Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s Black Swan, White Raven

515EA6E3RNL._SX301_BO1,204,203,200_Black Swan, White Raven is the fourth volume in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale reclamation effort. Reclamation from what… you might ask? From sweetness, safety and banality, traits infused into once-dark tales to render them palatable for tender sensibilities. As with its elder siblings, this collection is devoted to retelling and reinventing the old tales, while yet remaining faithful to the underlying nature of each. The authors represented are both well known (John Crowley, Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Yolen) and up-and-coming (Bruce Glassco, Stan Westgard, Anne Bishop), and all lend their unique touches to these familiar — some more so than others — stories.

The second story in the collection, Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Black Fairy’s Curse,” is a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty tale from the perspective of the dozing princess. The narrative is a unique coming of age tale, taking place, for the most part, within the young woman’s dreams. Imagine her surprise — and disappointment — to awaken to life with a prince who can never live up to her dream prince.

Nalo Hopkinson’s “Riding the Red” is a look back from the opposite end of life: an old woman reminiscing about her youth.As with the above story, there is a strong sub-context to the tale, as the aged narrator, longing for one last taste of Wolfie’s alluring danger, uses “riding the red” as a euphemism for mentruation and fertility.(Nalo Hopkinson is the author of the award-winning novel Brown Girl in the Ring.)

“No Bigger Than My Thumb,” by Esther Friesner, is a chillingly dark version of Thumbelina, wherein the social dominance of men over women is depicted through the struggle between a lord led astray by lust once too often, and his encounter with an odd triumvirate of female mystics. Ultimately, womanhood triumphs, in a most bizarre and unsettling (especially to anyone male) way.

The evil stepmother figures in an unexpected way in Garry Kilworth’s “The Trial of Hansel and Gretel.” A rendition of this familiar tale made particularly amusing by the harried testimony of the two children (it really does all sound implausible in the first person retelling, if you think about it).

“The Orphan the Moth and the Magic,” by Harvey Jacobs, is based on a lesser known tale, “The Cottager and His Cat.” It’s an amusing tale of a supernatural moth, an honest and remarkably intelligent young man, a gullible court, and a cat, which is not quite what it seems.

Don Webb’s “Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs,” is worth reading if for no other reason than because it manages to combine elements of the Snow White tale with H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, not forget to mention that it’s quite a funny story.

A second rendition of Snow White, Pat Murphy’s “The True Story,” is also included. Told from the perspective of the princess’s mother, this is a story of maternal devotion quite at odds with the usual versions of the tale.

This is but a taste of the fine sampling of short stories and poems available in this volume (there are twenty-two in all), which is indeed a fine addition to the editors’ growing family of retold tales.

(Avon Books, 1997)