example, for the directness with which she brought distant, exotic characters to life before the reader's eyes. Furthermore, the review reveals her generosity of spirit: where some critics might inflict a wound, she embraces a potential rival or adversary, insisting on others' democratic right to difference. But above all, her sense that she belonged to a group or a class, rather than enjoyed the free play of subjectivity like the visionary Blake, or the inspired eccentric Stevie Smith, reflects an anguished split deep down in Naomi Mitchison's consciousness.

She was right to recognise this division in herself, between public duty and private vision, between communal feeling and personal passion, between elite learning and popular lore. She was torn all her life between her intellectual, feminist ambitions and her wealthy, patrician upbringing and way of life—“the incalculable advantages” of her background, as Vera Brittain put it.
“Nou” Mitchison, née Haldane, was a woman from “the Big House,” as she put it in the title of a story for children.

Her double consciousness created further tensions that pull her writing this way and that, between solemnity and frivolity, mandarin and demotic language, between playful ingenuousness and harsh defiance of convention. She was born in 1897; her
mother and father were divided in their political—and social—opinions and attendant social mores. Her Tory mother was horrified, for instance, when Naomi made friends “behind the counter at the small draper's in North Parade”: as a result Naomi was “severely lectured about trade.”
Naomi's girlhood was enmeshed in dynastic kinship systems; her grandparents were wealthy landowners in Scotland, with huge, chilly castles, salmon brooks, deer-stalking, while her parents, by contrast, were Liberal and progressive and brilliant. Her father, John S. Haldane, was a distinguished medical biologist at Oxford and, deeply concerned for working men and women, led pioneering work on lung disease at the beginning of the century, diagnosing the miasmas that killed in the mines, factories, and mills of industrialised Britain. He also helped invent the first gas masks for protection in World War I. His concerns shaped his two children more profoundly than his wife's sense of class and etiquette.

Naomi's older brother, J.B.S. (Jack) Haldane, made an even greater mark, as a geneticist and biologist. He was a colossal personality, and his transgressiveness, independent-mindedness, and sheer cleverness set a bar for Naomi she was always longing to leap. He was a free, even wayward spirit—sacked from Cambridge for adultery with a colleague's wife (he married her), he became a Communist, and later, an Indian nationalist, renouncing his British citizenship. When they were children, they'd been allies and equals and sparring partners; they played charades and dressed up, putting on plays they wrote themselves; they experimented together on scientific questions, cross-breeding coloured
guinea pigs, and cutting up a caterpillar—this last was intended to be a rug for the dolls' house, but it shrivelled (a lesson in life and death).

After this enchanted though stormy alliance, Jack was sent away to school (Eton), whereas Naomi had to stay at home. Before then she had been a rare girl attending the boys' Dragon School in Oxford. Jack's going away, the arrival of a governess for all-important lessons in decorum, the new ban on climbing trees, all gave Naomi a bitter taste of gender injustices. The title of
Small Talk
(1973), a marvelous, witty, and tender memoir about her childhood, catches the stifling restrictions she suffered, and she never overcame her ferocious jealousy of her brother. Consequently Jack dominates his little sister's fiction in various little-disguised heroic personae. But her imagination also stamped out in her stories one spirited daredevil young woman after another—wild girls, strong-limbed and tousled, who break rules, act vigorously, and reject mincing and simpering. This is what I found in her books when I was young, when I too was furious that being female still prevented me from being as free as a male.

Naomi, the faery child, had intense dreams and kept open the connection to childlike wonder and terror. “I met a brown hare,” she remembers, “and we went off and kept house (marriage as I saw it) inside a corn stook with six oat sheaves propped around us.” She did not know then, she continued, that the hare is closely associated with the moon and the goddess, as well as with witchcraft. “As I remember it, I was married young to the hare.”

The bride of the hare was also a bookworm and a hungry listener, especially to the many charismatic friends and lovers in her long life. By the time she was sixteen, she had read all the way through the complete
Golden Bough
of J. G. Frazer: relations between magic and society, and regeneration rituals involving dying kings and tree cults, run a live current of atavistic ecstasy through her work. The Greek myths and Celtic—especially Scottish—lore, predominate, chiefly because she was brought up among Oxford classicists and spent her summers in the Highlands, on the Cloan estate of her “Granniema,” until she moved to her own home, Carradale, in Argyll in 1937. These two potent, intertwined influences from north and south were also often under tension: on the one hand she was drawn to neo-paganism, which was founded in scholarship and a broad curiosity about European magical wisdom; and on the other she was wrapped in the Celtic Twilight, which focused on the Scottish legends and folklore of her forebears and, later, of her chosen home in Argyll. In the Edwardian period, these varieties of supernatural experience burgeoned into correspondingly contrasting uses of enchantment: first, avant-garde demands for liberty (Nietzsche's vision flows in Jane Harrison's Greek scholarship and infuses
The Rite of Spring
; the D. H. Lawrence of
The Plumed Serpent
turns to myth for re-invigoration of the life principle), and second, traditionalist nostalgia for a lost, enchanted pastoral, reflected in some of the most celebrated fantasy classics, such as
Peter Pan
, by a fellow Scot, J. M. Barrie; Kenneth Grahame's
Wind in the Willows
(1908); and A. A. Milne's stories of Winnie the Pooh (who makes his first appearance in 1926).

After Naomi Mitchison moved to Scotland, she became something of a Scottish nationalist, but before that she was already striving, as evident in this collection, to combine the Gaelic traditions of fairyland with myths of gods and goddesses. She also adopted traditional oral forms, such as tales and ballads, historical epic, praise song, flyting, charms, and elegy. As the stories in this book show, she relished tales of changelings, fairy abductions, and the local population of bogles, boggarts, and other eldritch folk in the Highlands. Walking past a deserted village on her way home one evening, she ran into the “botoch” or spirit of a villager who haunted the place. He had been eaten alive by rats. She was only able to pass after she had recited a Gaelic charm she knew—or so she related to one of her grandsons. The past, both as recoverable imaginable history and as a granary of story, served to open ways of picturing possibilities for the present. She cultivated her imagination with the deliberateness of an experimental scientist, in order to move on, into a dreamed-of, better future.

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