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Black Heart, Ivory Bones
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
Avon Books, 370 pages

Thomas Canty
Black Heart, Ivory Bones
Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow was the fiction editor of OMNI from 1981 until it folded in 1998. She now works as the fiction editor of SCIFI.COM. Her well-deserved reputation as an editor for both this series and for the Fairy Tale Anthologies series (both with Terri Windling) has garnered her numerous awards.

ISFDB Bibliography

Terri Windling
Terri Windling is a five-time World Fantasy Award winner, a consulting fantasy editor at Tor, the author of The Wood Wife (winner of the Mythopoeic Award) and other fiction, and writes a popular folklore column for Realms of Fantasy magazine.

Terri Windling Website
ISFDB Bibliography

SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 12th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Silver Birch, Blood Moon
SF Site Review: Black Swan, White Raven
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, 11th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: 10th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Fairy Tale Anthologies

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Margo MacDonald and Katharine Mills

Katharine: The latest, and last, of Windling and Datlow's reinvented fairy tale collections has made even more of an impression on me than the others. I think they saved all the best ones for this volume!

I opened the book more or less at random, and started with Greg Costikyan's "And Still She Sleeps," a marvelous Romantic fantasy set in an only slightly twisted Victorian England. What if there had been a real Sleeping Beauty, but she was an historical princess enspelled for some lost political reason? What if she were discovered by an archaeologist studying ancient magics? Who could break the spell?

This tale is a wistful meditation on the nature of true love, with asides into the Romantic movement, eros versus agape, the trials of the scholarly life, and twisted Scottish history. It remains one of my favourites in the book.

Margo: I really liked that story too, especially the fact that it had a non-Disney ending. But for historical throw-back writing, there's no beating Susanna Clarke's "Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower." This English fairy story reads like a cross between Jane Austen and M.R. James. It has all the right elements of a good fairy story: kidnapped maidens, glamours, disappearing manor houses, endless paths in the woods, an intellectual yet socially inept new parson. It's a great read built on magic, creepiness and wit. I'm looking forward to reading Ms. Clarke's first novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, whenever it appears in print.

Katharine: Yes, "Mr. Simonelli" is a very tasty tale, and Ms. Clarke does wonderful work with an authorial voice that is really very difficult to capture without getting either stuffy or silly. Esther Friesner's "Big Hair," on the other hand, does wonderful work with a wholly contemporary Rapunzel. Ruby is a trailer-trash beauty contestant, whose hair is the only thing magical about her. The prince is an obsessed tabloid journalist, pursuing the story that's captured his heart.

Friesner is probably best known for comic fantasy, and "Big Hair" has funny moments, but there's a dark and sordid edge here to give it bite. Even the happy ending is equivocal.

Margo: Less successful, but along the same lines, is Scott Bradfield's Goldilocks Tells All." Here a modern Goldilocks plays up her traumatic experience with the Bears to become a tabloid/talk-show star, complete with her own tell-all book and pseudo-documentary movie. It's a funny idea, but somehow doesn't come off as all that interesting in the end.

A much more interesting take on the "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" tale is "Bear It Away," by Michael Cadnum. Cadnum picked up on the fact that in the story the bears are domesticated (living in a cottage, sleeping in beds, eating porridge, etc.) and his tale focuses on how this came to be and how it came to an end. The story is clever and charming -- but also, surprisingly, sad.

Katharine: I really liked "Bear It Away."  "Goldilocks Tells All" is essentially a one-hit joke stretched out over ten pages. And, now that I'm thinking about it, there is a bit of a tang of 'fairy in the trailer park' about this collection. Another one of my personal favourites is "Rosie's Dance" by Emma Hardesty. Hardesty takes on Cinderella with this bittersweet story. She says in her author's notes that she's "pretty sure Cinderella wasn't a fool" and she follows through. Rosie is a young girl doing the best she can in a bad place, alternately taking care of her stepbrothers and avoiding them, and trying hard to get ahead. This story's ending isn't exactly happy, but it's hopeful, full of the promise of making one's own way.

