Great turnip literature to devour during the British vegetable shortage.
Amid food shortages that Farmer MacGregor would despair of, Great Britons were this week urged to “cherish the specialisms that we have in this country” by UK environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, who insisted to parliament that there were turnips enough to go around, what’s everyone fussing about, have a dig, won’t you.
“Let them eat turnips!” trumpeted an opposition minister, who understood the rich literary history of the dip-dyed tuber—variably a sign of poverty and humble origins—and perhaps wanted to remind Margaret Atwood of a forgotten promise to deliver the Great Turnip Novel dangled before us back in 2015.
You perhaps cannot eat a juicy heirloom tomato in your cheese jaffle just now, but you can chew on these classics of the neets genre, until spring may come. May we each be lucky enough to be bowled to death with turnips.
Jan Brett, The Turnip
From the author of The Mitten, another romp themed for your favorite winter vegetable-of-last-resort. In this rollicking tale, Hedgie, Mr. Ram and a horse called Vanya “struggle to pull up a giant turnip.” A classic Russian-inspired examination of the human condition for the preschool set centered on root veg.
My review: Hedgie, a hedgehog, is a mainstay of the Jan Brett universe, and does not disappoint here.
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Much of the scholarship around Great Expectations focuses on class anxiety and the twisted character of Estella, and not nearly enough around the convict Abe Magwick, who tenuous legacy in Pip and to Estella can be traced back to his impoverished childhood in which he stole turnips to survive. Can you escape your turnipped past? Dickens suggests no.
Laura Krauss Melmed, The Rainbabies
In this classic story about longing for something out of reach (for contemporary Brits, it might be a ripe eggplant; in the case of the couple in Rainbabies it is a child), a couple living on a farm one day find 12 tiny babies in a meadow, and begin to care for them. Nature, though, conspires to take the babies away and at one climactic moment, the woman beats off a raccoon from the babies’ basket with — you guessed it — a turnip. All hail the turnip! Having proven their bravery and love, the couple are given a child of their own by an angel.
The Brothers Grimm, The Most Beloved Fairy Tales
In The Turnip, a poor brother sews a single turnip-seed, which grows into the “princess of turnips,” a tuber so large it must be towed by two oxen. After presenting it the the king, he is given gold and land and other riches, which drives his rich brother wild with jealousy. The brother takes all the fanciest gear he can round up to the king to outdo his brother. Alas, “The King accepted his present, and said he had nothing to give him in return that was more rare and excellent than the great turnip. So the rich man was obliged to put his brother’s turnip in a cart and have it taken to his home.” Classic brotherly stitch-up!
Unfortunately, this drives the rich brother to murderous rage. He concocts a plan to trick his brother into journeying along a road where some hitmen will take him out (this section of the story is disappointingly thin on turnips), but the hitmen are scared off, and the rich brother winds up hanging from a tree with his head poking out of a sack, pretending to be the “Sack of Wisdom.” Look, this one starts out promisingly, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been adapted into a motion picture by Angelina Jolie.
Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth, The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales
A young prince is lost and comes upon a cave. He is told that if he buries a nail under a turnip, he will get a wife. There is … quite a lengthy section where the prince goes looking for turnip fields. TL;DR, the turnips come through for him, as they can for you.
Margaret Atwood, The Great Unnamed (Unwritten?) Turnip Novel We Are Owed
Attention: Companion of Honor Margaret Atwood, we here at Literary Hub have not forgotten the promise from the pre-pandemic times to give us the turnip protagonist we are lacking. To quote yourself back to you:
I have a minor character that I haven’t really developed yet, it’s a political commentator and it’s a turnip! I doesn’t have gender issues, because it reproduces out of the top of its head, so it doesn’t think in terms of male and female turnips, because there aren’t any male and female turnips. But if you have male and female anything you’re going to get thinking about gender. Everybody thinks about it quite a lot in fact, not just me. But if I failed to think about, now that would be something to comment on!
It appears to be on your mind! Please deliver.
Barry Brunswick, The War of the Turnips
This middle-grade fantasy asks the question UK environment secretary Thérèse Coffey dares not: what if someone pilfers the turnip supply? Answer: Princess Gertrude of Chutney must journey out to take on the tyrants who have dared thieve such a specialty.