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Black Swan, White Raven

Black Swan, White Raven

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by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling

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  • A stellar assymbly of many of today's most creative and accomplished

    storytellers has gathered around the tribal fire to embroider well-worn yarns

    with new golden thread. Black Swan, White Raven revisits the tales that

    charmed, enthralled, and terrified us in our early youth — carrying us

    aloft into the healthy, beating heart of cherished


  • A stellar assymbly of many of today's most creative and accomplished

    storytellers has gathered around the tribal fire to embroider well-worn yarns

    with new golden thread. Black Swan, White Raven revisits the tales that

    charmed, enthralled, and terrified us in our early youth — carrying us

    aloft into the healthy, beating heart of cherished myth to tell once again the

    stories of Rumpelstiltskins and sleeping beauties, only this time from an edgy,

    provocative and distinctly adult perspective. The themes and archetypes of our

    beloved childhood fiction are reexamined in a darker light by 21 superb teller

    of tales who deftly uncover the ironic, the outrageous, the enigmatic and the

    erotic at the core of the world's best-known fables, while revealing the

    sobering truths and lies behind "happily ever after."

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
John Crowley, Joyce Carol Oates and Michael Cadnum are the biggest names among the 21 authors who contribute to this sterling fourth collection of retold fairy tales edited by Datlow and Windling (Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears). A few of the stories here, such as Anne Bishop's "Rapunzel," differ from more familiar versions only through a change in point of view, but others take more radical and inspiring liberties. In "The Trial of Hansel and Gretel," Gary Kilworth raises more than a few doubts about the motivation behind an old woman's murder, while Oates demonstrates, in "In the Insomniac Nights," that imagined threats can be just as deadly as real ones. Susanna Clarke's charming "On Lickerish Hill" sets the tale of Rumplestiltskin in the days of the gentleman scientist, and Don Webb's "Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs" proves a wonderfully twisted mix of fairy tales replete with deliciously bad puns. Other standouts include Pat Murphy's "The True Story" (of Snow White) and Esther Freisner's "No Bigger Than My Thumb," a bitter tale of witchcraft and vengeance. Compared to these, the Hansel and Gretel remakes of Crowley's "Lost and Abandoned" and Nina Kiriki Hoffman's "The Breadcrumb Trail" come off as strangely bland. Readers looking for deeper insight into childhood stories will enjoy this collection, as will anyone who just wants to read some good fantasy. (June)
Library Journal
The fourth book in Datlow and Windling's anthology series of well-known and obscure fairy tales retold by contemporary writers, this collection features 19 short stories and two poems about Snow White, the fisherman and his wife, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, and others. Writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Pat Murphy, Don Webb, and Jane Yolen put interesting twists to the sanitized Victorian versions we have, proving that these tales, along with the originals, aren't really for children. Highly recommended for fantasy and short story collections.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Rich, ripe and rewrding... the stories are well-written and sharp in unexpected places."
Book World Washington Post
"Datlow and windling's series gives the reader a look at what some of our best storytellers are doing today."
Kirkus Reviews
Fourth in the series of fairy tales reworked for modern audiences (Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears, 1995, etc.). As the editors point out, the stories familiar to us today are drastically edited Victorian variations intended to entertain and instruct children. The older versions, almost invariably darker and more complex, yield no single, unambiguous interpretation, but consist of timeless themes and potent archetypes that new generations of storytellers may draw upon as they will. Of the 19 tales and 2 poems here, the most popular source is Hansel and Gretel (Garry Kilworth, John Crowley, Nina Kiriki Hoffman), followed by Snow White (Don Webb, Pat Murphy) and Sleeping Beauty (Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Blumlein). Other famous contributors include Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Kress, and Jane Yolen; numbering among the well-known characters in new guises are Thumbelina, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, the Tin Soldier, the Tinder Box, Thomas the Rhymer (he actually existed), and a certain L.R.R. Hood.

Fresh, often feminist significance teased out of ancient, ageless tapestries.

Product Details

Wildside Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
Mature Readers (ages 16 and up)
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
16 Years

Read an Excerpt

Black Swan, White Raven

By Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling


Copyright © 1997 Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-6860-7


The Flounder's Kiss

My beautiful bride said if you spend all your time fishing the river, you catch nothing but monkfish and bream. You get water wens all over your feet. If you want money, she said, you go sea fishing.

