Sympathy for the Devil

I found Troll’s Eye View in a very writerly fashion–I was doing research to see if anyone had come up with the same angle as I have for retelling “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”  Subtitled “A Book of Villainous Tales,” it’s a collection of short stories, retelling fairy tales from the villain’s point of view.  That includes “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” although calling the oldest princess the villain seems like a stretch (granted, she didn’t mind people being beheaded, in the original version).

The book is edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and has some impressive writers included, like Garth Nix, Jane Yolen and Neil Gaiman.

There were some excellent stories in here, although I was dissatisfied with a number of them too.  I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but it’s a slim book, and they fit fifteen stories into it.  I ended up feeling that several were nice ideas that didn’t get much development.  I think I’m the wrong age for those too.  I love children’s books, and very often find ones that are completely enjoyable to me as an adult.  Many of these stories, I think, really are better for just kids, who wouldn’t mind a simpler narrative.

And there were the excellent ones.  “Castle Othello” by Nancy Farmer is really clever meld of Bluebeard and Shakespeare, with a good twist to the ending.  Neil Gaiman contributed a dark poem based on “Sleeping Beauty.”  Nix and Yolen both had some good humor, although I think the shortness of the stories limited their scope.  Ellen Kushner’s “Twelve Dancing Princesses” retelling (actually, “The Shoes that Were Danced to Pieces” was how she titled it) was a clever idea, although another one with limited development–and not the same as my idea, fortunately.

My favorite, by far and away, was “A Delicate Architecture” by Catherynne M. Valente.  This would not have been the case when I was a kid, and in fact I think it probably would have given me nightmares!  But as an adult I can appreciate the creepiness of some of the images, and the beauty of the writing.  It starts out almost as a more poetic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with a little girl describing the wonderful creations of her father the candy-maker.  There’s beautiful, vivid imagery…until the story takes a darker turn, and then the images are just as vivid, but turn into nightmares.  (Spoiler warning, because I can’t resist telling you about it!)  The little girl becomes a young woman, until finally she learns that her father’s fanciful tale of creating her from sugar is all too true.  After that she’s treated not as a person, but as a cooking implement, and hung up on the wall of the kitchen at the royal palace, to be used for the desserts…and that’s the image that would have given me nightmares as a child!  Finally she becomes a gnarled old woman, who escapes into the woods to build a house out of candy…  It’s an excellent story, and makes me want to read more by Valente!

The book on the whole was more mixed.  But it was also a quick read, and worth it for the good ones!

One thought on “Sympathy for the Devil

  1. I wonder why some stories that are really just the start of an idea end up getting published? Wouldn’t the editor who reads the proposed submission feel that the story needs more development before it is published? That’s the great mystery, I guess – why some stuff that seems unfinished is out there in the published world and why good stories that are complete and entertaining can’t get a foothold to be published.

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