Workers’ Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain by Michael Rosen

Workers' Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain by Michael Rosen

Spanning forty years with short stories from the last two decades of the 19th century and the first two of the 20th century, Michael Rosen has collected these tales, many allegorical and geared to entertain children providing a specific ‘twist’ that reflected the changes in society and a particular political bent I have listened to these forty-five tales over several days.

Workers’ Tales

It is often said that the ones who make history are the ‘winning sides’ and that all other ‘noise’ surrounding any conflict is doomed to silence. It’s actually not far off, as achievements of countries, people and civilizations have often been relegated to footnotes or ignored completely by those who have brought the story of their own accomplishments into the history books. But, here is a chance to hear the other part of the story – the ones often suppressed or ignored, rising through great societal and cultural change, and in some circles, tagged as ideas to be feared or reviled.

Most interesting for the way in which the authors have presented the story – subtle (and not so subtle) undermining of the social norm and expectations, the dissembling of the ‘imperialistic’ outlook of the history texts and general knowledge. These stories are intriguing and entertaining as well, keeping me interested as I limited myself to 4 or 5 at a stretch – allowing time to digest what I had heard, and occasionally try to see why something was penned, researching historic context, upheavals and changes around the time of authoring. This was all kinds of intriguing and did exactly what I hope to find from a title – provided me with new perspective: tilting a view of a situation and stepping into another’s explanation and view of the scene laid out before me. While I’m not a huge fan of allegorical tales of the modern day, finding them pretentious and often over-burdened with the “look how smart I am” attitude, the clarity of such tales and easy accessibility of the “it’s this signifying or pointing to that” was easy to see, bringing a sort of subtle and occasionally sly humor apparent as the listen continued.

Testing messages that hit themes of hard work, less versus more, Darwin and even enforcing the value of a being, these were entertaining and eye opening, and quite a bit different from what I expected going in. Narrated by a cast of voices that included John Telfer, Lisa Coleman, Michael Rosen, Miriam Margolyes, Peter Kenny, Ric Jerrom, and Samuel West, each voice was clear and precise, providing a flow through the listen that varied tone and approach and kept auditory interest, there wasn’t time to feel ‘overburdened’ by to much information or tiring of any singular voice.

Stars: Overall: 5 Narration: 5 Stories: 5

Workers’ Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain by Michael Rosen

Title: Workers' Tales: Socialist Fairy Tales, Fables, and Allegories from Great Britain
Author: Michael Rosen
Genre: Allegorical, British, Fairie Tale, Folk Tales, Historical Non-Fiction, Humor elements, Myth, Political commentary, Short Story
Narrator: John Telfer, Lisa Coleman, Michael Rosen, Miriam Margolyes, Peter Kenny, Ric Jerrom, Samuel West
Published by: Princeton University Press
ISBN: 0691193371
Published on: 13 November, 2018
Source: Princeton University Press
Pages: 328
Audio Length: 9 Hours: 45 minutes
Rated: five-stars
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See this Title on Goodreads

A collection of political tales--first published in British workers' magazines--selected and introduced by acclaimed critic and author Michael Rosen

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, unique tales inspired by traditional literary forms appeared frequently in socialist-leaning British periodicals, such as the Clarion, Labour Leader, and Social Democrat. Based on familiar genres--the fairy tale, fable, allegory, parable, and moral tale--and penned by a range of lesser-known and celebrated authors, including Schalom Asch, Charles Allen Clarke, Frederick James Gould, and William Morris, these stories were meant to entertain readers of all ages--and some challenged the conventional values promoted in children's literature for the middle class. In Workers' Tales, acclaimed critic and author Michael Rosen brings together more than forty of the best and most enduring examples of these stories in one beautiful volume.

