Joan Aiken’s The Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories includes eleven stories based on folktales from Eastern Europe, three of which the author found in the collection Croatian Tales of Long Ago (1924), written by Ivana Berlic-Mazuranic and translated by F. S. Copeland. Two stories are adapted from Christian legend, and the remainder refer to local mythologies. The stories are accompanied by striking illustrations by Jan Pienkowski that employ silhouette figures; they are sometimes used as borders for the text, set against the white background of the pages, but they are given beautiful colorful backgrounds in the full-page plates.
Some of the stories carry conventional morals and were evidently designed for that purpose. These tales include, as one would expect, the two items of Christian legend. In “The Goose Girl,” Saint Peter asks to trade places with God for a day, so that he might savor the experience of absolute power, but discovers instead the burden of absolute responsibility. In “The Pear Tree,” the angel Gabriel, disguised as a poor man, receives charity from three brothers whose sole possession is a pear tree and offers all three a wish in return. The two who use their wishes to become wealthy are not so generous next time that the disguised angel calls, and they are restored to their former penury. The youngest, who only asked for a dutiful wife, has retained his simple virtues and is given further rewards.
The other conventional moral tale in the collection is “The King Who Declared War on the Animals,” in which an impoverished nobleman who looks after his animals well accumulates a whole set of humble liege-men, including such apparently useless servants as a mouse and a mole. When the nobleman incurs the wrath of a powerful king by marrying his daughter, however, the mouse and the mole call on their kinsmen to make the advance of the king’s army...
(The entire section is 786 words.)