Look no further this is it, and from someone close to Tolkein who proof read Lord of the Rings before it was published. Mitchison lived to be 101 and her life and the scope of her interests and activities is quite remarkable. Travel Light is the tale of Halla, born to a king but cast out to die, she is raised first by bears and then by a dragon. Halla communicates with all kinds of animals and travels for a while with a group of men on a quest for justice. Halla deals deftly with the usual male desire to tie her to home and hearth and continues to travel light.
Forget the story, said Halla.(139) And indeed it was never the story, just as Travel Light is not a simple children's book. Indeed the story moves with Halla's narrative. As the tale which did not provide a clear span and flow of time (for it would seem that a hundred, thousand years even, have come to past) comes to a close, Halla is seen as a mythic figure herself and the nature of the narrative ends where it starts, Nordic mythology. It has no form and defies the traditional linear progressions but I still enjoyed its exceptional and unprecedented transition from a fable-like story to a socio-political examination of human belief and dynamics, again in a sense, by travelling light, by simplifying matters and driving at its core. The shadows they have cast have inadvertently and yet effectively laid down a shroud of obscurity over works like this, which is interesting in light of Mitchisons relation to Tolkien. She was a dear friend to Tolkien, was among the first to read the unpublished The Lord of the Rings, and when the said book suffered from poor reception compared to the then anticipated sale, Mitchison was asked to do blurbs for its marketing promotions.
I don't think she honestly ever pushes any moral except finding your way through life and being good to people and creatures, and in the meantime she has an intriguing wander through different cultures and traditions. Mitchison is a lot less sure than Tolkien about the period and the people she wants to write about, I think. Tolkien talked about creating "a mythology for England", and I've argued elsewhere that Susan Cooper succeeds, but I don't think Mitchison is as rooted in a place, an idea.
There's a wonderful point where the whole St. George and the Dragon story gets turned inside out, and the dragon rescues the maiden from the hero. The plot doesn't follow the usual fantasy lines - Halla is definitely the heroine, but she is finding her way, listening to animals, people, watching for where she fits in. "Perhaps she did not die," said Halla,"perhaps her nurse turned into a bear and carried her away into the forest. She really does think like a bear and a dragon a lot of the time.
Story, the performer said, was dangerous, because story makes our brains suspend disbelief, and in the process uncritically accept not just the events of the tall tale but the moral behind it. "Forget the story," said Halla.
Mitchison blends Nordic myth with her personal perception of early Christianity, adding a pinch of fairy tale to tell the story of Halla, an unwanted child of the king's first marriage who is rescued by a were-bear nurserymaid (like they do) and begins a life of wandering. I've always wondered how these fairy tale kings can run a kingdom and fight battles and such, and yet are totally unable to stand up to their second wives.
Halla seems cursed (or blessed) by the gods to find herself in new places and adapting to them before she must leave again, to forever "traveling light" with only the lessons she's picked up to help her on her way. There's an interesting undercurrent of the age of old religion and folk tradition giving way to the new order of empire and institutions as Halla grows up and becomes increasingly knowledgeable about the human world. Raised by bears and dragons, she is patronized by Odin and makes friends with Valkyries, but also finds herself adapting to the newer world, at one point, traveling with a delegation to Constantinople to see the emperor. (This is where the Lord of the Rings parallel can come in, with the beautiful magic elves going off into the west and leaving Middle-Earth to the new age of Man and our machines and stuff.) Ultimately, I do like the arc of Travel Light.
Naomi Mitchison, author of over 70 books, died in 1999 at the age of 101. Mitchison lived in Kintyre for many years and was an active small farmer.