Monday, April 11, 2016

"A Book of Mermaids" by Ruth Manning-Sanders is back in print!


Back in early December, an email with the subject line "Ruth Manning-Sanders" popped into my inbox. Those emails are always going to be good, but I wasn't expecting this great news from Melissa Buron, who was reaching out to me after stumbling across Papergreat. She wrote:
"I grew up hunting down her books in my local library and recently obtained permission from her estate to republish A BOOK OF MERMAIDS. I am over the moon. My website is mabmedia.net and the book will be published (with many more following) in Spring 2016."
Indeed, this new edition of Manning-Sanders' classic A Book of Mermaids will be published by MAB Media of Texas on May 1 and is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.

MAB Media, an independent publisher of literary fiction and nonfiction by women, is planning to publish other books this summer.

This is big news for a couple reasons. First: To my knowledge, there have not been any English-language reprints of Manning-Sanders' works since at least the 1980s. (Her final book, A Cauldron of Witches, was published in 1988, the year of her death at age 102.) So this is great news if it's the first step toward more reprints and more availability of her timeless storytelling to modern audiences.

At the moment, used copies of Manning-Sanders' folk- and fairy-tale books are all that we have to circulate. In some cases, those used books, mostly ex-library editions, can still be purchased for just a few dollars. But the prices, which I monitor regularly, are rising. Many titles are starting to climb into the range of $15 and up.

And A Book of Mermaids, published in 1967, has long been the most expensive, by far, fairy-tale book by Manning-Sanders to acquire. I occasionally see a well-worn copy available for $35-$40. Nice copies, with the dust jacket, generally cost $100 or more, and few copies hit the used market.1 Except for a precious few library copies that remain in circulation, there just haven't been many ways for today's children to read these mermaid stories.

Until now. I've seen a copy of the MAB Media paperback edition of A Book of Mermaids, and it's awesome. It contains all 16 tales from Manning-Sanders' original book — everything from "Sven and Lilli" to "The Four Abdallahs." It has a cover illustration by Mari Paige Hellman and interior illustrations by Stephanie Vanicek.2

These are great stories. Manning-Sanders combed the globe, from India to Iceland to Italy, to bring together this collection of mermaid folklore. Sarah and I especially love the Breton story "Margrette," a funny and romantic tale that features, as a secondary character, a scary mermaid bride with a wig made of seaweed. One of the reasons we like it is because there are a half-dozen different character voices I have to employ when reading it aloud.

There are many different kinds of mermaids and mermen in the book, some of them more like Ursula than Ariel. As Manning-Sanders writes in the foreword of the 1967 edition:
"You can't trust a mermaid even as far as you can see her. For they have a habit of falling in love with handsome young men, and dragging them down under the water. Woe betide you, too, if you offend one of these sea people; for then they will raise such a storm of wind and wave that if you escape with your life, you are lucky."
Now all these tales, from "The Groach of the Isle of Lok" to "Merman Rosmer," are easily available again, thanks to Buron and MAB Media. And it's a real bargain, in my opinion, at just $9.99 for the paperback. Buy copies for all the young people you know who need some fairy-tale magic in their lives. Let's get it back in all the school libraries!

And, if the sales are stellar, this might just be the dawn of an era of much-needed Manning-Sanders reprints.

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Footnotes
1. My personal copy of A Book of Mermaids once resided in the Llyfrgell Y Coleg Normal (Normal College Library) in Bangor, Wales, before being withdrawn (tynnwyd o stoc).
2. Alas, the marvelous original illustrations by Robin Jacques are not present. But all of the magic of the tales remains.

2 comments:

  1. I was thrilled to receive this book for Christmas. Like you, I have been collecting these books in the last few years. I still have yet to find Magic Horses, Magic Adventures, Heroes and Heroines and Marvels and Magic at a reasonable expense. I loved reading these stories as a child, and vividly recall the ink artwork in the original publishings. I was disappointed to find these missing in the republished edition of Mermaids. Nevertheless, I hope that the trend continues so that many more can enjoy this wonderful collection of stories!

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    1. Katie, thanks for writing. It's always great to hear from others who are also enthusiastic for Ruth Manning-Sanders. ... I think the four books you mentioned are the exact same "final four" that I had the most difficulty acquiring. It mostly just takes perseverance and a willingness to check Amazon and eBay on a regular basis. Almost everything will surface eventually at a fair price. Best wishes to you!

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