Review: How to Fracture a Fairy Tale – Jane Yolen
by Jane Yolen
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication Date: November 5, 2018
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Fantasy legend Jane Yolen presents a wide-ranging offering of fractured fairy tales. Yolen fractures the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets, holding them to the light and presenting them entirely transformed; where a spinner of straw into gold becomes a money-changer and the big bad wolf retires to a nursing home. Rediscover the tales you once knew, rewritten and refined for the world we now live in―or a much better version of it.
This is a collection of Ms. Yolen’s stories, all having to do with fairy tales or legends. They span the gamut from the traditional European Cinderella tale, to China, to the Cheyenne plains, to a concentration camp, to Ninety-Sixth near Central Park. All of the stories were published previously, though the notes and some of the poems at the end of the book are new. There are quite a few of them, some only a few pages and a few near novella length, so I’ve written a quick sentence review for each.
Miss Nancy’s stories had always ended happy-ever-after. But she used to add every time: “Still you must make your own happiness, Summer dear.”
“Snow in Summer” – four stars. This read a little bit like Little House on a Prairie Snow White.
“The Bridge’s Complaint” – three stars. Three Billy Goat’s Gruff from the POV of the bridge.
“The Moon Ribbon” – four stars. If someone takes something from you, are you giving it?
“Godmother Death” – four stars. Can you trick death?
“Happy Dens or A Day in the Old Wolves’ Home” – three stars. Retellings of various wolf fairy tales (Peter and the Wolf, Three Little pigs, Little Red Riding Hood) as told rom the the wolves’ point of view, as they’re waiting for dinner in a retirement home. An interesting view of “spinning” stories, but a bit much for me.
“Granny Rumple” – four stars. Rumpelstiltskin, but as a Jewish pogrom. This was.. difficult to read, but it was thought provoking as to how family stories handed down through time start to resemble fairy tales.
“How can I choose between my dear sons?” she always answered. “I love you each the best.” And with that answer, they had to be content.”
“One Ox, Two Ox, Three Ox, and the Dragon King” – 5 stars. I loved this one. I had an old book of Chinese fairy tales, and this particular tale reminds me of them. I loved how the brothers worked together to save their mother.
“Brother Hart” – 3 stars. I’m not familiar with the source material, and I’m not quite sure what to make of this one.
“Sun/Flight” – 3 stars. A sort of Icarus tale, but with more some parts made more fantastical and some made less.
“Why are we here?” I trembled as I spoke.
“Ah, Rebecca—that is always the most important question.” His r’s rattled like a teakettle left too long on the stove. “The question we all need to ask of the universe.” He smiled at me. “You are here because I need you.”
“Slipping Sideways Through Eternity” – 5 stars. Oof, this story. Absolutely heart wrenching, but it is amazing the insight Ms. Yolen has into the mind of a teenage girl. It felt like being fifteen again.
“The Foxwife” – 3 stars. There is something here, I think, about angry men and the changing love of fatherhood, but I think I missed the point.
“The Faery Flag” – 3 stars. Love between partners, and love between a mother and child.
“One Old Man, with Seals” – 4 stars. A fairytale for a voracious news-consuming retired librarian? Why not?
“Sleeping Ugly” – 4 stars. Cute and funny, felt a bit like a children’s book.
“The Undine” – 3 stars. Little mermaid, but more focused on the prince than the mermaid.
“Great-Grandfather Dragon’s Tale” – 5 stars. St. George and the Dragon, as told by an elderly dragon to his grandkids. One of my favorites!
“Green Plague” – 4 stars. A modern day Pied Piper, but with frogs and rock bands. Amusing, and a bit of small town political commentary, as well.
“The Unicorn and the Pool” – 2 stars. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea about this one. It feels like a parable about Jesus.
“The Golden Balls” – 3 stars. I loved the Frog Prince as a child, but did always wonder how the princess would get along with the frog, and if the frog would actually be happy with a princess who keeps losing her dang balls.
“Sister Death” – 4 stars. Unsettling story about Death becoming a mother.
“Sule Skerry” – 4 stars. A Selkie tale, set during World War II. Another one that’s from the POV of a semi-modern girl.
“Once a Good Man” – 4 stars. A short parable about heaven and hell, almost Biblical in nature.
“Allerleirauh” – 3 stars. Unexpected incest.
“The Gwynfahr” – 3 stars. Arthur and Guinevere, if Guinevere was an albino and Merlin was, well, a merciless conman intent on reunifying the clans.
“Cinder Elephant” – 4 stars. Ridiculous and hilarious, with three! morals to boot.
“Mama Gone” – 5 stars. Probably tied with the dragon tale for my favorite. A vampire tale set in an rural area, but most of all, how a teen girl says goodbye to her dead mother.
“The Woman Who Loved a Bear” – 4 stars. A Cheyenne tale. I loved the interjections from the grandson an the grandfather’s response to him saying it couldn’t be “real.”
“Wrestling with Angels” – 3 stars. An interesting end to the book.
The rest of the book is notes on each tale, each with an accompanying poem, some of them written especially for the book.
Overall, this was quite an eclectic collection, and it was wonderful “catching up” with Ms. Yolen again. Highly recommended for fans of fairy tale retellings!