Ellen Datlow &
Terri Windling, editors,
Black Heart, Ivory Bones
(Avon, 2000)

All good things must come to an end, so they say, but I never expected one of them to be this series of anthologies of recast fairy tales edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Since Snow White, Blood Red was published in 1993, these books have been a thought-provoking source of personal pleasure and inspiration. Still, if the series must end, it is good that it closes with Black Hearts, Ivory Bones, an anthology of 20 stories and poems that comes as close to perfect as humanly possible.

The brief introduction is a commentary on the series overall as well as on the general appeal of folk and fairy tales. Datlow and Windling note that the resurgence of interest in fairy tales at the end of the 20th century (which hasn't quite ended yet) echoes a similar renaissance at the end of the 19th century.

As always, the collection showcases established and new authors. The first tale, "Rapunzel," by Tanith Lee, is a completely original take on the folk tale, in which the reader learns how folk tales are born. Delia Sherman's delicate, poignant poem "The Crone" takes the point of view of the wise, helpful old woman who guides youngest sons but who is otherwise ignored. "Big Hair" by Esther Friesner takes another look at Rapunzel; this time, she's a beauty pageant queen who is well protected by her guardian until a determined young journalist finds a way into her tower and her heart. Russell Blackford's "The King with Three Daughters" is a grim but somehow satisfying tale based on the Norse fairy tale "The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain." Written, it would seem, in ice water, it tells the story of a troll-slayer on a quest for three missing princesses who finds himself considering an unexpected perspective.

Neil Gaiman contributes the brief, striking poem "Boys and Girls Together," which considers the roles of both boys and girls in fairy tales, using them as a poignant metaphor for childhood and adulthood. The lighter-toned "And Still She Sleeps" by Greg Costikyan takes place in an alternate Victorian England, where magic is commonplace. An archeologist uncovers a sleeping girl from the 9th century during a dig in Northumbria, and as he wonders just what to do with her, he contemplates the nature of true love. Jane Yolen's "Snow in Summer" takes a Southern Gothic turn as a girl driven from her home by her stepmother takes matters into her own hands. "Briar Rose" and "Witch," two poems by Debra Cash offer wistful insight into the familiar characters of the Sleeping Beauty and the witch from "Hansel and Gretel."

The mood darkens again with Brian Stableford's "Chanterelle," in which he laces together "Hansel and Gretel" and two modern fairy tales: "Luscignole" by Catulle Mendes and "The Sunken Bell," a play by Gerhard Hauptmann. This is a tale of children lost in more than one sense of the word. Michael Cadnum's "Bear It Away" is the first of two quirky retellings of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"; this one offers her rationale for her actions, while in Scott Bradfield's "Goldilocks Tells All" she distorts the story to her best advantage. Charles de Lint doesn't retell a specific tale, but Mona, the main character in the delicious "My Life as a Bird," gets a crash course in the nature of fairy folk.

A young dancer pays a heavy price for her pride in "The Red Boots" by Leah Cutter, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Shoes." Emma Hardesty's "Rosie's Dance" paints a gritty portrait of a strong Cinderella who takes control of her own life. "You, Little Match-girl" by Joyce Carol Oates chills the reader to the bone with a tale of a young woman whose carefully self-contained life succumbs to illusion. Bryn Kanar's "Dreaming among Men" is a nifty original story about a younger brother going home which incorporates elements of southwestern folklore.

"The Cats of San Martino" by Ellen Steiber incorporates the old Italian folk tale into a satisfying contemporary fantasy in which the heroine discovers that her greatest treasure is her sense of self. Severna Park turns to Jewish mythology for "The Golem," which also explores the role of women in Orthodox Judaism, as well as the nature of courage and fear. "Our Mortal Span" is Howard Waldrop's funky tale of an automaton troll running amok in a storybook theme park. "Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower" by Susanna Clarke caps off the collection with an elegant story of a young rector newly appointed to a country village and the curious folk he encounters there.

The stories include brief biographical information on each author as well as a comment on the basis and inspiration for the story. The book is rounded out by a long list of recommended reading and features a gorgeous Thomas Canty cover.

Each story is unique and resonates with the reader. I would be hard pressed to find fault with any of them. This is a treasure trove greater than any fairy godmother could grant, and Datlow and Windling should be congratulated for the elegant closure they bring to the series.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

Buy Black Hearts, Ivory Bones from Amazon.com.