First, my favorite tales from two young adult anthologies: The Green Man – a collection focused on the mythical spirit(s) of the forest – and The Coyote Road – a collection of trickster tales.
Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds. The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. New York: Viking, 2002.
- “Among the Leaves So Green,” by Tanith Lee. It starts in familiar territory – two sisters are sent into the woods to get eggs from the Widow. One sister is kind, the other cruel, so of course one will have a better time than the other. Only, this story doesn’t stop at the cruel sister’s punishment; rather, the forest offers her mercy and a change of life.
- “A World Painted by Birds,” by Katherine Vaz. Like her story, “The Kingdom of Melting Glances,” from A Wolf at the Door, this tale is full of beautiful magical realist imagery. From a town where all kinds of beauty are forbidden, a musician and a maker of beautiful lace patterns escape to the forest, where a revolutionary gardener has created a world of mushroom elephants and paintbrush birds, and stars that are “stretched … into a fleet of eardrums to collect every plot in the General’s house, every whisper in Rio Seco.”
- “Joshua Tree,” by Emma Bull. After a rave in the California desert, Tabetha gets hopelessly lost in a forest of Joshua trees, and then something really weird happens. Or did it really happen? And for some reason, she only feels comfortable telling the story to Alice, the eccentric new girl at school. And for some reason, Alice actually believes her.
The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales. New York: Viking, 2007.
- “The Fiddler of Bayou Teche,” by Delia Sherman. Her adoptive mother, Tante Eulalie, always warned Cadence to stay away from the fiddler Murderes Petitpas. Her friend Ulysse, one of the local loup-garous, also warns Cadence – “’Dres Petitpas is the big bull on the hill, and mean, mean. You stay away from him, you.” But some time after Tante Eulalie’s death, ‘Dres comes knocking on Cadence’s door with a challenge he won’t let her decline.
- “A Tale for the Short Days,” by Richard Bowes. The God of Thieves is troubled, for the modern world is too bright and full of itself for his taste, and much of this new attitude comes from the Sparkman family, kings of coal. So three times, across generations, the God of Thieves is called to the Sparkman estate at the winter solstice to teach the head of the household a lesson.
- “Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s,” by Ellen Klages. When her best friend doesn’t show up for their usual game night, Rachel accepts the housekeeper’s challenge. But this kindly old lady isn’t what she seems, and soon Rachel is trapped in a series of life-size board games, playing for her freedom.
- “The Other Labyrinth,” by Jedediah Berry. Of course I’d like a story about a labyrinth. “No mundane gardens, these, but a tortuous puzzle-place, as beautiful as it is confounding,” made up of many smaller mazes – the maze of white roses, the maze of false mirrors, the obelisk maze… a place that’s as much the trickster as its builder.
Next, as I mentioned in my previous Datlow/Windling post, the following anthologies are of more adult-targeted fairy tales (some very adult indeed), but the stories I like best tend to focus less on the sex and more on the clever twisting of the fairy tale.
Black Thorn, White Rose. New York: Avon Books, 1994.
- “Granny Rumple,” by Jane Yolen. In the town of Ykaterinislav, Ukraine, a moneylender named Shmuel tries to help an unfortunate neighbor whose boasting father risks the wrath of the mayor over stories of flax spun into gold-trimmed clothing. But, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished… Like Robin McKinley’s “Marsh-Magic,” this is a very clever re-invention of “Rumplestiltskin,” and I like how Yolen sets it up as a legend from her own family.
- “Godson,” by Roger Zelazny. David’s godfather Morrie seems like a great person. He visits David every year on his birthday, gets him an enchanted bicycle, helps him become a highly skilled doctor… but the things he expects David to do in return start to seem unjust, and eventually David starts to rebel. Of course, if you’ve guessed the story this is based on, you know how dangerous it is to rebel against such a godfather.
- “The Black Swan,” by Susan Wade. Sent to live with her aunt, the queen, Ylianna soon realizes she doesn’t conform to the ideals of courtly beauty. But it doesn’t really bother her until she falls for her cousin Sigfried, who sees her as just “some nestling hatched by one of the kitchen hawks: He might be briefly entertained by its antics, but he would never dream of training it to his wrist.” All this is observed by a young footman who offers to help Ylianna better meet the standards of courtly behavior and appearance. But how far will she go to be considered worthy of the prince?
Black Swan, White Raven. Germantown, MD: Prime Books, 1998.
- “Rapunzel,” by Anne Bishop. Told from three perspectives – the mother, the witch, and Rapunzel herself – it starts out as the familiar story of desperate lettuce cravings and secret princely visits, but then veers off in a lovely new direction.
- “True Thomas,” by Bruce Glassco. Thomas the Rhymer can tell the truth about people just by their scent, a Language he learned in his years living with the faeries. But these are a different kind of faery – insect/alien-like creatures who travel between the stars, learning and preserving the Language of different worlds. It’s a dreamy story of alien/fairy abduction.
- “Godmother Death,” by Jane Yolen. Of course I imagined Yolen’s Death to be the same figure as in the Sandman comics. She’s pale, with dark hair and a sign worn around her neck, and she likes occasionally to act mortal. The story follows fairly closely the Brothers Grimm tale, “Godfather Death.”
Black Heart, Ivory Bones. New York: Open Road Media, 2014. Kindle ed. (originally New York: Avon Books, 2000)
- “Rapunzel,” by Tanith Lee. Another neat Rapunzel story, this one toys with the idea of how the story was invented. For when Prince Urlenn, traveling home from a war, comes upon Rapunzel in the forest, her hair is already cut short and the tower is no prison, there being no witch to guard it. So how did the tale of the long-haired girl in the witch-guarded tower come about?
- “And Still She Sleeps,” by Greg Costikyan. As Costikyan says in the Afterword, “‘Sleeping Beauty’ is one of the ur-stories that shapes our society’s notion of Romantic love—and thinking about it, and what’s wrong with the image of love it presents, was the proximate cause of the urge to write this piece.” The story takes place in our world, with magic known to exist and studied as a science by scholars like Dr. Alistair Borthwick, whose archaeological team finds an enchantedly sleeping girl while excavating a site in Northumbria. Local legend suggests she can be woken by true love’s kiss. But can anyone really be her true love without knowing her as a person?
- “You, Little Match-girl,” by Joyce Carol Oates. A woman is driving alone through a blizzard in Maine, desperate to reach the airport, when her car skids off the road. As she wanders the lonely road, hoping someone will drive by and save her, she’s filled with regrets about a life traveling away from her home and family, “intellectually estranged” from them and anyone else who could have loved her. Maybe this accident is giving her a second chance.
- “The Cats of San Martino,” by Ellen Steiber. This one is based on an Italian fairy tale from the collection of Italo Calvino. Jenny Myford splits from her just-now-become ex-boyfriend on the way to Florence, leaving him to hook up with their traveling partner, Sasha. She wanders alone into the town of San Martino, where she’s instructed to stay at La Casa dei Gatti, the house of the cats. As it turns out, these are wise talking cats who can help Jenny deal with her heartbreak, and also protect her from the apparition she keeps seeing, who looks just like Sasha.