Title:The Emerald Circus
Publishing House: Tachyon Publications
Date of Publication:November 14th 2017
Rating: 4 stars
‘’You see, my dear ice witch, I have had the love of children from all over the world because of my stories. A child’s love is the perfect love, for it is given with a whole heart.”
After The Night Circus and its success, books that contain this word have multiplied by the dozen. Naturally, this one attracted my attention immediately as short stories appeal to me immensely and I was very curious to see how the retellings of old folklore tales and popular children’s stories would be handled by a writer whose pedigree is quite extensive. I had no knowledge of her work prior to this, but the way she talks about it in her Notes speaks for itself….Putting this observation aside, I can say that the overall experience was quite interesting but not completely satisfying.
Andersen’s Witch” : A beautiful, bittersweet tale about the greatest storyteller, his Ice Maiden and the stories that would be cherished by millions of children and adults throughout the centuries. This story is the jewel of the collection.
“Lost Girls” : A modern addition to Barrie’s Peter Pan with a pseudo-feminist touch. I didn’t like this one. I found it as silly and blunt as its original source.
“Tough Alice” :Alice finds the strength to laugh in the face of danger.This story has a beautiful message for young girls.
“Blown Away” : A weird version of “The Wizard of Oz” about the years Dorothy was missing from Kansas. I can’t say I liked it. I didn’t see the point of certain changes and I couldn’t take the narrator seriously
“A Knot of Toads” :An eerie Scottish tale of scholars, fishermen and witches. Inspired by the Witch Trials during the reign of James V and a highlight in the collection.
“The Quiet Monk” : A beautiful, sad, haunting imaginings of the grave in Glastonbury, once thought to belong to Arthur and Guinevere. You’re definitely in for a surprise with this one.
“The Bird” : A very short but very special story about two lovers and a raven. Yes, THAT raven….
“Belle Bloody Merciless Dame” : A contemporary story of a mysterious girl in the night of the Summer Solstice.
“The Jewel in the Toad Queen’s Crown” : The wonderful banter between Victoria and Disraeli as they try to forge the British Empire. It goes without saying that the iconic PM is the Jewel of the story.
“The Gift of the Magicians, With Apologies to You Know Who” : A silly story imagining the marital life of Beauty and the Beast. Thank God this was very short because it was awful.
“Rabbit Hole” : An elderly Alice longs to return to the magic world.
“Our Lady of the Greenwood” : A story about the birth and christening of a boy who would become a legend for all times to come. And his name was Robin…
“The Confession of Brother Blaise” : A story for Brother Blaise and Geoffrey of Monmouth. But it has nothing to do with the history of Britain. I found it a mediocre -at best- attempt to insert some supernatural, devilish horror in the collection. Disappointing..
“Wonder Land” : This didn’t make any sense. And not in a good way…..
“Evian Steel” : This was an attempt to give voice to a key character in the Arthurian Cycle. An imagining of the childhood of Elaine, Lancelot’s doomed wife, and her strange initiation in Avalon. The writer dropped the ball with this one, in epic proportions. I fear she tried to follow the tropes of Fantasy, throwing the Old Ways symbolism, the Goddess belief, Morgan, Merlin, Bedevere and what not in the mix, and the result was disastrous, in my opinion.
“Sister Emily’s Lightship” : The final story, a tribute to Emily Dickinson and her spirit. This was extremely successful, written in beautiful, poetic, tragic language and invoking the feelings of the doomed artist to perfection.
I will not comment on the Story Notes and Poems. The only thing I’d feel dishonest with myself not to mention is that an acknowledged writer doesn’t need pompous remarks about her achievements or her religious background…
I admit I am divided over how to rate this collection properly. In my opinion, there was much that was pretentious and pseudo-feminist, but many of the stories were some of the best I’ve read. I think that Yolen treated every story with respect on the original source but her attempts to bring certain themes into focus weren’t very successful. Making something “modern”in order to be more relevant to a contemporary audience doesn’t equal positive results. So, I rate this with 4 stars, because out of the 16 stories of the collection, 10 were really well-written. And yet, the rest were frightfully bad…I don’t believe that the writer is the “Hans Christian Andersen of the United States” but I recommend this. Still, I’d advise you proceed with caution and perhaps you will enjoy it more than my nitpicking, exhaustively scrutinizing self. And perhaps the time is ripe for half-stars to finally arrive.
“You live in fairy tales. We have to live in the real world.”