Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. Silver Birch, Blood Moon (Avon, 1999)

The fifth volume of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's adult fairy tale series has a brighter, more optimistic tone overall. The twenty-one stories and poems still explore the darker side of fairy tales, but a number of the stories demonstrate that a happy ending is not necessarily a weak ending.

Datlow and Windling lead off the collection with one of their trademark introductions; it is remarkable how they can convey much of the same information in a fresh new and interesting way. Each introduction seems to build on the ones before, presenting a new perspective on the source material, just as the stories, many of which retell the same tales as the previous collections, each bring a unique perspective to the anthology.

"Kiss, Kiss" by Tanith Lee retells the "The Frog Prince" and is a tale of friendship, trust, and betrayal. Delia Sherman's poem "Carabosse" tells us what the "wicked" fairy really gave Sleeping Beauty. Patricia Briggs wrote a moving and lucid version of "Rumplestiltskin" in "The Price." She redeems the original folk tale which has always been my least favorite.

Caitlin R. Kernan's "Glass Coffin" is a grim retelling of "Snow White" set in what at first seems to be the not so distant future, but actually could be set in the here and now. Harvey Jacobs' "The Vanishing Virgin" is a lighthearted tale about magic, both stage and real, and what might happen to a rabbit and a magician's assistant under the right fantastical circumstances.

"Clad in Gossamer" by Nancy Kress gives us an envious prince who hopes to use the deceit of the tailors from "The Emperor's New Clothes" to his advantage. Nalo Hopkinson's "Precious" is a lively contemporary look at the down side of the "gift" given to the "good" sister in "Toads and Diamonds." In "The Sea Hag," Melissa Lee Shaw presents a hopeful view of "The Little Mermaid" -- hopeful, but not without elements of sacrifice. Garry Kilworth's "The Frog Chauffeur" is a warm, satisfying, and slightly poignant retelling of "The Frog Prince."

Russell William Asplund's "The Dybbuk in the Bottle" is an original piece modeled successfully on Jewish folklore. It is light-hearted, but takes its theme seriously. "The Shell Box" by Karawynn Long is an original tale using fairy tale motifs. Long's story is beautifully told; she is a talent to watch. Susan Wade shifts the mood with "Ivory Bones," a grim and grisly take on "Thumbelina," and "The Wild Heart" by Anne Bishop retells "The Sleeping Beauty" but with a rich psychological and spiritual cast.

Pat York focuses on a queen devoted to tending her son who is slowly and yes, painfully dying on the thorns around Sleeping Beauty's castle in "You Wandered Off Like a Foolish Child to Break Your Heart and Mine." India Edghill's "Arabian Phoenix" is an impressive modern spin on the story of Scheherazade. Michael Cadnum contemplates the advantages of having toads and vipers spill out of one's mouth in a delicious brief tale that retells "The Fairy Gifts," "Skin So Green and Fine" is a remarkable story by Wendy Wheeler which mixes voudoun traditions with "Beauty and the Beast."

Melanie Tem's disturbing "The Willful Child, the Black Dog, and the Beanstalk" is a dark blend of several fairy tales. "Locks" by Neil Gaiman is a striking poem with its roots in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" as well as in the curious, painful, and protective madness which descends on all parents. Robin McKinley's "Marsh Magic" has its roots in "Rumplestiltskin" but the luminous narrative transcends the folk tale. Patricia McKillip closes the collection with yet another retelling of "The Frog Prince" with "Toad," followed by the list of recommended reading.

Some of the stories are grim and despairing but many are positive without being saccharine. The stories are all excellent -- not one falters. This may be their best collection yet.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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