So there I was, a river man all my life, marrying after I had nine gray hairs, pricing fisher's small-craft at the weekly sale. Most of those belly-up clinker-builts belong to dead fishermen, their bodies feeding crabs, and everybody knows it. It keeps the prices down, but I decided to be a beach fisher, and I had some luck. You have to take the long view. You like whelks, you eat whelks. Shellfish don't bother me. When I don't catch anything, the tide all the way to the sunken merchantman in the mouth of Zeebruge harbor, I trudge back and start clamming. Eight, nine you have supper.

Yanni, my rose-cheeked wife, would say, "All day out there, and you come home with what?" That lovely mouth of hers, working nonstop.

"I have six fine cockles," I would say. Or, if the tide had run well, two fine whiting. Or two soles, or John Dory, or a dozen pier mussels. Whatever it was, and they were always prime. I don't want to eat anything diseased or deformed or that looks peculiar. The fact is some days I can't bring myself to eat fish. It's not just that fish flop around with their mouths open. They have slits they breathe through and eyes that look up like pennies, and there's nothing you can do to tell a fish to lie still. You can use one of those mallets especially made for shutting fish up, head hammers, the dorymen around here call them in their usual jocular way, but about the only thing you can say to a fish is nothing.

Tourists love it. We put on these wooden mud-treaders, and you can hear them calling to their kids, "Look, how darling, wooden shoes." And I, for one, always wave and smile. I know they can't help it, so far from home and nothing to look at but a man going to work with about twenty ells of net on his back.

"You bother to catch one pilchard, Weebs, you might as well catch a hundred," my wife would say. Always sewing, needle winking up and down. Skirts, blouses, collars, gloves. "I might as well be a herring gull you come back with such tiny little fish."

"It takes a lot to maneuver the net with just two arms," I would answer. "You need a strong back and a feel for the current."

"You've got talent, Weebs," she would respond. "A rare genius. You ought to win a prize for being able to work for less money than anyone who ever scraped mud."

"You want me to catch flounder."

"Eels," Yanni would reply, squinting at her needle.

"Eels have two hearts," I would say. "They crawl over land. They have conventions in the ocean, they have nests in the hills. An eel is too complicated to eat. I like pilchards. You can hold a fish like that in your hand."

"Men," my wife would say.

"There's something about a herring that says I'm made for eating, it's okay to eat me, I have an eye on each side of my head, and I am going to be eaten by something I never saw coming, it might as well be you."

"Catch something worth the effort," she would reply. Bored, having given up on me. But still talking about it, one of those people who can't shut up. She would walk into a room making announcements saying she was cold, I would be late for high tide, why was it so dark, where was her darning.

It was a glorious day for watching clouds. I had caught nothing. The sea was filthy, a gale out of the northwest. All the horsefishers were in their stables. The sailorfishers were sipping juniper spirits by their fires, and there was only I myself, on the broad flat beach. I didn't want to come home wet with rain and wet with brine, blue and nothing to show for it but a pocketful of limpets.

You cast your net and it looks pretty, black lace spreading out. When it drifts down over the water there is a splash where the netting settles, and the sound of it is what satisfies. Casting the net, you feel the waves calm under the span you mended, and sometimes I could do it well into the dark, regardless whether or not I caught a fingerling.

I was almost ready to quit for the night. One more cast, I told myself. Just one more. It's a serene sight, the net sweeping up, hanging over the waver, lifting with the wind. The net drifted onto the sea. And it happened. The net tugged, tightened. And there it was as I hauled in the net, the famous fish, the size of a Michaelmas tureen, fat and silver.

I have a great aversion to flounders. I can't stand to take them by the tail, much less slit one open. They have their eyes close together on one side of their head, and they swim around blind on one side, looking up at the sky with the other. I want something simple to eat, not a living curiosity.

I realized, however, that it was worth a guilder or two, a fish like this, an armload, and while I am not the most gifted fisherman alive, I am no fool. I pulled the one-sided creature out as it flopped in the net. I dragged it onto the beach and untangled the net, and then I heard something. I looked up, looked around, my head tilting this way and that. The wind was whistling, and I was not sure what I heard.

Maybe it was a tourist talking, one of the day-trip spinsters out of Southampton; they ferry across and flirt at a distance. They say things like "what a wonderful fish you have just caught," in German, as though I would ever speak a syllable of the language. The tourists are the equivalent of herring themselves, the poor dears. It would be just like one to be chattering in a rising wind in the dusk in the middle of nowhere. Not just talking, arguing, jabbering to make a point.

I stooped to gather in enough fish to buy a silver thimble and a bolt of silk when I realized that the muttering was close to my ear. I dropped the flounder. It smacked the sand and made that shrugging flopping I hate in fish—why can't they just fall asleep and die? The fish said clearly, but in a small voice, "Wish. Go ahead wish. Just wish. Any wish. Don't wait—wish."

