on September 11, 2011
"Tales of The Enchanted Islands of The Atlantic" by Thomas Wentworth Higgins is reprinted from the 1898 edition. The dedication reads, in part: "These legends unite the two sides of the Atlantic and form a part of the common heritage of the English-speaking race." Contents include stories of Atlantis, Taliessin, the Swan-children of Lir, Bran, Merlin, Maelduin, St. Brandan, Guardians of the St. Lawrence, and the Fountain of Youth, among others.
Enchantment is exactly what these tales offer up, with poetry, song, plot and character feeding my enjoyment of Arthurian, Celtic and other sources that speak to those isolated and mysterious destinations in the middle of a vast and daunting ocean. Nothing here is new or original, but it is a lively and entertaining read and I like the old-fashioned quality of these worthy stories.
Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic was written by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911). Mr. Higginson was a militant abolitionist who served in the 51st Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, which was an all-black regiment commanded by white officers (due to governmental regulations of the time). In 1869, he published a book about his Civil War experiences entitled Army Life in a Black Regiment.
In 1898, Mr. Higginson published this book, which is a collection of ancient and classical legends that discuss islands in the Atlantic. Every story is covered here from Socrates's discussion of Atlantis, through the classical Irish stories of Oisin, the British stories of Taliessin and Arthur, through the story of Ponce de Leon.
I found this book to be a very interesting read. I liked the selection of stories that the author incorporated, and the charm that he put into each story. This book is something of a forgotten favorite, but it should be remembered. If you get a chance, pick it up and spend a few enchanted evenings in the long-ago magic islands of the Atlantic.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, (1823-1911), is an interesting character, identified as an American Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist and soldier, (and the commander of the first federally authorized black regiment during the Civil War). He actively opposed the Fugitive Slave Act, openly supported John Brown, and was a vocal supporter of Woman's Rights and suffrage. After the Civil War he turned his attention to literature. In addition to publishing more than 25 books, Higginson emerged as an early champion of, mentor to, and editor of Emily Dickinson. As I say, interesting character.
This book was published in 1898. It is an odd, idiosyncratic collection of "tales" loosely relating to "...the wondrous tales that gathered for more than a thousand years about the islands of the Atlantic deep." He starts with islands visible to the European shore and then moves on to real and imaginary islands situate in the Atlantic, before arriving in America. This is a charming approach, and ends up also organizing the tales from oldest to newest.
As to the tales, we range from Atlantis to the Fountain of Youth, with a heavy dose of the Celtic early on. But here's the thing. Often these tales, with which one is mostly familiar in one form or another, are not well presented. Not so here. While this book came out in 1898, it feels fresh and is not at all weighed down by the dry, formal or overly sentimental style one would expect. If anything, the stories are rather lively, brisk and related in a very good-humored style. I did not expect this.
The upshot is that this turned out to be much more entertaining and refreshing than I had any right to expect. A brief browse will still be rewarded, but patient reading will be rewarded manyfold.
As to production, the book is reasonably well formatted, and certainly readable, for such an old freebie. It does not have an active Table of Contents, or at least not one that worked for me on my Kindle Touch.
All in all, an interesting and worthwhile find.