The Coming of the Unicorn by Duncan Williamson is a wonderful collection of Scottish folk and fairy tales for children. The stories are beautifully told and perfectly written to be read aloud to the small child or children in your life. What is especially nice is that although these are stories with many familiar "folk tale" elements, they also have a freshness and originality which really keeps you turning the page. The novelty of the stories mean that you don't know the end before you start, and as a result this is a book that is every bit as interesting and enjoyable for the adult doing the reading as it is for the child doing the listening. Or, of course, for slightly older children reading the stories for themselves.
The book opens with the story of the "Fox and the Two Cat Fishers", a story with a clear message, and this starts a theme. These are stories to be enjoyed, but they are also stories intended to very gently teach lessons about life. Elsewhere in the book we find stories about broonies, fairies, warriors and kings: as well as tramps, thatchers, ordinary people going about their lives, and, of course (given the title of the collection) a unicorn. There are eighteen stories in all. Four have never been published before, and most of the rest are long out of print. Their publication now is therefore doubly welcome.
What really brings the stories to life is an understanding of their background and purpose, set out in the introduction. Duncan Williamson lived from 1928 to 2007. He was a Traveller, born in a tent in Argyll, and one of fourteen children. Having left home at the earliest possible opportunity, he spent the next six decades travelling the roads of Scotland, living in a traditional bow-tent, and later on a horse drawn cart. When Scotland's roads got too busy for horses he traded up to an old van. The stories in this collection are the stories of his childhood or others collected later: in many cases originally heard from his father, his grandmother, or her brother. Stories played a central role in entertaining and educating children in the Traveller community, and this volume helps give some insight into a way of life now all but gone: as well as dishing up a bunch of extremely good stories!