Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mitchison, Naomi

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(1897-1999) Scottish writer who between 1913 and 1991 published novels, short stories, poetry, plays, essays, reviews, biography, memoir, and political and social polemic. NM's full bibliography lists over 100 books, and over 1000 short pieces, many for children. NM is a committed socialist and feminist. Much of her work is historical, sf or fantasy, its frequently subversive or didactic purposes disguised by displacement from the contemporary milieu. In her historical fictions, characters often believe in and practise Magic, but NM's purpose is normally one of Anthropology or Allegory, and the fantastic elements are secondary to her characters and moral purpose.

Early work comprises mainly historical fiction set in Classical antiquity, telling of displaced or dispossessed characters involved in war or revolution. The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931; vt The Barbarian 1961 US), NM's major historical fantasy, takes Corn King Tarrik and Spring Queen Erif Der from (fictional) Marob in Scythia to Sparta and Egypt during the 3rd century BC. NM's only major work of contemporary fiction, We Have Been Warned (1935), is set in the then near-future and addresses similar themes, but shorn of the protective veil of fantasy it was met with resistance and outrage.

The Dream fantasy Beyond this Limit (1935 chap) was done in collaboration with Wyndham Lewis as illustrator, each responding to the other's work. In The Bull Calves (1947), set in Scotland in 1747, a good woman becomes a practising Witch. In The Big House (1950), Su from "the big house" and fisherman's boy Winkie are companions on a Time-Travel adventure into the past with consequences for the present. Travel Light (1952) tells of Halla, reared by bears and Dragons, who goes to Micklegard and Marob, and converses with Valkyries (> Nordic Fantasy). To the Chapel Perilous (1955) is a superb and fantastic Satire on the press, and a thought-provoking retelling of the Grail quest.

From the late 1950s NM made less use of fantastic elements in her historical fiction. Some contemporary children's stories deploy Indian and African backgrounds and Folktales. Adult fiction includes short stories of all kinds, historical novels, and three sf novels, best-known being Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962). [CM]

other works (selective): The Conquered (1923); The Fourth Pig (coll 1936); Graeme and the Dragon (1954); Behold Your King (1957); Solution Three (1975); The Two Magicians (1978) with Dick Mitchison; Images of Africa (coll 1980); Not by Bread Alone (1983); Beyond This Limit: Selected Shorter Fiction (coll 1986); Early in Orcadia (1987); A Girl Must Live: Collected Stories and Poems (coll 1990).

further reading: Return to the Fairy Hill (1966), one of several works of autobiography; Naomi Mitchison: A Biography (1990) by Jill Benton, including partial bibliography.

Naomi Margaret Mitchison


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.