Margo: Still in keeping with the trailer-park theme is "The Red Boots" by Leah Cutter in which a small Texan town meets a wandering Lesbian line-dancer who was cursed by a former love for her predilection for winning at any cost. It's hard to like this story, if only because the heroine is so egotistical, but it is well-written with an underlying sense of humour.

But no one can beat the poignant humour with which Charles de Lint tells his story, "My Life as a Bird." A woman, recovering from a recent break-up with her boyfriend, suddenly finds herself the subject of a debt of gratitude from a surly dwarf whom she trips over one night on the sidewalk. Faced with the dwarfs' need to repay her for the kindness she showed him, she learns a bit about herself and what is important.

Katharine: Now, I quite liked "The Red Boots," and it seemed to me that the egotistical heroine had rather learned her lesson. "My Life as a Bird" is a wonderful story, and it's also interestingly told, the narrative mixed with images and excerpts from a fictional 'zine. Fans of de Lint's work will also appreciate the cameo appearances of other favourite characters from his urban fantasy world.

One thing I like about de Lint is the unblinking way he mixes the magical with the real. He doesn't make fairyland ordinary, but rather touches the contemporary world with the spark of faerie. Ellen Steiber apparently has the same sort of knack, and she shows it in "The Cats of San Martino," which is another of my favourites.

In this story, Jenny is dumped by her loser boyfriend, Carl, for a glamorous replacement, and left friendless and adrift in the middle of Italy. She's stranded without money or a way to get to her flight back, when she stumbles into a little village where there's an empty house -- the house of the cats. For lack of anything better, Jenny moves into the house and keeps it for the cats, only to discover that there's a long tradition, in this particular village, of people who "go to live with the cats."

This is a fun story, not just because of the cats (who despite their magical powers do behave in very catly ways) but also because of the quiet way in which Jenny's redemption happens, and Carl gets his comeuppance.

Margo: I have to say "The Cats of San Martino" was my favourite story in this collection. Everything about it seems to come together just right to create a perfect modern fairy tale, without losing the traditional mythic elements.

Another charming tale is "Rapunzel" by Tanith Lee. In Lee's version of the story, an accidental meeting in the forest leads to love and the weaving of the Rapunzel plot as a way of convincing the prince's father to accept the unequal match. The pure love and positive outlook of this retelling is refreshing in amongst the dark and menacing backgrounds of so many of the other stories.

Katharine: Yes, and "Rapunzel" also represents what I think of as the best of Lee's writing, beautiful without gothic overload. Speaking of dark and menacing... were we speaking of dark and menacing? That would have to be "You, Little Match-Girl," by Joyce Carol Oates, a truly depressing tale. It's evocatively written, as one would expect from someone of Oates' stature, but anyone can guess that a story beginning "She was a lonely girl, but her loneliness was hidden by her accomplishments, as a gnarled thicket can hide even the blazing sun" is going to end in tears.

The nameless heroine has walled herself off from all human contact, making herself into a fortress. It's only when, both her parents dead, she returns to her childhood home that she sees the barrenness of her life. After a car accident, she experiences redemption -- but it proves an elusive dream, and she dies, alone... in the cold... with nothing. Please, pass the razor blades. It's a good story, though anything but uplifting.

Margo: Winner of the "Bizarre" category in this collection is "Our Mortal Span," by Howard Waldrop. In this story, an automated troll in a Storyland-type theme park gains consciousness and goes on a rampage throughout the park, trying to convert the other automatons and destroying those that won't start to think for themselves. This is the stuff that Star Trek plots are made of. The story is quirky and somewhat amusing, but unfortunately, no Mr. Spock saves the day and the story blunders on just a little too long.