Throughout, the tales in this collection exemplify themes and ideas related to work and the class system, sometimes in wish-fulfilling ways. In "Tom Hickathrift," a little, poor person gets the better of a gigantic, wealthy one. In "The Man Without a Heart," a man learns about the value of basic labor after testing out more privileged lives. And in "The Political Economist and the Flowers," two contrasting gardeners highlight the cold heart of Darwinian competition. Rosen's informative introduction describes how such tales advocated for contemporary progressive causes and countered the dominant celebration of Britain's imperial values. The book includes archival illustrations, biographical notes about the writers, and details about the periodicals where the tales first appeared.

Provocative and enlightening, Workers' Tales presents voices of resistance that are more relevant than ever before.

A copy of this title was provided via Princeton University Press for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


Titles and authors included in this work:

1. An Old Fable Retold by William Morris, 1884

2. Fables for the Times—I: The Monkeys and the Nuts by ‘Utile Dulci’, 1884

3. Fables for the Times—II: The Political Economist and the Flowers by Anon., 1884

4. Aristos and Demos by D. F. Hannigan, 1887

5. A Dream of Queer Fishes (A Modern Prose Idyll) by H. S. S., 1887

6. Chips by H. Bellingham, 1888

7. Nobody’s Business by Elihu, 1892

8. The History of a Giant: Being a Study in Politics for Very Young Boys by Keir Hardie, 1893

9. The Man Without a Heart by F. J. Gould, 1893

10. A Terrible Crime by Dan Baxter, 1893

11. Tom Hickathrift by Edited by Joseph Jacobs, 1894

12. Jack Clearhead: A Fairy Tale for crusaders, and to be read by them to their fathers and mothers by Keir Hardie M. P., 1894

13. The Four Friends: A Translation by Anon., 1894

14. The Princesses by J. H., 1895 (adapted)

15. The New Shilling by Dan Baxter, 1895

16. The Harebell’s Sermon by ‘The Fairy’, 1895

17. Little Red Riding Hood by C. Allen Clarke, 1895

18. A Mystery by Caroline E. Derecourt Martyn, 1896

19. Odin and his One Eye by T. Robinson, 1896

20. The Elves and Fairies by T. Robinson, 1896

21. A Monkey Story by Dan Baxter, 1896

22. Elfhome (Charlie’s Garden) by T. Robinson, 1897

23. A Fairy Tale for Tired Socialists by C. S. J., 1898

24. The Golden Egg by Joseph Grose, 1901

25. When Death Crossed the Threshold by E. Whittaker, 1903

26. The Doll Shop by Frank Starr, 1903

27. The Scarlet Shoes. (The Story of a Serio-comic Walking Tour and its Tragic End.) by Harford Wilson, 1906

28. He, She, and It by M. Winchevsky, 1906

29. An Idyll of the Dover Road. A True Story by McGinnis, 1907

30. His Sister. A Little Spangle of Real Life by Glanville Maidstone, 1907

31. “Happy Valley.” A Fairy Tale by Anon., 1907

32. The Peasants and the Parasites. A Fable by R. B. Suthers, 1908

33. The Eternal Feminine by C. L. Everard, 1908

34. The Myopian’s Muddle by Victor Grayson, 1909

35. A Martian’s Visit to Earth. Being a Literal Translation into English of the Preface to an Account by a Martian of his Visit to England by A. L. Gray, 1909

36. Nightmare Bridge by Glanville Maidstone, 1910

37. The Fool and the Wise Man by W. Anderson, 1910

38. The May-Day Festival in the Year 1970 by ‘Optimus’, 1911

39. Mary Davis; or the Fate of a Proletarian Family. A Lesson Given to the Glasgow S. L. P. Socialist Sunday School by Tom Anderson, 1912

40. The Lost Vision. A Spring Fantasy by Victor Grayson, 1912

41. The Aerial Armada. What Took Place in A. D. 2000 by Frank Starr, 1913

42. Mr. Prowser-Wowser by Edward Hartley, 1913

43. Behind the Wall by Schalom Asch, 1913

44. Alice in Sunderland. A Baffling Mystery by ‘Casey’, 1914

45. It Can’t Be Done! A History of Impossibilities by Edward Meyer, 1914


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