I seized my gutting knife and just about used it, out of horror. But instead I asked it a question. My brother shovels waffles into the oven on a paddle and has a cellar of cheese. My sister married a brewer, and has beer and fat children. My father took tolls on a bridge with carved seraphim and saints, burghers and fair ladies and military men calling him by name, wishing him well.

And I was talking to a fish.

And the fish was talking back. "Any wish. Then let me go."

It was persistent, this idiot babble. So I made a wish. I asked for a bucket full of herring, pink- gilled, enough for tonight and a few left over for the market.

By candlelight Yanni picked a spinebone from her mouth and said, her eyebrows up, not wanting to admit it, "That was most delicious, Weebs. Most tasty little fish I have ever supped upon."

"There's a story behind that fish," I said.

She gave me one of her bedroom glances, dabbed her pretty lips.

"But never mind," I said.

"Tell me," she said.

I pushed my plate away, put my elbows on my table, and took a sip of beer, dark brew, tart, almost like vinegar. I smiled. I said, "You won't believe it."

Not a quarter of an hour later I was wading into the surf. "Fish!" I called. "Big fish! Flounder!"

It was raining hard. Despite what you might have heard, there was no poem, no song. There was a lump on my head, and one eye was swelling shut. I bellowed into the wind, now straight out of the north. "One more boon," I asked.

Waves broke over me, drowning the sound of my voice. There were no fish. The fish were vanished from the sea. I stood drenched, about to turn away, when the fish was there at my side, its eyes two peas side by side.

"One more!" I said. I was standing in a storm talking to a fish, and before shame or common sense could silence me I repeated Yanni's desire.

I hurried back, running along the dike. Cows with their big, white foreheads stared at me from within their mangers, and when I half collapsed in my cottage she seized me by jerkin and turned me around. "Look!"

The kettle had unbent its hook, fallen into the fire, solid gold and impossible to drag out of the embers. "It's going to melt!" she cried.

"You wanted it turned to gold," I said.

"Go back and get this made into money."

I panted, dripping, catching my breath. "Money?"

"Coins! Sovereigns, ducats, dollars. We can't do anything with this."

"It's beautiful!"

"And then ask for brains, Weebs. For you. For inside your head."

"You should try to be more patient, dear Yanni," I said. I think it was the only time I had ever offered her such advice.

She put her hands on her hips. In her apron and her cap she told me what she thought of me. All this time I had thought her pensive, moody, emotional. But I thought she loved me.

I took my time. The wind was warm, out of the west now, and there were a few stars. When I was a boy I would want to stand outside in the wind and feel my sweater and my sleeves billow and flow, flying. Both feet on the ground, but flying in my heart.

"Fish! Magic flounder!"

It must have known. Once it began to trade in human desire it was finished. No net is worse. It nosed upward, out of the waves. Why it even listened I cannot guess. I thrust my hand into a gill, seized a fin, and hauled the creature with all my strength. I dragged it up where the sand was dry, black reeds, gulls stirring, croaking.

The fish was talking nonstop. I tugged my knife free of the belt and cut the flounder, gills to tail, and emptied him out on the sand.

There has been some question about my wife. Some say the fish renounced the boons, took it all back, and sent us into poverty. Some say my wife left me, taking the golden kettle with her, swinging it by one fist, strong as she was famous to be.

Proof against this is the kettle I still possess, heavy as an anvil, chipped at slowly over the years, shavings of pure gold to buy feather quilts and heifers. And this is not the only precious metal in my house. A golden pendant the shape of a woman's mouth dangles ever at my breast.

A parting gift? some ask.

Or a replacement for her, suggests the even-smarter guest with a chuckle, enjoying my roast goose.

Fish do not die quickly. They take their time. And even a magic fish is slow to understand. Give me silence, I wished, crouching over him, knife in hand. Silence, and the power to bring her back someday, should it please me, one kiss upon her golden lips.


The Black Fairy's Curse

She was being chased. She kicked off her shoes, which were slowing her down. At the same time her heavy skirts vanished and she found herself in her usual work clothes. Relieved of the weight and constriction, she was able to run faster. She looked back. She was much faster than he was. Her heart was strong. Her strides were long and easy. He was never going to catch her now.

She was riding the huntsman's horse and she couldn't remember why. It was an autumn red with a tangled mane. She was riding fast. A deer leapt in the meadow ahead of her. She saw the white blink of its tail.

