A trio of fresh takes on Jane Yolen’s THE EMERALD CIRCUS.
Photo: Jason Stemple
Benjamin Wald at SFREVU praises the collection.
My favorite stories in the collection are those that riff on other authors’ work. “Blown Away”, despite having almost no plot elements in common with the Wizard of Oz other than Dorothy being carried off by a hurricane, manages to construct a fascinating dialogue with that famous work while telling a rich and affecting story in its own right. “Lost Girls” questions the gender dynamic of never-never land to great effect. Indeed, I wish this story were longer–it sometimes feels like a novella or short novel compressed into a few short pages. And, while a bit less substantial than these stories, “The Gift of the Magicians, with Apologies to You Know Who” mashes up the “Gift of the Magi” with “Beauty and the Beast”, with hilarious and gruesome results.
Arthurian legend is another frequent source of inspiration for Yolen. “The Confession of Brother Blaise” tells of Merlin’s birth, “Evian Steel” of the forging of Excalibur, and “The Quiet Monk” of Lancelot’s search for the tomb of Arthur and Guinevere to ask forgiveness. I have only a passing familiarity with the Arthurian story, so I feel that I missed some of the nuances of these stories, but “The Quiet Monk” in particular succeeds as a story despite this ignorance.
The story notes at the end of the collection are a special treat, offering a selection of poems along with insight into the inspiration for, and writing of, the stories collected here. This behind-the-scenes peek is a lot of fun, and Yolen has the rare gift of being as interesting when she talks about her writing as the writing itself is.
This collection represents the self-assured and confident voice of a writer who has perfected their own voice. If you enjoy reading fresh, sometimes subversive, but always affectionate takes on the stories that we all grew up with, I recommend this collection without reservation.
THE EMERALD CITY BOOK REVIEW enjoys the book.
Other standouts for me were “Blown Away,” which imagines an alternative fate for Dorothy from the point of view of one of the Kansas farmhands (including a stint in the Emerald Circus of the title), and “Sister Emily’s Lightship,” which makes the unlikely pairing of Emily Dickinson and an alien visitor seem almost inevitable. Yolen has made me look asquint at all the classic books and authors on my shelves now…what antics might be going on just beyond or around those hallowed pages?
For WHY WORDS WORK, Emma Rose Hollands recommends the work.
Easy to read, easier to be drawn into, this collection maintains the feeling of childhood nostalgia the original stories brought. There is a sense of wonder, pleasant and unnerving, that runs through all of the stories within THE EMERALD CIRCUS.
In addition, the stories in this collection are able to build upon the themes of the original stories. For example, in Jane Yolen’s re-telling of Peter Pan – a story with themes about growing up, accepting childhood and adulthood – the lost girls fight the patriarchy with union strikes.Taking a story that promotes the wonderful escapism of an endless childhood, and changing it to a story about using maturity to save the day. That…that is genius.
In fact, my favourite stories came from surprising origins. Peter Pan, Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, King Arthur – Jane Yolen’s re-telling of these stories were some of the most original, interesting, and thought provoking stories in the collection. Perhaps its because these stories aren’t re-told as often – or because there were more characters/ideas to work from – but I found the stories based on legends and classical literature to be the best in the collection.
Overall, I would recommend this collection to people who enjoy re-tellings of classical stories. I would also recommend it to those who love stories which aren’t all that they seem. The Emerald Circus may be easy to read, but once you sink into its charm, you’ll soon find that Jane Yolen’s collection weaves these classic characters, stories, and themes, into something deeply modern, marvelous and magical.
For more info on THE EMERALD CIRCUS, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover design by Elizabeth Story