Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, editors, Black Swan, White Raven (Avon, 1997)

Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling gather twenty-one tales and poems into their fourth collection of fairy tales retold for adults. They lead off the anthology with one of their by now staple introductions. These introductions serve a dual purpose -- explaining the premise of the series to newcomers while adding new perspectives for those who have read the previous volumes in the series.

Michael Cadnum gives his fisherman a bit of spine and brains in "The Flounder's Kiss," a retelling of "The Fisherman and His Wife." Karen Joy Fowler muses on what Sleeping Beauty might had dreamed in the startling "The Black Fairy's Curse." "Snow in Dirt" by Michael Blumlein is another retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" set in a more contemporary time period in a style that is at once tongue in cheek and sorrowful. Nalo Hopkinson explores an earthier aspect of "Little Red Riding Hood" in "Riding the Red" -- a powerful, if brief, rhythmic rolling narrative. Esther Friesner, well known for humorous fantasy, gives us the dark side of "Thumbelina" in the shivery "No Bigger Than My Thumb."

Joyce Carol Oates was inspired by the ballad of "The Elfin Knight" for her ominous "In the Insomniac Night," a story that captures a mother's secret fear. Steve Rasnic Tem's brief, bitter and heart-wrenching poem "A Little Match Girl" is based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale but with multiple layers of meaning. What if Hansel and Gretel were put on trial for murdering the witch? Garry Kilworth explores the idea in "The Trial of Hansel and Gretel," a story which makes you wonder what verdict you might cast.

Anne Bishop's "Rapunzel" is particularly remarkable in its retelling of the tale through three monologues: Rapunzel's mother, the witch, Gothel, and Rapunzel herself. Of the three, only one woman takes responsibility for her life.

"Sparks" by Gregory Frost is an inventive retelling of "The Tinder Box." A gardener named Edward tackles a thorny hedge to reach the castle and princess within in "The Dog Rose" by Sten Westgard. This is not so much a retelling as a look at how some of the lesser known players in the tales might feel. Midori Snyder's "The Reverend's Wife" has to be my favorite story in the book. A retelling of "The Muezzin's Wife," Snyder's tale of two women, their spouses, and the most curious case of revenge is lush, sensuous, and, well, bawdy. Harvey Jacobs is known for his unusual and witty contributions, and "The Orphan, the Moth and the Magic," a loose retelling of "The Cottager and the Cat," is no exception.

Don Webb packs fistfuls of fairy tale references into the bizarre "Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs." Ostensibly a retelling of "Snow White, the tale gives a nod to "Toads and Diamonds," "Cinderella," "The Month Brothers" and "The Goose Girl." The story of Thomas the Rhymer takes on a strange X-Files twist in "True Thomas" by Bruce Glassco. Pat Murphy lets us know that Snow White's stepmother got a bad rap as she retells the queen's tale in the extremely satisfying "The True Story."

John Crowley's "Lost and Abandoned" is a bleak and poignant consideration of "Hansel and Gretel." Nina Kiriki Hoffman also chooses "Hansel and Gretel" as the basis for her cautiously hopeful poem "The Breadcrumb Trail." Susanna Clarke's sprightly "On Lickerish Hill" is a retelling of "Tom Tit Tot," set in the 17th century and told in a dialect from that time period.

Nancy Kress shifts "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" into "Steadfast," a tale of devotion -- and obsession. Finally, Jane Yolen caps off the collection with her "Godmother Death," a crisp tale marked with her unique stamp. As always, a list of recommended reading follows the final tale.

Overall, the quality is consistent among the stories. There seems to be a bleaker, more despairing tone overall which even the humorous stories can't seem to leaven. Still, it is a good collection and readers of the previous three books won't want to miss it.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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