The tales in The Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories are plainly and economically told, without the kind of calculated prettification and authorial commentary that are often employed to make retold folktales more “suitable” for a modern audience. Aiken is content to present such unfamiliar mythical figures as Zora-djevojka the Dawn Maiden without elaborate introduction or explanation, save for the observation that she is “the Sun’s beloved daughter.” The language employed in the telling of the tales is easily comprehensible, but Aiken is not afraid to introduce exotic elements where they are appropriate.
Aiken does not emphasize the moral element in the tales, nor does she attempt to import morals into the tales that have none; if anything, she tends to collaborate in the covert undermining of morals that are a little too facile. Even in a conscientiously pious story such as “The Pear Tree,” there is a note of subtle cynicism. Gabriel has no difficulty making the acquisitive brothers rich, but, when he is asked to find the youngest a “good Christian girl” to wed, he observes that the available supply is so desperately limited as to make the task almost impossible.
Many folktales have the paradoxical quality of using fantastic apparatus to defend the virtues of dull reality. “The Kingdom Under the Sea” is typical of this tendency, arguing that the fisherman ought to be content with his dutiful wife and healthy...
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The Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories was the second collection of Joan Aiken’s stories to be illustrated by Jan Piénkowski, following A Necklace of Raindrops (1968), the contents of which were much more various. This collection benefits from the refinement of the artist’s technique as well as the utilization of stories from a common source; words and pictures are blended into a more coherent and more aesthetically satisfying whole. Many excellent collaborations between artists and storytellers of the first rank were produced during the 1970’s, taking advantage of cheap and efficient technologies of reproduction; The Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories is one of the landmark works displaying the potential that such works had.