My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow! Travel Light is an amazing, special book. I have so many things I want to say about it, but I’m not sure they’d come out right, and anyway, I think the best way to understand how special this book is is to simply read it.
It is a short book, so it does not take much time at all to read. It is also a good book.
Mitchison was a contemporary of Tolkien (she apparently was a good friend and proofread The Lord of the Rings), and I could point to many similarities between Travel Light and some of Tolkien’s works. This book has elements of a fantastic travelogue, and Mitchison often employs a whimsical or humorous turn of phrase, especially early on; thus, the book somewhat resembles The Hobbit. Its language reads like spoken verse, like an Old English epic or a biblical passage or simply a very well-told fairy tale, and thus its language has echoes, I think, of a good deal of what Tolkien tried to do, especially with The Silmarillion. But Travel Light is very distinctively its own thing.
The language is incredibly effective. It seems simple, light, breezy, effortless, and yet so often near-perfect. Imagery, and smells and sounds and raw emotions, conveyed in a crystalline clear way that feels so accurate and genuine. Emotion in particular could be stirred up in my heart with a turn of phrase that was never given to long, sentimental expression. All this is especially appropriate given that in many ways language and empathy are core themes of this book. How language shapes thought, how one is raised and how one experiences life shapes how others are viewed, and how we can change ourselves by taking time to understand others are all concepts charted through this book, without ever being as on-the-nose as I’m being here.
I would probably call this book’s genre historical fantasy. It reads like myth. It is beautiful. I am very glad I read it.