THE RAT-CATCHER'S DAUGHTER: A Collection of Stories by Laurence Housman

THE RAT-CATCHER'S DAUGHTER: A Collection of Stories

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Anyone who's read ""The Rat-Catcher's Daughter"" or ""Rocking-Horse Land"" in anthologies is already familiar with the best of Laurence Housman's Victorian fairy tales, but there are other stories here -- particularly ""Gammelyn, the Dressmaker"" and ""The Wooing of the Maze"" -- which achieve that same blend of artificial elegance and wan sentimentality which can be delightful in small doses. At his best, Housman can almost be seen winking at us from behind the jeweled facade of his narrative: in ""The Traveller's Shoes,"" an extrapolation on the theme of the shoemaker who saves a princess and wins her hand, there is not one but a full dozen princesses, and when the shoemaker saves all but two from baldness the king is still pleased with his margin of success -- ""They are ten to two; and I can't go back on arithmetic."" At other times Housman's romantic conceits can be more unappetizing than the worst of the Grimm's honest gruesomeness: in ""The Prince With Nine Sorrows"" a peahen cum princess pecks out the sleeping prince's heart and her own only to have the two lovestruck and still-throbbing organs switched and sewn back into each other's bodies to restore both to life. Further, names like Moozipoo and Tiki-Pu (the latter is Chinese) may simply be too much for contemporary tastes, and the final story is an overly maudlin twist on Sleeping Beauty in which the young prince is too innocent to kiss the slumbering princess and so grows old and lonely in the enchanted palace. The editor's prediction that the collection will have ""special appeal for gifts from ten or eleven. . ."" is probably right on the mark, and the brother of A. E. Housman is certainly the equal of Oscar Wilde in this genre. However, like a box of divinity candy, the supply here may well outlast the urge to sample.

Pub Date: March 20th, 1974
Page count: 169pp
Publisher: Atheneum