Collected Stories for Children was written by Walter de la Mare and published in 1947. My edition is a cheap Puffin collection reprinted in 1987 which contains illustrations by Robin Jacques. It was the first collection of stories to win the Carnegie award. The award was surprising since it was the first time that previously published material had been considered – but the award was given more in recognition of de la Mare’s outstanding contribution to children’s literature rather than for new and original work. The collection originally contained 17 tales but ‘Sambo and the Snow Mountains’ has been removed from the edition I have for extremely good reasons; apparently, the story is about ‘Sambo’ who doses himself with every kind of medicine in his attempt to become white (!!)
The 16 strange tales are all ‘Kunstmaerchen’, i.e. folk or fairy tales which have not been passed down through an oral tradition and collected by people like the Brothers Grimm. Instead, they are written by and very much a product of a particular author – all Hans Christian Andersen’s tales are ‘Kunstmaerchen’, for instance. In the case of de la Mare, there’s a strong supernatural tone to the tales, in fact, they remind me very much of M R James’ ghost stories, but written for children.
I have to confess that I could not finish this book. I suspected as much as I’m not a big fan of Walter de la Mare’s poetry – I can only take a ‘Romantic’ sensibility in tiny doses. Added to this, collections of stories, whether for children or adults, are just not my cup of tea. I kept making excuses to avoid reading Collected Stories, and when I started on the first tale ‘Dick and the Beanstalk’ (a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk), I simply couldn’t finish it. In the end, I selected the three shortest stories to read; ‘Broomsticks’, ‘The Riddle’ and ‘The Dutch Cheese’ to get a taster. Of course, in doing so, I could have missed some masterpieces of storytelling but having read these three, I had no appetite to continue reading. The stories are not poorly written at all, just the opposite; they are very skilful tales. But they felt very Edwardian, without the arch of a story to pull you along like in The Secret Garden or any of E Nesbit’s stories. Though both Marcus Crouch (in Treasure Seekers and Borrowers) and Geoffrey Trease (in Tales out of School) were both highly complimentary of the book, it didn’t do it for me. The introduction reads ‘For the right sort of reader, this book may cast the most potent and rewarding spell of all’. I am afraid I am not that reader and all in all, this was not a happy meeting of minds. 2/10