She'd never ridden well, never had the insane fearlessness it took, but now she was able to enjoy the easiness of the horse's motion. She encouraged it to run faster.

It was night. The countryside was softened with patches of moonlight. She could go anywhere she liked, ride to the end of the world and back again. What she would find there was a castle with a toothed tower. Around the castle was a girdle of trees, too narrow to be called a forest, and yet so thick they admitted no light at all. She knew this. Even farther away were the stars. She looked up and saw three of them fall, one right after the other. She made a wish to ride until she reached them.

She herself was in farmland. She crossed a field and jumped a low, stone fence. She avoided the cottages, homey though they seemed, with smoke rising from the roofs, and a glow the color of butter pats at the windows. The horse ran and did not seem to tire.

She wore a cloak which, when she wrapped it tightly around her, rode up and left her legs bare. Her feet were cold. She turned around to look. No one was coming after her.

She reached a river. Its edges were green with algae and furry with silt. Toward the middle she could see the darkness of deep water. The horse made its own decisions. It ran along the shallow edge, but didn't cross. Many yards later it ducked back away from the water and into a grove of trees. She lay along its neck and the silver-backed leaves of aspens brushed over her hair.

She climbed into one of the trees. She regretted every tree she had never climbed. The only hard part was the first branch. After that it was easy, or else she was stronger than she'd ever been. Stronger than she needed to be. This excess of strength gave her a moment of joy as pure as any she could remember. The climbing seemed quite as natural as stair steps, and she went as high as she could, standing finally on a limb so thin it dipped under her weight, like a boat. She retreated downward, sat with her back against the trunk and one leg dangling. No one would ever think to look for her here.

Her hair had come loose and she let it all down. It was warm on her shoulders. "Mother," she said, softly enough to blend with the wind in the leaves. "Help me."

She meant her real mother. Her real mother was not there, had not been there since she was a little girl. It didn't mean there would be no help.

Above her were the stars. Below her, looking up, was a man. He was no one to be afraid of. Her dangling foot was bare. She did not cover it. Maybe she didn't need help. That would be the biggest help of all.

"Did you want me?" he said. She might have known him from somewhere. They might have been children together. "Or did you want me to go away?"

"Go away. Find your own tree."

They went swimming together, and she swam better than he did. She watched his arms, his shoulders rising darkly from the green water. He turned and saw that she was watching. "Do you know my name?" he asked her.

"Yes," she said, although she couldn't remember it. She knew she was supposed to know it, although she could also see that he didn't expect her to. But she did feel that she knew who he was—his name was such a small part of that. "Does it start with a W?" she asked.

The sun was out. The surface of the water was a rough gold.

"What will you give me if I guess it?"

"What do you want?"

She looked past him. On the bank was a group of smiling women, her grandmother, her mother, and her stepmother, too, her sisters and stepsisters, all of them smiling at her. They waved. No one said, "Put your clothes on." No one said, "Don't go in too deep now, dear." She was a good swimmer, and there was no reason to be afraid. She couldn't think of a single thing she wanted. She flipped away, breaking the skin of the water with her legs.

She surfaced in a place where the lake held still to mirror the sky. When it settled, she looked down into it. She expected to see that she was beautiful, but she was not. A mirror only answers one question, and it can't lie. She had completely lost her looks. She wondered what she had gotten in return.

There was a mirror in the bedroom. It was dusty, so her reflection was vague. But she was not beautiful. She wasn't upset about this, and she noticed the fact, a little wonderingly. It didn't matter at all to her. Most people were taken in by appearances, but others weren't. She was healthy; she was strong. If she could manage to be kind and patient and witty and brave, then there would be men who loved her for it. There would be men who found it exciting.

He lay among the blankets, looking up at her. "Your eyes," he said. "Your incredible eyes."

His own face was in shadow, but there was no reason to be afraid. She removed her dress. It was red. She laid it over the back of a chair. "Move over."

She had never been in bed with this man before, but she wanted to be. It was late, and no one knew where she was. In fact, her mother had told her explicitly not to come here, but there was no reason to be afraid. "I'll tell you what to do," she said. "You must use your hand and your mouth. The other—it doesn't work for me. And I want to be first. You'll have to wait."

"I'll love waiting," he said. He covered her breast with his mouth, his hand moved between her legs. He knew how to touch her already. He kissed her other breast.

"Like that," she said. "Just like that." Her body began to tighten in anticipation.

He kissed her mouth. He kissed her mouth.


Excerpted from Black Swan, White Raven by Ellen Datlow, Terri Windling. Copyright © 1997 Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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