Sunday, January 24, 2016

Kenneth Morris's "Shon ap Shenkin"

It took me years to understand some references in one of Kenneth Morris's letters to Ella Young.  On 28 February 1928, Morris sent Young a copy of his short story collection, The Secret Mountain and Other Tales (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1926).  It includes Morris's short tale "Sion ap Siencyn," originally published in the July 1921 issue of The Raja-Yoga Messenger.  (It also appeared in my volume, The Dragon Path: Collected Tales of Kenneth Morris, published in 1995.) What Morris wrote in a letter to Ella Young accompanying his book is as follows:

In that book you will find a story called Sion ap Siencyn (Shawn ap Shenkin) which is my one short Welsh fairy story& a genuine Welsh folk tale too, though the telling is mine of course. . . . Now if the editor of the collection you speak of would like to put that tale inand you will tell meI will soon make or get made a typed copy thereof to send you. . . . Anyhow, the improbable event of their wishing to take that story (which is a good one with me) gives me a kind of opportunity to send you the book which I hope won't displease you after Fates.
The 1928 cover

Some months later, in another letter to Miss Young dated 30 July 1928, Morris adds cryptically: "Thanks for showing me Miss Stern's letter referring to Sion ap Siencyn."

I'm pleased finally to be able to say that this refers to the inclusion of Morris's story as "Shon ap Shenkin" in the fourth volume On the Highroad to Adventure (1928) in a series of eight books collecting material for children under the overall title Book Trails.  The series was published by Shepard and Lawrence of Chicago.No editors are listed but an acknowledgement credits Renée B. Stern as editor (with O.Muiriel [sic] Fuller as associate editor), and thanks Ella Young for aiding in the selection of folklore and fairy-tale material. Morris's story appears on pages 247 through 251, and has a (hideous) colored illustration for it signed Keith Ward.  
The 1946 cover

The Book Trails series was reprinted in 1946 by Child Development Inc. Publishers of Chicago. And this time On the Highroad to Adventure comprises volumes 7 and  8, with the same pagination for Morris's story in volume 8.  It seems clear that Morris retyped the story for Miss Stern, as the text is slightly different from that which appears in all other publications.  Here follows scans of the five pages.  It's a fine tale, typical of Morris's style, if shorter than most of his tales.  


  1. Very cool! I even have that volume of Book Trails but hadn't noticed the Morris story in it...

    1. Wow. I'd never even heard of this series until I finally tracked down the Morris in it.

  2. I love this story, which I discovered from a different source and then made my own through hundreds of tellings. My best version was on a huge storytelling bed at the Royal Festival Hall in London in front of a massive crowd, my most misfortunate - a Halloween telling in an English town Hall when I reduced a small boy to floods of tears at the thought Sion had lost his mother and everyone he loved by being bewitched by the fairies. He was inconsolable. I hope there was a good outcome for him as the story obviously worked a deep magic on him.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Has your version been printed anywhere?