Katharine: Another slightly odd entry is "Chanterelle" by Brian Stableford. This is mostly a blend of Hansel and Gretel with Anderson's The Snow Queen, with evil magic mushrooms thrown in for good measure. I thought it had potential to be a good story, but missed the mark. It's also a bit too long.

Stableford does some interesting things, though. Chanterelle is named for the highest string of a musical instrument, and also because there is no story about a girl with that name. Her mother, Catriona, remembers all the old superstitions, and even though they now live in the city, she wants to be sure that her children are protected.

Of course, Chanterelle and her brother Handsel do end up going back to the wildlands of Faery, when their father dies and their mother gets lost in the forest. Once there, it is the magic of Chanterelle's name that draws Amanita the wicked mushroom-fairy to them. Yet even Chanterelle's supernatural singing voice cannot save the children in the end.

Margo: A quiet little tale, which had nearly slipped my mind, is "The Golem" by Severna Park. In a departure from traditional golem tales, this time it is an old woman who forms a female slave out of the mud to protect her and her friends as they travel on foot to a new village after their husbands are killed. There is something heartwarming yet sad about the old woman's rediscovery of her lost inner strength and the story feels very little like a fairy tale but, indeed, feels more like a survivor's story.

Katharine: This is actually a really amazing story. It's less about the magic of the golem than about the women's discovery of their strength in the face of persecution. What I found interesting about "The Golem" was how the traditional Jewish tales it's founded upon are subtly turned around by being centred around women.

As for Bryn Kanar's "Dreaming among Men," at least it's short. This variant of traditional Native tales of Coyote is told in the difficult, and lately overused, present-tense voice. Bank teller Palinuro Rubino gets a letter, and has a dream -- or is it a dream? -- about Coyote. Kanar says that "it wasn't until the next day that I realized I'd written a story." I'm still not really sure.

Margo: "The King With Three Daughters" by Russell Blackford is a strange yet intriguing tale. Here trolls are keeping the daughters of the king in their dark underground hideaway until our hero comes along to rescue them. But the daughters are not what they seem. In fact, very little in this story's kingdom is as it seems and the hero refuses the usual hero rewards of marrying one of the princesses or owning part of the kingdom, but instead flies off on a giant bird. It's a somewhat grotesque weaving of Norse fairy tales -- or should I say troll tales? -- but is perhaps a wee bit too long.

Katharine: Still, as you say, very intriguing, with its suggestion of dark threats for a hero who won't play the fairy game. Jane Yolen's tale, "Snow in Summer," is the last. This brief piece is based on Snow White, and once again takes us back to the American south, complete with chicken dinners and snake-handlers at Holy Roller Mount Hosea Church. Yolen also grants Snow-in-Summer a fairy godmother of sorts, Miss Nancy, who tells her to make her own happiness. That's what the heroine does, and lives happily ever after not with a handsome prince, but with the seven dwarves, who love her as perhaps her true father did not, when he succumbed to the stepmother's wiles.

Margo: Well, that's it for the stories in this collection. We don't have to talk about the poetry, do we?

Katharine: I have to confess, I'm always a bit disappointed by the poetry. You see names like Neil Gaiman and Delia Sherman, and think, "Oh, goodie, a new story." And then it's not. It's poetry. It's not bad poetry, but I'd really rather have a story, myself.

Margo: Me too. So let's not talk about the poetry. Let's just end by saying that three or four of the stories in this collection are probably the best that have appeared in any of the collections in the Datlow and Windling fairy tale series.

Katharine: A beautiful way to complete this outstanding series.

Copyright © 2000 by Margo MacDonald and Katharine Mills

Margo has always been drawn toward fantasy and, at the age of 5, decided to fill her life with it by pursuing a career as a professional actress. Aside from theatre (and her husband), Margo's passion has been for books. Her interests are diverse and eclectic, but the bulk fall within the realm of speculative fiction. She tells us that her backlog has reached 200 books and she's ready to win the lottery and retire.

Katharine Mills learned to read when she was three, and has never looked back. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she is legally blind without her spectacles.

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