Sunday, September 12, 2010

Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales

When Troll's Eye View: A Book of Villainous, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, appeared on the new release table last spring (as in 2009), I immediately snatched up a copy. Short stories by Holly Black, Garth Nix, Nancy Farmer, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman and more, each of which focuses on a fairy tale "villain"? Sign me up! (Seriously, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling - if you're doing another of these collections, please sign me up! But I digress.) I came home, hard at work on the Jane Project, and put it in my TBR pile, where it stayed until this week, when I fished it out and started reading a few entries at a time. There are a total of 15 stories and poems in the collection, and it took me four days at my exceedingly moderate pace to get through it.

The book is a fabulous collection of retellings, ranging from the humorous (such as Garth Nix's "An Unwelcome Guest" and Peter S. Beagle's "Up the Down Beanstalk: A Wife Remembers") to the alarming (Holly Black's "The Boy Who Cried Wolf") to the not-so-villainous (Ellen Kushner's "The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces") to the distressingly creeptastic (Kelly Link's "The Cinderella Game", which closes the collection in a disconcerting way).

You all know I'm a fan of short stories, and this collection includes some of the best contemporary fantasy writers, most of whom are operating at the top of their game here. "Wizard's Apprentice" by Delia Sherman is the story that opens the collection, and is one of the more inventive sorts of retellings, raising a question as to what constitutes an "evil" wizard, exactly. Catherynne M. Valente's story, "A Delicate Architecture", provides the backstory for the witch in Hansel & Gretel, and is clever, well-executed and thought-provoking in a mildly disturbing way. Wendy Froud's wonderful poem, "Faery Tales", provides quite a twist to all those happily-ever-afters. Nancy Farmer layers Shakespeare and history on top of the story of Bluebeard for quite a different sort of ending (for all involved), "'Skin" by Michael Cadnum gives Rumplestiltskin a different name, different skills, and a different ending.

Here's the complete Table of Contents, which I've annotated with the name of the individual fairy tale involved where I can:

"Wizard’s Apprentice" by Delia Sherman
"An Unwelcome Guest" by Garth Nix (Rapunzel)
"Faery Tales" by Wendy Froud
"Rags and Riches" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (The Goose Girl)
"Up the Down Beanstalk: A Wife Remembers" by Peter S. Beagle (Jack & the Beanstalk)
"The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces" by Ellen Kushner (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
"Puss in Boots, the Sequel" by Joseph Stanton (I leave it to you to sort out)
"The Boy Who Cried Wolf" by Holly Black (ditto)
"Troll" by Jane Yolen (Three Billy Goats Gruff)
"Castle Othello" by Nancy Farmer (Bluebeard)
"‘Skin" by Michael Cadnum (Rumplestiltskin)
"A Delicate Architecture" by Catherynne M. Valente (Hansel & Gretel)
"Molly" by Midori Snyder (Molly Whuppie)
"Observing the Formalities" by Neil Gaiman (Sleeping Beauty)
"The Cinderella Game" by Kelly Link (again, you can sort this one out)

If you like fairy tales and/or fractured fairy tales, if you like short stories, if you appreciate good writing, this is a collection you ought to have. It's appropriate for middle grade readers, although some stories will play better with the younger members of this set than others (both because of the creep factor of some stories - Link's and Black's in particular - and because of the sophistication of the language and need to understand the source material well, as is the case with Neil Gaiman's wonderful poem, "Observing the Formalities"). Although it is intended for the middle-school set, I think it appropriate for older elementary students, and I don't think it actually has an upper age-limit. I mean, I'm well past middle-school age, and I love it. I'm only sorry I didn't get to it sooner!

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