Silver Birch, Blood Moon
Ellen Datlow and
Note: The moral and stylistic grades for this book of short stories are averages.
The cover of this anthology calls it “classic fairy tales reimagined for adults” — an accurate description of the short stories included, if one implies a lot of change by ‘reimagined’. A few of the stories are straightforward retellings of well-known tales from a different perspective; more of them are unique stories simply inspired by classic tales. The variety of literary styles — everything from mythic to farcical — makes for fun reading; multiple takes on the same stories make for added entertainment value. (Compare Tanith Lee and Patricia McKillip on ‘The Frog Prince’, for instance.)
The literary quality of the stories is generally fairly good. There are poems, stories of just a couple pages, and longer stories, but almost all of them display good writing. Robin McKinley’s “Marsh-Magic” is a highlight, of course. So is Karawynn Long’s “The Shell Box”, for its legendary feel and original storyline. A few of the stories don’t live up to the quality of most of the book — India Edghill’s “Arabian Phoenix”, for instance, the plot of which struck me as unbelievable and ridiculous. For the most part, though, the writing quality in this anthology pleased me.
As to the moral quality, the book is a very mixed bag, as is to be expected. It contains everything from the lightheartedly moral “The Dybbuk in the Bottle” by Russell William Asplund, which has a very traditional feel, to Harvey Jacobs’ quite awful “The Vanishing Virgin”, which turns traditional fairy-tale morality on its head in an over-the-top farce. The stories tend to hover somewhere in the C range, though — not horrifying, but not especially great.
The one thematic trend that stood out to me in this volume was one which did not particularly impress me: the liberation of the traditional fairy-tale female. Now, I’m not a misogynist (obviously). But these (mostly female) writers seem to see all sorts of misogyny in the traditional fairy tales, and feel the need to free their heroines from the domination of nasty, hard-hearted fairy-tale heroes who are only interested in the heroines for their sex appeal. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it. In my personal experience, females tend to prefer rather to be carried off their feet by a knight in shining armor than otherwise; and the men of the fairy tales don’t seem (in my view) to be pervs, in general. I don’t care how you feel about the need of fairy-tale females to be liberated, though; after twenty stories the theme gets a little old. I got bored.
Content warning: A fair few of these stories contain some bad language (two or three with f-words). A couple of them contain violence or other disturbing images. Most of them contain at least minor sexual references, while about a quarter of them contain something a bit more graphic. Only one or two have brief sexual content which would fall (in my mind) in the explicit category.