Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (Avon, 1995)

Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears is the third volume in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's series of original fairy tale anthologies for adults. Seasoned writers join newly published authors in a collection of tales which is almost as good as the previous two volumes.

As always, Datlow and Windling introduce the series, this time comparing the American preferences for realism to the "magic realism" that naturally infuses the literature, folk or otherwise, of other cultures. That these collections are so well loved and widely read suggests that there is a need, if not an outright demand for such magical writing in our society.

In the first of the twenty-two stories and poems collected here, Susan Wade offers an interview with none other than The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy Gale, with a deliciously shuddery overtone of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Shoes." Tanith Lee's "Beast" explores the nature of beauty and the fine border it shares with beastliness. "Masterpiece" by Garry Kilworth is a chilling contemporary take on "Rumplestiltskin," in which one wishes in vain that the "miller's daughter" character would get what she deserves.

There are four reinterpretations of "Sleeping Beauty" in the anthology. Three follow each other here. In the first of these, "Summer Wind" by Nancy Kress, the princess behind the briars is awake and serving a curious kind of apprenticeship. Farida S.T. Shapiro's poem "This Century of Sleep, or Briar Rose Beneath the Sea" is a haunting, brief and multi-leveled portrait of the transformations wrought by time and waiting. The smoothly written "The Crossing" by Joyce Carol Oates is a wholly original retelling and easily one of the best stories in the collection.

Roberta Lannes's light-hearted "Roach in Loafers" takes a roach named Arch, adds a nearly bankrupt but skillful tailor and a savvy advertising executive and serves up a happy ending faster than you can say "Puss in Boots." Michael Cadnum adds a clever twist to "The Shoemaker and the Elves" with "Naked Little Men." Lisa Goldstein's "Brother Bear" combines elements of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," the animal bridegroom motif, and a sense of Native American lore into a stunning and moving tale about love and sacrifice. "The Emperor Who Had Never Seen a Dragon" by the late John Brunner is an original and compelling tale based on Chinese legend.

Nancy A. Collins provides another of the collection's high points with "Billy Fearless," a story that lends down-home humor to "A Tale About a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was." Gene Wolfe's "The Death of Koschei the Deathless" explores some of the historical gaps in the traditional Russion folklore. His writing is superb, but I had difficulty getting past the incestuous elements which are presented so casually. "The Real Princess" is one of the uglier stories in the collection, a retelling of "The Princess and the Pea" that lacks a single sympathetic character and leaves the reader feeling grubby.

Also marred is Milbre Burch's "The Huntsman's Story" which, according to the introductory note, was written in response to Polly Klass's abduction and murder, casting the girl's kidnapperr/killer as a misguided huntsman from "Snow White." Whatever Burch's intentions were, this piece intellectualizes and exploits the girl's death, winding up with a facile and meaningless statement at the end. As a parent, I found Burch's musings on the terrible pain inflicted by the event appalling and unnecessary. If it made her feel good, fine, but I wish she'd kept it to herself. She has a second piece in the collection, an intriguing poem called "After Push Comes to Shove," the dying contemplation of the witch in "Hansel and Gretel," who comforts herself with imagining a bad end for the two.

Gahan Wilson lends his deliciously twisted humor to "Hansel and Grettel," turning the two into jet set darlings. Anne Bishop's "The Match Girl" is set against a brutal backdrop, at times sickeningly so, yet at the same time, it is a story about hope and choice. "Waking the Prince" by Kathe Koja is the fourth and final retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" in which the tale of a sleeping prince intertwines with the contemporary story about a "prince" who only looks awake.

Ellen Stieber explores the kitsuné of Japanese folklore in her gripping, luminous novella "The Fox Wife." Neil Gaiman also touches on the kitsuné in his masterful poem "The White Road," intertwining the British folk tale "Mr. Fox" and twisting the tale deftly in an unexpected way. Master storyteller Jane Yolen uses a time traveler to demonstrate the power of story in "The Traveler and the Tale." Finally, Delia Sherman closes the collection with "The Printer's Daughter," a delightful and moving retelling of "The Snow Child."

As always, a list of recommended reading rounds out the book.

Unlike the previous two collections, the stories in this book are uneven in quality and flow less smoothly. While most of the stories in all of the anthologies deliberately examine the darker sides of fairy tales, some of the stories in Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears portray this uglier side without providing any contrast or balance, and the result can be off-putting. Still, the better stories far outweigh the flawed ones, and overall, the anthology is well worth your while.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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