Black Swan, White Raven - Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling (Eds)

Black Swan, White Raven is Datlow and Windling’s fourth collection of once-familiar and much-beloved bedtime stories reimagined by some of the finest fantasists currently plying their literary trade—acclaimed writers like Jane Yolen, John Crowley, Michael Cadnum, and Joyce Carol Oates, who give new lives and new meanings to the plights of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, and more.

Hansel and Gretel make several appearances here, not the least being at their trial for the murder of a supposedly helpless old woman. The shocking real reason for Snow White’s desperate flight from her home is revealed in “The True Story,” and the steadfast tin soldier, made flesh and blood, pays a terrible price for his love and devotion.

The stories and poems in this collection run the gamut from triumphant to troubling to utterly outrageous.... All in all, the reimagined fairy tales and fables in Datlow and Windling’s literary offering mine the fantastical yarns we loved as children for new and darker gold.

I always find it difficult to summarize short story collections, so the above is from the publisher's site. I didn't actually realize, until I started to read some of the author biographies, that this is a reprint of an older anthology (originally published in 1997). Though the stories are older, the nice thing about them being based on fairy tales, is that they don't feel dated in ways that contemporary realism or even speculative fiction sometimes can.

As with many short story anthologies, the overall collection (though linked together in a very general way) feels uneven. While some of the veterans were fantastic in their storytelling capabilities--Joyce Carol Oates, Jane Yolen, etc.--a number of the stories felt not quite finished, or at least in need of one more polish to make them truly fantastic. This is not to say that any of the stories were bad, per se, but only that there was some need for more editing, in my opinion.

Fractured and retold fairy tales are always going to be popular, as the whole point of fairy tales is that they change over time in different cultural and historical contexts. This means that the stories are able to adapt well to contemporary situations and give us food for thought even as the basis for the different tales remain the same. A sleeping beauty who ends up in the fashion, industry gives us the older framework, but allows the writer to explore new ways of understanding body image, love, relationships, and the disturbing world of fashion and celebrity.

Even though the stories are somewhat uneven overall, the whole collection is still worth reading, giving some of the tales a breath of fresh air and new life for fans of the genre.



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