Retellings of fairy tales and myths are a popular trend at the moment, but the latest work from Jane Yolen is much more ambitious than most. Instead of just giving us one revamp of a well-known tale, the Nebula Award-winning author spins a huge variety of familiar stories in a fresh direction in her newest short story collection.
In The Emerald Circus, there are retellings of everything from Alice in Wonderland to Arthurian legend to the works of Hans Christian Anderson, Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe. There are also a few original stories spread throughout as well, but these still play with archetypal fantasy elements such as witches and magic. The breadth of Yolen’s reach is impressive and both her inventive imagination and love for these original stories shine through with each tale.
The best retellings have a strong “what if…?” question at the core and Yolen delivers that every time here. One of the most startling stories in the collection is ‘Lost Girls’, a reworking of Peter Pan in which the Boy Who Never Grows Up kidnaps young girls to cook and clean for him and his Lost Boys. ‘Blown Away’, meanwhile, from which the title of the book comes from, takes The Wizard of Oz and strips away all the fantasy, leaving it as the tale of an amnesiac girl who is separated from her family in a twister.
The key to the success of Yolen’s work is that - though they often are these things - her retellings aren’t merely shocking and dark for the sake of it. Through her new versions of these tales, she explores fresh themes and ideas that are usually already latent within the original story. Often Yolen gives the material a feminist slant, such as a brave, clever version of Alice slaying monsters in Wonderland and a kind of suffragette uprising occurring in Neverland. Elsewhere, she raises questions about mental illness, faith and more.
In short, The Emerald Circus is a real treat for fans of these kind of retellings. Yolen’s writing is sharp, charming, witty and moving and each time she manages to find a unique way to look at these stories that we have known since childhood. Whether you have come for the reworkings of fairy tales, children’s fiction or classic literature, the range of targets in the collection means that every reader will find at least one story they connect with.
THE EMERALD CIRCUS / AUTHOR: JANE YOLEN / PUBLISHER: TACHYON PUBLICATIONS / RELEASE DATE: 14TH NOVEMBER