Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, editors,
The Green Man:
Tales from the Mythic Forest

(Viking, 2002)

The Green Man has been a powerful, archetypal symbol for millennia. With origins dating back in antiquity beyond the ken of human history, it's a potent icon of rebirth and rejuvenation. Today, the image of a human face amid thriving greenery has experienced something of a renaissance, popping up in all sorts of places -- some of which honor its significance, others of which simply hope to hook their wagons to a popular figure in modern mythology.

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling have paid true homage to the spirit of the Green Man in their anthology, The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest. Not only do the short stories collected in this hefty volume evoke a true sense of mystery in the wild, but artist Charles Vess -- who publishes much of his work via his own, well-respected Green Man Press -- has provided cover art and incidental illustrations to bring the concept alive.

The editors start the anthology right with an introduction that explains the history and lore of the Green Man, from his origins as a "foliate head" to his absorbtion into Christian symbology. I've read books on the subject with less clarity than Datlow and Windling have managed in 15 short pages. Anyone with an interest in global mythologies should consider reading this book for the introduction alone.

But the stories are the real meat of the matter, and the editors have chosen their contributors well. First up is Neil Gaiman with "Going Wodwo," a brief poem that captures perfectly the tone of the book. Consider the final verse: "I'll leave the way of words to walk the wood. I'll be the forest's man, and greet the sun, And feel the silence blossom on my tongue like language."

Delia Sherman finds her forest spirits in "Grand Central Park," a selection that shows how nature's fey have adapted to a new environment -- and how some faerie tricks never change. Michael Cadnum writes a lovely, lyrical version of the Greek myth "Daphne." In "Somewhere in My Mind There is a Painting Box," Charles de Lint delves deeply into the passion for art and the obsession with mystery. And in Tanith Lee's "Among the Leaves So Green," an old tree god gifts two sisters with the fates they truly deserve.

I can see already the temptation is strong to list and summarize every story and poem in the book. I'll resist that urge and add a few highlights -- I'll leave the rest for you to discover on your own.

"Charlie's Away" is a powerful tale by Midori Snyder about death and regret, and healing. Nina Kiriki Hoffman, in "Grounded," turns a romantic Internet connection into a balance of life and death. A girl meets a mystery in the desert in Emma Bull's "Joshua Tree," while Kathe Koja redefines a forest in "Remnants." M. Shayne Bell tells an extremely touching story of childhood innocence and desperation in "The Pagodas of Ciboute," and nature manifests to dethrone a corrupt king in Jeffery Ford's "The Green Word."

From top to bottom, front to back, Tales from the Mythic Forest is an excellent collection of stories unearthing the heart of the woodlands, the spirit of the trees and the face of nature. Read it and be refreshed by green.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 February 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.