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Sister Emily's Lightship
Jane Yolen
Tor Books, 240 pages

Sister Emily's Lightship
Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th century because of her many fairy tales and story books. She has written over 150 books for children, young adults and adults, along with hundreds of stories and poems. She's a past-president of SFWA and has been a member of the Board of Directors of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) since its inception.

Jane Yolen Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Wizard's Map
SF Site Review: Armageddon Summer
SF Site Review: Here There Be Dragons
SF Site Review: The Sea Man
SF Site Review: Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast
SF Site Review: The Transfigured Hart

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Robert Francis

Did you ever wonder what Snow White would have lived through had she grown up in Appalachia? Or where Shakespeare got the inspiration for Romeo and Juliet (aside from Tom Stoppard's version)? Or what might have happened to Icarus had he not drowned? Frankly, I'd not thought much on these topics before reading Sister Emily's Lightship, but I'd also be the first to admit that I have not the imagination that Jane Yolen has been blessed with.

Sister Emily's Lightship is a collection of 28 short stories. Many of them are retellings of familiar folk tales, or stories containing characters we're familiar with in other contexts. As Jane Yolen tells us in the story "Granny Rumple": "We Yolens have always borrowed from the best." This may be true, but what she doesn't mention is that borrowing is only the beginning. Jane Yolen breathes new life and a refreshing perspective into all that she borrows. Potential newcomers to the works of Jane Yolen should not be put off because she borrows from our collective folktale legacy, as the interplay of our expectations against Yolen's imagination creates a wonderful effect. However, this does assume that the reader will be at least passing familiar with old tales and new, such as Snow White, Rumplestiltskin, The Gift of the Magi, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and the story of Icarus and Daedalus.

I'd guess that about half of the stories in this collection are fairly directly related to a folk or fairy tale. Parents familiar with Yolen's great number of books written for young adults should not assume that all of these stories are suitable for their youngsters. Some of the tales herein deal frankly with topics such as the horror of the Holocaust, child abuse, incest, and murder -- in other words, many of these stories are closer in tone to the ones written down by the Brothers Grimm than anything Uncle Walt ever put on the big screen. And as were those original Grimm's Fairytales -- and the more recent Faery Tale series published first by Ace and then by TOR in 1987-1992 (featuring novels by authors such as Charles de Lint, Steven Brust, Patricia Wrede, Pamela Dean, Kara Dalkey, and Jane Yolen's fantastic novel Briar Rose) -- this collection of Yolen stories was compiled with an adult audience in mind.

An added bonus in this book is the sense you get in many of these stories that Jane Yolen is actually a real person, telling stories to her audience. Okay, I know she is real, and the whole point of publishing is to tell your story, but what I mean is that bits of her life and her history are included in the telling of some of the tales, giving the reader a personal feel for the author and for being told a story. I found this a refreshing approach, and one that worked very well with the stories themselves, perhaps reaffirming that the tale cannot be separated from how it is told. Of course, the afterword also includes fascinating notes on the origins of the stories or the author's intent.

A note to the Yolen collector -- all but three of these stories have been previously published over the last 20 years or so. As with her collection titled Here There be Dragons, published in 1998 by Harcourt-Brace, it's nice to have all of these stories grouped together in one place.

Copyright © 2000 by Robert Francis

Robert Francis is by profession a geologist, and, perhaps due to some hidden need for symmetry, spends his spare time looking at the stars.

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