Jun 13, 2016

Black Swan, White Raven

edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Snow White's stepmother is a well-meaning woman trying to remove a child from harm's way- because the king is a pedophile focused on his own daughter. Hansel and Gretel are put on trial for murder of a seemingly innocent old woman, and stealing her money. Sleeping Beauty is found by a man digging a new foundation for his shed- once wakened she becomes a fashion model who dreads ageing. These re-tellings of old fairy tales are placed in modern settings, the characters wearing new faces, the stories taking new forms. There are twenty-one of them in this collection. I recognized a few of the authors- Jane Yolen, Gary Kilworth, Joyce Carol Oates, Anne Bishop, Susanna Clarke. The others were new to me. The forward itself was of interest, and its explanation of the power of fairy tales reminiscent to me of that heavy tome, Women Who Run With the Wolves.

I found most of these re-tellings interesting, although there were a few I could not quite grasp or recognize any references to the original. Some were just very strange. These were my favorites:

"Rapunzel" by Anne Bishop- this story is told through several viewpoints, that of the mother who craves something from a neighbor's garden so much her husband feels compelled to steal it. That of the witch Gothel who keeps the young woman locked in a tower, and that of Rapunzel herself who in the end escapes and grows up good and strong, not at all marred by her strange upbringing.

"The Dog Rose" by Sten Westgard is a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty, but this story is about a peasant who lives in the nearby land, ravaged by drought. His grandfather's sweetheart was among the castle employees who also fell asleep with the curse, and when he hears the roses are blooming he goes to the castle to see if he can make a way open up through the thorns.

"The Reverend's Wife" by Midori Snyder is the most ribald of these stories- definitely an adult version (of a Sudanese tale). Two dissatisfied women trick each other's husbands into sleeping with them. Each man is unaware that his wife knows about the situation and moreover, they're made to think they are doing the women a favor! Well they were, but not the kind of favor they imagined. The men were pretty dumb in this story, but it was funny.

"True Thomas" by Bruce Glasco- Thomas the Rhymer visits the faerie world under the hill and stays many years. He learns to see and understand things far beyond human comprehension, and when he returns to the world (all his known family and friends long gone) uses his perception for "truth-telling" to those who ask- although they don't always hear what they want to. The depiction of faeries in this story is so very different from any I've come across before- very intriguing.

"On Lickerish Hill"- another story of fair folk living in a hill, but also with threads of the Rumplestiltskin story. This one is placed in seventeenth-century England, with magic and fact blending confusingly in the character's minds. The main figure in the tale -a young, rather ignorant woman newly married to an older respectable man- mistakenly called the fair folk 'Pharisees' throughout the story.

"In the Insomniac Night" by Joyce Carol Oates- this one I had trouble placing in context with any traditional stories I know. It's about a troubled single mother who worries that her ex-husband is trying to steal their children back from her. She sometimes goes running at night when the children are asleep, and starts to imagine that someone is stalking her on orders from her husband. I just kept thinking- is she crazy? who would go jogging at night leaving kids alone in the house sleeping, no matter how secure you think it's locked up.

A long time ago I read one or two books of re-told fairy tales edited by Terri Windling, and determined to someday to read them all. My library has a few, so I'm approaching them again. Also the recommended reading in the back of the book provides a lot more titles I'm adding to my list.

Rating: 3/5          366 pages, 1997

more opinions:
Rhinoa's Ramblings
anyone else?


Jenny @ Reading the End said...

I know I read this collection way back in the mists of time, but I think I must either have gotten bored with it or been too young to comprehend what was going on with most of it, because none of what you're saying rings a bell. Sounds like I'm overdue for a reread! (If it even counts as a reread when I remember nothing from the original reading.)

Jeane said...

Well, maybe the ones that stuck in your mind were those I didn't mention. Definitely worth a re-read I think!

carol said...

Sounds like a collection I should read.